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INTERVIEW IRC 2019 Nicola Fox on the importance of giving customers a unified proposition

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We’re running a series of previews and interviews with speakers around this year’s InternetRetailing Conference (IRC 2019) in the run-up to the event in October.  Nicola Fox, previously head of CRM at Missguided and Holland & Barrett, will be leading a round table on the importance of presenting shoppers with a personalised, relevant proposition built on unified data.

InternetRetailing: At IRC 2019 you’re going to be talking about defining and mastering your unified proposition to the customer. Can you tell us about that unified proposition and why it is so important for retailers?

Nicola Fox: Customers, both existing and prospective, are everywhere – and have such limitless options to shop that the task of marketeers is even harder. They use multiple devices, channels and campaigns to access your brand and can do this for almost any retailer. Those retailers who are continuing to arrange their customer segmentation or their campaigns communicating to those customers through just one channel because it’s easy to measure or execute or there’s better control over who sees what, really limit their competitive advantage. The interactions we’re having with people who are interacting with our brand are so key that we owe it to ourselves to make it as positive as possible each time they interact with our brand. Actually designing your strategy and proposition around a more unified set of customer data will mean you focus your efforts on being where they are with the most relevant message at the optimum time for that individual. So ultimately that drives a consistency, personalisation and more connected customer journeys, and it will help retailers mitigate the risk of delivering a poor experience and will help them to become leaders in exceptional customer experience. It drives efficiency and engagement in those channels because you’re talking to customers where they are engaging with you, and it drives retention because they are seeing your campaigns and given the opportunities to respond to those. Ultimately, it will drive lifetime value. 

IR: Tell us about one real difference that it makes to the customer’s experience.

NF: What it really means is that customers are treated like customers, not like people, not data or even worse, lists. If done well, by arranging data by customer, in a unified manner, you are informing your business about the behaviours of real people so it’s tangible insight rather than just figures on a sheet. You can actually start with your teams to design a strategy around these by centring on that piece of insight and designing out from there. 

The real benefit for the customer comes from the fact that this unified strategy improves their experience. Rather than coming to a site or seeing a display ad and getting competing offers from different channels because they are fighting over the same conversion opportunity they might see things that are much more relevant to them, and when they’re seeing product it is relevant to what they’ve done. In addition, it’s not just about showing them the things they looked at yesterday but it’s also about making sure you don’t make the mistake of showing a discounted ad on the product they purchased yesterday. Should they need to return something or speak to customer care for any reason, they don’t have to explain the whole story, it’s there, it’s unified. By understanding optimum channel and engagement, brands can improve the likelihood that campaigns are seen by recipients – and customers don’t miss out on those messages.

IR: Tell us about your experience in getting to grips with this – what was one big challenge to achieving it and one big benefit that you enjoyed as a result?

NF: The enjoyment comes from seeing a campaign that’s been designed around customers being delivered across multiple channels in a consistent and relevant manner It’s a much more cohesive campaign, it looks better and feels better as a marketeer but you also see that upturn in results. 

But it is complicated. For me there are two things that remain a big challenge for most businesses: data and culture. It’s not so much having available data – in many ways we can be awash with data in retail. It’s more about how the data is arranged, how’s structured and how it’s made consistently available for all channels to be able to use. That usually leads to some sort of tech solution. But for me what’s more important is the cultural challenge. It’s that decision by businesses to say this is what we’re going to do. We’re not just going to talk about being customer-centric. We’re going to arrange and organise ourselves in a customer-centric manner. That really is the cultural change for me. It’s dispelling some of those well-grained practices of retail businesses that are structured by channel and built around teams of people who have developed their knowledge and skills around these channels. It’s actually saying let’s organise our teams and our efforts around what customers need, what their goal is and how those customers behave. Through that you’ll see a movement towards that unified proposition. 

The culture change comes from an agreement that there is one source of data, a collaborative approach to recruiting and retaining that customer, the acceptance that now all customers will ‘get’ everything and that automation will decide what is seen, where it is seen and when it is displayed. These are simple rules to play by but not easy to stick to. 

IR: How do you think this area will develop in the future?

NF: Historically it has been difficult to deliver this type of unified proposition since it relies on the availability of that data in your business. Now that the data is there, I think we will start to see companies doing more of it. Previously it has been quite resource-heavy and technology-heavy. I would expect that some of the data ‘gaps’ start to be filled, particularly for offline retailers or where some channels are not tracked consistently. Adopting these strategies can be a real turn off for retailers as only a percentage of their business data is being optimised and they are not able to create the connected customer journey they seek.

I would expect that, given the ability to personalise and target at scale is now available, we start to see more retailers doing this and looking to be able to do this across multiple channels and platforms. In my experience personalisation has sometimes been a sticking point for marketing teams. We all know we should be doing it but the resource and effort it takes, when you lack automated methods, to turn data into a campaign can make it insurmountable and sometimes the wider business would simply prefer that their single message gets sent to everyone. It will be a slow process but given the marketing platforms are there to make it happen now I expect more retailers will want to start using that data they have.

In particular I believe that onsite personalisation will improve as this is often the most under-executed because everyone likes to know what the website looks like, so actually creating different variants for different customer groups is something that makes businesses nervous. But I think it’s the biggest opportunity for companies because those customers are interacting iwht your website much more than they may be with any other kind of display. The good news is the technology is there so it’s really about getting those data structures in place and being able to organise your business so that you can execute on those. 

IR: Aside from your own involvement, what are you most looking forward to at IRC 2019?

NF: The event is a super opportunity to hear from such a diverse range of speakers and brands. Customer experience, loyalty, satisfaction – whatever you call it in your business – is a multi-faceted thing and it’s really nice to see an agenda filled with the different angles that people are taking to address this in their businesses.

In particular I’ll be dropping by to hear how the Co-op are moving from channel-focused to customer-focused – because that’s key interest for me, how culturally you move from teams being focused on the performance of their individual channel  – to actually being focused on customer behaviour. I’ll also be interested to see how brands are meeting the challenge of creating the ‘personal touch’ online as well as offline. The other one that stood out for me because of my background in loyalty is the loyalty transformation discussion as well. In the last 20 years since those loyalty programmes first came into being, customers have become much more informed about what organisations are doing with their data. There’s a big challenge for customers to transform their customer proposition. 

Nicola Fox will be leading a round table on Defining and mastering your unified proposition to the customer at IRC 2019 on October 10 in a round table session that starts at 12.35pm. 

Click here to find out more about the IRC 2019 conference programme, exhibition featuring the latest retail technology and the workshops where delegates can get practical advice on key technologies.

IRC 2019 takes place on October 10 at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. A full-price retailer delegate ticket costs £495, but as an InternetRetailing reader we can offer you 75% off full price tickets if you use discount code IRMSEB100 (for retailers only). Vendors can get up to 20% off full price tickets until August 16 2019 when the early bird discount sales ends.

Image courtesy of InternetRetailing Events

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