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M&S: Making every encounter count

In its 2017 annual report published in June 2017, food-to-clothing retailer Marks & Spencer boldly stated, “Everything we do as a company is filtered through the lens of what we know about our customers and every decision starts with them.” The statement reflects the strategy introduced a year earlier by chief executive Steve Rowe in an attempt to move the retailer into recovery. Rowe’s take in the report was that 2016/17 had been a year of change. He stated that, “The business has adapted well as we start to build a sustainable foundation for the future. We have laid a lot of the groundwork for our recovery. However, we are not there yet.”

Figures released in July this year showed reason for cautious optimism. Overall group sales for the 13 weeks to 1 July were £2.5bn, 2.7% up on last year, while UK sales of £2.3bn were up 2.6%, yet down by 0.5% on a like-for-like basis (outstripping the effect of store openings and closures). Clothing sales of £852.1m were down 1.2% LFL, while food sales were down by 0.1% LFL but up by 4.5% in total. Online turned over £184.8m, up 5.8%. What seems clear from these figures is that the retailer is serious about putting customer experience at the heart of what it does. In 2016/17, it carried out 700,000 customer interviews either in person or through online surveys. These provided the company with valuable data about customer habits and satisfaction levels. Research on website usability found that its customers found it easy to navigate and that satisfaction with the site has significantly improved on the previous year.

IRUK’s research ranks M&S highly for customer performance and finds it is unmatched when it comes to the number of channels through which customer support is offered, with a market-leading eight, against an average of five. Proving just how seriously it takes its customers’ opinions, the company has introduced a number of practical changes as a result of customer feedback. These include rearranging the layout of in-store clothing departments; personalising offers to its 5.6m Sparks members; and improving in-store customer service by putting an additional 3,000 staff into areas where customers said they needed them most. The retailer also rolled out the ‘Making Every Moment Special’ programme, which has removed non customer-facing tasks from floor staff to give them more time to deal with individual customer needs.

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