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IRUK Top500 The Customer: 12 approaches that work for leading UK retailers

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Putting the customer at the heart of the business is easier said than done but can reap results. Customer-centric approaches to service and retail help retailers stay relevant to loyal shoppers while also winning new business. Here are successful approaches deployed by IRUK Top500 retailers, as explored in the new IRUK Top500 The Customer Performance Dimension report.

#1 Make the customer a priority

Putting the customer first has to be more than a slogan and traders that make its shoppers a real priority are seeing measurable results at the bottom line.

Under chief executive Dave Lewis, Tesco has explicitly focused on putting the customer first and has seen its sales lift as a result. “The entire Tesco team is focused on serving shoppers a little better every day,” said Lewis, in the supermarket’s latest half-year results.

To achieve that, the retailer has cut prices, improved its range and ensured better availability and customer service. It also received widespread attention and acclaim in the recent high-profile ‘Marmite-gate’, when it resisted Unilever’s efforts to raise the price of the yeast spread, among other products.

All of this is paying off. The supermarket reported revenue of £27.3bn in the first half of the year, 1.4% up on the same time last year. Group pre-tax profits of £410m were 124% up on last time, although exceptional costs related to business restructuring and redundancies as well as provisions against PPI claims related to historic events meant bottom line pre-tax profits of £71m were down by 28.3% on the £99m reported last year.

#2 Think new technology

The latest technologies are enabling retailers to make customer service ever-more efficient at scale. This increases shoppers’ chances of getting faster answers to queries.

Online grocer Ocado is using artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and prioritise its customer emails by introducing a machine learning-enhanced contact centre. At its heart is an AI model that parses the email, adding a summary and priority tag. This cuts out work for customer service staff, leaving them free to focus on solving problems.

“We strive to deliver the best shopping experience for all our 500,000 plus active customers,” said Debbie Wilson, Ocado contact centre operations manager, at the time the innovation was unveiled. “However, working in an omnichannel contact centre can be challenging, with the team receiving thousands of contacts each day via telephone, email, webchat, social media and SMS. The new software developed by the Ocado Technology data science team will help the contact centre filter inbound customer contacts faster, enabling a quicker response to our customers, which in turn will increase customer satisfaction levels.”

#3 Improve web speed

Speed matters, whatever device a customer is using to visit a website, although shoppers may be more impatient on mobile devices. More than half (53%) of mobile web visits are abandoned if the site takes longer than 3s to load, according to DoubleClick in its study. The Need for Mobile Speed. Its analysis of more than 10,000 mobile web domains also found that the sites loaded in an average of 19s over 3G connections.

In a recent InternetRetailing webinar, Andy Davies, associate director, web performance at NCC Group , explained why. “Being fast is not about being fast for its own sake but about reducing friction for people visiting your site. It’s about showing them the experience more quickly, making their life easier.”

Schuh’s responsive website stands out for the speed with which it loads. Stuart McMillan, deputy head of ecommerce at the shoe retailer, speaking in that website, said: “For most sites, there are a small handful of things that [retailers] could do that would take not much time to improve… They need to commit to understanding the importance to user experience and to the bottom line.”

Click here to read the rest of the 12 things, and here to explore The Customer report further.

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