Speaker – Louisa Nicholls, Retail and Digital Specialist, COO and Board Advisor
Louisa Nicholls – Thank you very much, and thank you Shell and the team for inviting me. What a venue first off. I don’t about you, but I was definitely downstairs on Instagram looking at all the Tom Dixon paraphernalia everywhere. What but a beautiful venue and I did mistakenly have a Prosecco.
Before I came on stage, I feel like it was a bottomless brunch on a Sunday, and then I remembered it was midweek. But anyway, thank you very much for having me. Yes, up until last year, I had done 20 years at John Lewis, so I know I don’t look old enough, but I started when I was at school, and kind of as dot com grew, my career grew. So I ended up leading the majority of the customer teams at John Lewis and then left last year and joined them and CO as their chief customer.
So I am here to talk to you about owning multiple touchpoints that deliver flawless customer experience but before we do that, I’m not really going to go through the steps because I think all of us in this room by now understand the power of omnichannel, understand it’s important to find those customer touchpoints.
You know, there is a plethora of data around that too to tell us that. So I’m not going to stand up here and preach to you about that. But what I wanted to do is take a bit of a break and just really focus on the strategy that we need to put in place to enable those flawless touchpoints, and that is the customer strategy.
So there are a number of companies, brands, and retailers still out there that don’t have a strong, robust customer strategy and I don’t just mean a CRM strategy, I mean that end-to-end customer strategy. As we get into the cost of living crisis at the moment, a lot of brands and a lot of retailers will find themselves pushed into the trading strategy.
And trading day in, day out, week on, week out, and losing sight of that longer-term customer strategy. But it is really key to continue to drive this in all of our organizations and for me, it’s underpinned with a really simple message and you’ll kind of see this theme through, throughout this presentation around being helpful.
It’s as simple as being helpful to our customers, being helpful to our colleagues, and being helpful in general to the environment. It all stems from that and from that, we will see the brand growth, we will see customer growth, we will see sales growth, and it really does play into that strong culture that customers want to see from brands from today.
So I started off with three and then I made it to eight. I’m gonna talk to you guys today about my, my kind of eight steps or eight things to kind of watch out and build on when you are thinking about a customer strategy. So I do have as is nature these sorts of events some gifts take you through and don’t worry, I’m not just going to talk to you with that slide up there.
So the first one, qualitative is cool. So we have a plethora of data at our fingertips as brands, as retailers, but a lot of the time we pull that data on what we are currently surfacing customers. We’re putting something in front of a customer or pulling the data as to whether they like it. There’s an old-school thing called qualitative which means that we have to get off our backsides and go out and talk to our customers and a lot of brands don’t do that as much as they should.
It’s coming back to that real old school way of thinking, you know going out and talking to the customers and saying to them, what do you want to see from this brand? What values do you want us to demonstrate and watch touchpoints? And what mediums do you want us to help you to purchase the item or the service that you’re looking for?
And I use Shit’s Creek cause I had to try and get Shit’s Creek in a presentation like this, but the reason I’m using Shits Creek, and hopefully, the majority of you in this room is a bit like friends. Like I’d love to know anyone that hasn’t seen Shits Creek. In all honesty, it’s really good, it’s a really good example of how different every single customer is.
You couldn’t get any more different from Johnny Rose to I don’t know, I, I can’t even remember half their names now, but I have watched it countless times, but what this really tells us is we have to go and speak to more and more customers. You know, you can’t do a straw poll. You’ve gotta go out and really devote time to this.
So it could be through social listening, that could be through listening to phone calls. It could be going out into people’s homes. And at John Lewis a couple of years ago, we went out and we went, we invited ourselves and just forced ourselves into people’s homes. We invited ourselves, some of our customer’s homes.
We sat down, have a cup of coffee, and really talked, got them to talk to us about what they wanted to see out of the brand and what touchpoints they wanted to see from us. The second one is, don’t alienate your core customer. Protect them, inspire them. So there is a lot of noise out there around how do we get the younger customers, you know you look at Soho House and if you’re under 27, you get 50% off.
It’s all very lovely and then you realize when you go in there, a Whispering Angel or lady A is. About 40 pounds a bottle and you think, oh, can’t quite afford it anymore. But the point of it is that they’re trying to attract younger customers, but by doing that, you often alienate your core customers.
And they may not be the cooler ones, they may not be the ones that you want, you know, at this moment in time. But it’s really important to engage with them and make them feel valued, and it is that loyalty piece, but it’s much more than that. You know, they’re the bedrock, they’re the ones that are bringing in the money, and then you’re layering on the top, you know the less loyal customers, et cetera. So really focusing on that, that core customer base and making sure that you protect that.
The next one is studied as disruptors. I’m sure all of us in this room go out and study the competitors. You know, you’ll be looking at next, and you’ll be looking at John Lewis and you’ll be looking at everyone else, but we’re all doing the same things.
You know that it’s not revolutionizing in that sector. We’re all pretty much doing the same thing. So I always challenge my team to think outside the box and have a look at another sector and these are some really great examples. Every single one of these. So Monzo disrupting the financial sector, deliveroo disrupting the food service sector, Uber disrupting the transport sector, and Netflix is disrupting at-home entertainment.
The list goes on Amazon, for retail but what all these guys do really if you take a step back, they’ve just gone, right? How can we help customers get to point from point A to point B? Oh, that’s Uber brilliant. We live our lives on our phones. Suddenly we can see that Monzo is exactly the same.
We can see what we’re spending. We can send instant payments. Airbnb is easy, just go on there, you find somewhere overnight to stay, and literally, all they’re really doing is being helpful and they’re taking a step back and they’re disrupting the industries. So really go out there and, you know these sorts of events are really great as well because there is a plethora of different people representing different industries.
Learn from that, and talk to them. You never know when a spark of inspiration might come from a completely different sector. And then the journey mapping crusade be there when they need you and get out of their way when they don’t. You know, we spend so much time going I wanna be there for our customer.
Want to be there at every touchpoint in their face. Oversaturation, you know, often they don’t want you in their space. That’s being helpful too, and it’s really understanding at what point it might be when you’re servicing an ad, when they’re searching online, it might be, you know whatever the strategy is for your programmatical display teams, it may be just as simple as when you surface that buys buying guide on that customer journey, but it’s making sure that we’re not saturating, but there’s so much content out there at the moment.
How can we make sure that whatever we are surfacing is helpful to them? Because as we are seeing this shift away from brand and product and more into the customer space, no longer are we going out there and saying, come shop with us. We are having to go out there into the customer space and present our values to them. You know, we are having to convince them as to why they would even. And give their money to us regardless of what product or service we have. And we are really starting to see that the Gen Zs are really pushing at this values.
They’re really wanting to know more about what customers stand for. So communicating that through the customer journey, doing what you say is absolutely key. Otherwise, you’ll have this moody cat who, which some of you probably weren’t even born when this was a massive meme, but anyway.
The next one is content is king. So building a content-focused community, and we all know by now that you know, content’s expensive to produce in-house, right? We have the photo studios, and we can build the big sets, but it’s expensive. But what we’re seeing is this huge rise in customer-generated content or consumer-generated content.
And that might be from influencers. You know, MNS has just launched their virtual influencer and at John Lewis, we launched a number of years ago now hashtag we are partners and that’s where we upskilled key partners across, we call them partners, employees across our store estate. A lot of them, you know, beauty advisors or fashion advisors, and we armed them with an Insta account and we gave them the tools in which to then speak to their customers so that they can engage them at a different level.
But more importantly, they could create loads and loads of content for us to then surface across all our channels and this isn’t just how quickly can we react to Kate Middleton wearing the latest jeans that we stock in Peter Jones, for example. It’s how can we continue to be really fresh and really relevant and hashtag We are partners who generated about 80% of our user-generated content at one stage.
So it really did become big business, but including your customers in this journey as well, and in this content creation is key. Everyone loves to see their picture up there. We’re being used, everyone loves to be involved in curation. So Boohoo for example, I don’t know whether they’re anyone from Boohoo, but they’re quite well known for sometimes using their Insta channels and their social media channels to curate assortments or ask customers what they think of.
You know, and then you start buying into the brand and feeling like that I Care effect. So the I Care effect is basically, for those of you that have bought a Malmo cabinet, you probably spent out four days of your life trying to get a bloody thing together. By the time you’ve done that, doesn’t matter how much you’ve spent on it, and it’s relatively cheap.
You’ve invested so much of your blood, sweat, and tears. You love that product. And so that’s what they call the I Care effect. People like to be but you’re probably wondering why I’ve got Beats Dr. Dre’s film up there, and I was at a talk in the States a couple of months ago, and this really inspirational guy you can imagine in the states, is very fancy.
And this guy comes up very cool, had worked at Nike. Had worked at Beats, knew Dr. Dre personally, and we were all going, oh, it was very impressive. And so he told us this incredible story. So he’d been CMO at Beats when Beats sat back and went, right? How do we disrupt the marketing community? How do we make tech fashionable?
Because at that stage, tech wasn’t included in fashion. You didn’t think of it as a fashion item. Right? And they said, why don’t we give our products to sports stars? Why don’t we give the Beats headphones to Serena Williams when she walks out on stage at Wimbledon? Why don’t we give them to Michael Phelps when he walks out at the Olympics and suddenly overnight beats became a fashion item?
You started seeing it in Vogue. You started seeing it on, things to have for the weekend getaway, and so it really started to build up that momentum. But one day, Dr. Dre, this is his story, not mine, gives him a call and goes, mate, I’ve got a film that’s coming out called Straight Outta Compton and we need a really quick marketing campaign that will engage the masses and you’ve only got $30,000.
Oh, and by the way, we want you to work with Universal, which is unheard of for brands and, you know, film houses to work together. So off he went and he took the three youngest people in his team at the time and said to them, this is the brief. There is no brief. You’ve got $30,000. We need something that’s gonna go viral.
So off they went. And for those of you that are old enough to remember, do you remember the CDs with the explicit lyrics box in them? Yeah. There are some nods at the back from the old people. It’s very good. Um, they went away and a week later he sat down and said, what have you got for me? And one of the guys early, in their early twenties walked up to a chalkboard and drew out the explicit.
Box, which you see there. And he put straight out of Compton in it. And this guy went, okay, I can see what you’re doing here, but not very exciting, is it? The guy from Korea got up and walked across the room, robbed Compton, and put Korea. Then the guy from Brooklyn got up, walked across the room, wiped out Korea, and put Brooklyn.
And from that, it generated a huge mass community of people generating their own content. Sports stars, brands, everyone was doing this. JLo from the block was doing straight out of Brooklyn. Even President Obama when they were, they were at that point trying to convince, I think it was the senate or the US around backing an Iran deal, back uranium.
And so they put straight out, straight out of Uran. And posted that and it suddenly became viral. And the point I’m trying to get across is to think outside the box about what we can do with content because that content then touches every single touch point in that brand’s portfolio, and customers really start to resonate with it.
Next one is really quite obvious, the age of blended experience, the human and digital sweet spot. So AI can’t replace humans and humans can’t replace AI, but each brand has to find that sweet spot. So Dominos in Australia were starting to get complaints about the quality of where the pepperoni was placed on pizzas.
Customers were not happy. They people making the pizza just slap the dash with a pepperoni, and so they bought in an AI function that helped the pizza makers make sure that they were distributed fairly, the pepperoni had gone all out and gone, right, okay, we’re just gonna, we’re just gonna mana, we’re just gonna get a computer in and a robot to make all of our pizzas.
That wouldn’t have solved the problem. Cause one of the reasons people like it is because it’s freshly made pizza and it’s done by humans. But what they did was they found that sweet spot, that blend of where AI can help but the human can still deliver. And so it’s so important to take a step back and every brand will be completely different than this.
There are some brands where as consumers, we are very happy to talk to a robot. There are others that literally people will go spare if they think that they’re talking to a robot. John Lewis is a prime example, a core John Lewis customer when they’re, they’re missing their order of ready-made curtains.
I’m not gonna wanna speak to an AI. Someone else, the other brand, absolutely fine. So it’s really finding that sweet spot. Anyway, the next thing is don’t get distracted. Side-step shiny things and get the basics right. I know it’s really boring, but we have to get the basics right.
You know, if we are going to adopt an amazing VR solution, let’s make sure that we’ve got the product rendering in 3d that will feel feed that you know VR solution. Don’t get distracted by those shiny things one of the most important things I think as well is, and we hear it over and over again in the businesses that I work with is whatever your strategy is to the wider business strategy.
Again, I know it sounds really obvious, but if you want to get things over the line, make sure that they’re attached to one of those business pillars because you convert your bottom. The executive that’s responsible for that business pillar will be delighted that you are making them look better by finding a solution for them to deliver against it.
Then there’s a culture piece I’m having done so many years in John Lewis, as you can imagine, I’m very much around team and culture. But more and more are coming out of kind of the wider marketing space and CX space. It’s how we build a team of the market, master orchestrators, you know, none of us, none of our teams now have the solution.
We’re so dependent on other teams, and it may be internal teams, it may be agencies. But how do we make sure that we upskill teams to be able to orchestrate, orchestrate across projects, and orchestrate across campaigns? And doing that will break down those silos, but we have to think more holistically.
And then, does anyone know what Hippo means?
Okay. Shoot. Go for it. It’s the highest-paid person’s opinion. That’s right. So hippo means highest paid person’s opinion. So it’s actually part of agile terminology and it is the counterbalance to always being data led. So what I mean by harmonized with the hippo is don’t alienate the highest-paid person.
Don’t alienate the exec or the boss. Bring them in, because if you don’t bring everyone in at the point in which you’re going forward with your strategy, they will disrupt it along the way. I thought I would, I would share that one with you. It is wildly widely known. It’s not something that I’ve made up that hires, paid person’s opinion.
It’s quite useful. And we used to band it around quite a lot at John Lewis if one of the hired pay person was giving an opinion. So became a bit of a joke and a bit of a kind of a sense check. So it’s a, it’s a good one to bear in. And then that’s finally it. It really genuinely is how can we be helpful to every subset in society.
How can we be helpful to all of our customers and how can we have helped our teams? Thank you very much.