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IRX 2015 INTERVIEW Celia Pronto of Ford Retail on what digital means for the retail board

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Ahead of this year’s Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2015), we’re running a series of interviews with key speakers taking part in the event’s conferences. Today we hear from Celia Pronto, group marketing and ecommerce director and board member at Ford Retail.

Internet Retailing: At IRX 2015, you’ll be speaking on how retailers and brands can best bring the customer into the boardroom. Can you give one example of how the board’s relationship with the customer can, or should, change, and why?

Celia Pronto, group marketing and ecommerce director and board member, Ford Retail: I think it’s probably fair to say that customers have never been as empowered as they are today. Technology gives them access to information, reviews, and other customers’ experiences, sharing everything, both good and bad, through their social networks. For companies and boards in particular, that comes with both risk and opportunity. One is reputational risk, because if you don’t manage the relationship with your customers effectively there’s reputational risk around that.

How that is driving and changing boardroom behaviour and focus is by creating an honest, transparent conversation with customers. By asking themselves what the customer would say if they could overhear a conversation, a particular behaviour or a particular business process. The changing relationship means organisations and boardrooms are challenging the way they do business in terms of ethics and process.

IR: How do you see customer behaviour changing in the light of digital in coming years – and how can the board best plan for that?

CP: As digital technology and access to information has become so prevalent, customers have more and more knowledge at their fingertips, but at the same time there’s also the increasing potential for confusion. What source do they believe? How do I know the review I’m reading is from a customer like me? I believe that the companies and organisations, the brands and boardrooms that think through how they make it easier for customers to navigate and make the right choices for them, and deliver that in a way that has the right ethics and behaviours around it that, are really going to win.

If I just think about our strategy at TrustFord, it’s all around how we can make it easier for our customers to find the right vehicle, the right servicing and the right commercial vehicle for them. We’re really thinking through how we can make it easier for our customers, and that’s everything from finding information to dealing with us and transacting with us. Certainly for us that’s meant changing our processes across the board. We’re looking at every single aspect of our business and it’s interesting that digital and information is driving that big transformation. It’s about more choice, more empowerment, more knowledge. What that’s ultimately driving is an overhaul of business processes to make it easier to do business with us.

IR: As an ecommerce board member is there one further single issue that you think needs to be added to more board agendas, and why?

CP: The hardest part of this question was choosing one single issue! The biggest item, I would suggest, is around digital understanding. This isn’t necessarily suggesting that boardrooms are not aware of how important digital is, or, for a moment, that they don’t recognise the fundamental shift there’s been in purchasing behaviour. I think most boardrooms now get how it’s important.

But there needs to be a shift from senior people who are used to seeing a TV ad, or hearing a radio ad who are suddenly not necessarily seeing the advertising because you’re targeting very specifically, your readership is in the digital space and you’re almost down the route of one-to-one communication. That could be perceived as either that you’re doing less activity, or that you are being less effective. It’s that digital understanding, in the context of appreciating that you might actually be driving far more activity, but it’s far more discreet. In some ways it could be seen to be below the line, but because it’s so targeted it works far more effectively. I do think that is a fundamental shift in how a lot of traditional advertising and traditional communications used to work – which is a big culture shift.

IR: What are you most looking forward to at IRX, beyond your own presentation?

CP: I always find it fascinating to really understand some of the challenges that other retailers, especially in other industries, might be facing. By understanding how they’re approaching those challenges we get some shared learning around how they’re tackling it and how we can do better, and we can also share some of our experiences to the extent that it’s useful for other brands as well.

Celia Pronto is speaking in the Digital Sales and Marketing Conference on March 26 in Theatre 2 at IRX 2015. Her presentation, Embracing the digital today by bringing the customer into the boardroom, is at 11.10am. To find out more about the conference and to register for the free-to-attend event, visit the IRX 2015 site.

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