Our stores are a service tool – Interview with Kevin Gardiner, Director, Store Operations & Strategies at Macy’s01.09.2014
Despite fierce competition from online pure players, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are leveraging over 800 stores with fulfillment centers to play a big role in driving service, and giving the 156 year old company a competitive advantage.
Mr. Gardiner, your talk will be about customer centricity. What do you mean with this term?
Gardiner: I will talk about my own experiences in the field and I will present some insights from a very good bock called „Customers Included“ that talks about, how often companies make decisions based on what the board wants instead of listening to the customer. Listening to the customer is by far the most important facet of customer centricity.
How do you execute this at Macy’s?
Gardiner: I´ve always done it in two ways. We track the net promoter score at every possible contact point. So when customers call us or buy something, they are presented a survey after the interaction. And in analyzing these surveys, it´s less the numbers or points we get, it´s the verbatims, that people really type in those forms.
Another great method to listen to the customer is holding focus groups among the associates, the customer agents. Our associates talk to five to eight customers an hour and they really get to the heart of what is a pain. Either on the customer side the issue itself, but also on the side of the associate. Where do they have problems to solve issues?
The second topic i will cover in the talk is also drawn from another book from Francis Frei which is called „Uncommon Service“. She speaks about stopping to try to be perfect in every area. You can´t. If you try that, the outcome will average in almost every field. So concentrate on the areas you can be great in. This needs courage.
As an example: The customer is often more interested in getting her issue resolved vs. a quick response. So while utopia is to quickly answer and resolve an issue, it is important to find the right balance of speed and resolution as dictated by your customers. Especially during the holiday session, when there are so many temporary agents, I find it often to be more appropriate to redirect the call to the one agent that is perfectly suited to resolve the problem, than answering very quickly and then pass around the customer from agent to agent.
And the last key topic is about empowering your workforce. We try to avoid the escalation to a manager, so we put the associates in charge of reacting on their own. So if we identify, that customers demand for a certain compensation like x percent off if their order did not arrive in time or so, rather than giving this to a manager, we provide the associates with tools to handle the compensation. Not to any extent, off course.
We found out, that our customers get really frustrated, if they are put on hold.
Maybe German customers would mistrust this kind of strategy, because they believe, they can get more out of it by talking to a manager.
Gardiner: Interesting to hear. In the US most customers just don´t want to escalate to a manager, except of the one case, when they had contact to an agent before and the issue couldn´t get solved. The shorter the call – as long as the issue is resolved – the more satisfied is the customer.
Let´s talk tools. In Germany we discuss a lot about video chat as service tool these days.
Gardiner: Currently we do email, phone and text chat, but we are discussing this topic for the last three years now. It´s not the customers, that demand this, but we think about it also from a marketing perspective. We are planning to test it with cosmetics or jewelry. It´s not about seeing the face of someone the customers are talking to. It´s more about enhancing the user experience in the buying process and help to better explain the products.
What about social media in this area? Do you use Facebook or Twitter as a service channel?
Gardiner: No, we don´t. We monitor rather closely, what´s happening on Facebook and twitter and we have handles on both platforms, but we would always give an email address to someone complaining there, to get into a direct contact. Only in very rare cases, we respond directly in social media, because the user obviously seeks for this response. Speed is an issue on social media. We try to be very fast with our first reaction.
But we continue to evaluate, if social media is an important service channel to our customers. For example we ask our service centers, if they feel a demand coming from their contacts and right now, it is not. We talk about this for even three or four years now, but at this time we do not believe the investment would result in a noticeable increase in customer satisfaction.
There are a lot of companies, which see this differently.
Gardiner: Yes there are and I would not dare to tell them, they are wrong. Here it comes down to listening to your customers. Macy’s has a heavy focus on our millennial customers, but as we review the needs of our overall customer base, phone, chat, and email support is still much more important to our customers when compared to social media.
Service is not only issue management, it also can be a tool to differentiate from the competition and ameliorate your brand even before people shop.
Gardiner: Yes, that’s right. And we have a couple of strategies related to that. But at the core we see our stores as a competitive advantage and not as a hindrance in competition with companies like amazon. We have over800 outlets and are able to serve the customers locally. This gives the customer the freedom to either pick the product in store or get it delivered. And also customers can reach us in an easy way.
On the website we started with pro active chatting. In some categories we do not wait till the customer opens the chat and asks, we ourselves ask after a certain amount of time, if we can help. And this help can be in every stage of the buying process, finding products, putting them into cart or checking out. To do that, we have to see our service centers also as sales centers. Actually from the headcount we would be a pretty massive store. We piloted this, and the first big hurdle is to find out, which group of associates you can train on which additional product category. Not every associate is savvy in recommending fashion items that go together. We are in a fairly early stage. In the store it´s different. There usually one person is responsible for one product category.
Software plays a big role in this process. We call it the agent knowledge tool but now it´s more of a product knowledge tool. We cannot expect our associates to know everything about every product we sell, but we have to get them the information needed as quick as possible.
To sum it up. We are working on it, but we have a large scale to fulfill and we can´t take anything for granted. It´s not easy, but we’re well positioned for the challenge.
Kevin, thanks for your time, we are looking forward to hearing you speak in Düsseldorf at Neocom.