Marks & Spencer is arguably as quintessentially British as a red telephone box or a Tower of London beefeater.
Such is the power of the M&S brand its footprint is spread across the globe, with stores and franchises in countries ranging from Armenia to Vietnam.
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Yet maintaining the intrinsic qualities of such a traditional marque is a challenge, perpetuated by a retail industry that’s evolving at breakneck speed around it and on occasions, seemingly leaving M&S trailing in its wake. The company’s CEO, Steve Rowe, is steadfast that the answer lies in “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do”, but delivering on this mission statement across over 450 international stores is no easy feat.
One key area of renewed focus is customer feedback: prior to Rowe’s arrival as CEO in April 2016, M&S relied entirely on mystery shopper schemes to help determine customer service standards within its stores.
“We employed a company and they sent one person into every store every month and we got a response based on the various metrics we wanted to measure,” Marks & Spencer’s international operations manager, John Heatherington, tells MyCustomer.
“It’s a tried and tested method but it was evident that it wasn’t always fully representative of what our customers were thinking and feeling on a day-to-day basis. We wanted richer information.”
With the need for another output, the answer was clear – a point-of-purchase survey. Heatherington and his team were charged with the survey’s undertaking across all of its global outlets. A simple idea in its inception, perhaps, but as John himself explains, the story of its delivery is a lesson for any brand unsure about just how complex surveying on a large scale can be.
“The aim when we started in 2016 was clear – to get as much in-depth insight directly from our customers, on an on-going basis, about their experiences in our store.
Given our footfall, we decided to display our survey on customer receipts within our stores across the world. We have specific URLs for all the different countries we run the survey in and customer assistants in the stores who help to remind customers that there is a feedback mechanism and that there’s an incentive for the customers. One of the incentives is by mechanic of a monthly prize draw – they might get a voucher for £100+. Other countries use bounce-back discounts such as 10% off their next purchase upon completion to help from a loyalty and footfall point of view.
We’re in pretty much all of the major countries around the world, from Belgium and France to Hong Kong, Greece, India and Romania. In the franchise markets we deal with partners in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Oman, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Philippines, Turkey and Ukraine.
The number of countries and languages that we have to deal with has a major impact on delivery – at the last count we had 21 languages the survey was being completed in, and in some countries such as Hong Kong or Ukraine, you have to offer customers multiple language options. In turn, you have to ensure when you’re translating the survey, the language used befits the market it’s in. The feedback comes back in all of the languages that we have too, so we had to get appropriate translations for all of the surveys which is an additional complexity.
“When you’re dealing with scale you have to think about how the IT side is going to work. The easy part is to get the IT department putting the messages on the bottom of the receipts, but where you have bounce-back discounts, for instance, it’s about getting the method to reconcile back with the different systems that’s a tricky part.
Where we kick-off in each country we ask for representation from the retail department, the IT department and the marketing department in those specific countries, to make sure the IT works, that the retails guys understand what we’re doing and the benefits we’re getting out of it, and that the marketing teams gets a flavour of the feedback that’s coming through in order to be able to develop that with the rest of the business as we go forwards.
Determining what to measure
“From an immediate review point of view, we work with a system that’s easy to use. The metrics range from ‘highly dissatisfied’ to ‘highly satisfied’, or ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.
We look at the overall satisfaction and that’s comparing like for like, and then we’ll look at different metrics around the store. We’ve got two different areas of the survey and how we class it – one is the feeling factors – satisfaction, likely to recommend and likely to return. We only ask for gut reaction to what the customer thought of the service the last time they visited a store. After that, we look at the experience factors such as store environment – were staff available, were they friendly, how were the fitting rooms, how were the checkouts.
The idea is to look at the overall satisfaction and rank countries on that basis. Then behind that we get to understand who is lowest in the market and then work with those low down the list in order to work on more granular improvements.
Dealing with volume
“In terms of volume, you have to be careful as we do get a significant amount of respondents – we’ve been running the survey for over a year now and we’ve had 300,000+ responses. In India where we get 800+ responses every week. That gives you a gauge of what’s going on. It means we can be more prescriptive with what we want to achieve and also more comfortable that what we’re trying to address is a genuine issues. We don’t take one or two comments out of context, it’s about consistency through volume. What we don’t want to do is to react to too many metrics on too regular a basis, as you end up chopping and changing things too often.
That being said, we don’t go along every week thinking everything is rosy. People have bad experiences and we don’t discount that. It’s a mechanism for flagging bad experiences and we take them seriously, we don’t just discard all individual cases. We ask ‘do you want to be contacted by the store’ and if someone is highly dissatisfied, a store manager or regional manager responsible for the store has an obligation to contact the customer and understand the complaint they’ve made and to try and converse and recover the customer so they can see something has been done about the comment they’ve made and that we’re taking things seriously and can compensate their issue in some manner.
We’ve been running the survey for over a year now and we’ve had 300,000+ responses - this gives you an idea of the sheer scale we're working to
“We analyse over a period of 4-6 weeks or even a quarter, and look at what we’re focusing on for the next quarter. We recently focused on fitting rooms, for instance, as this was an area where customers were clearly expecting more from us.
Fixtures and fittings were not always up to standard and people were even asking why no one was giving any advice on style. Fitting rooms are a personal piece because once you go into a fitting room to try something on, you’re invested in it to some degree. So it’s an area that requires more attention from staff in order to help customers in that moment of need.
We looked at a number of different areas as a result of that analysis – the fabrics of the fitting rooms, the training programme around ensuring the service standards from customer assistants was to an adequate level, and then be able to make sure the teams were trained in store and then delivering their new training to the customer.
Then the last part was about asking the store managers to go and observe how staff were working with fitting room customers and gaining an understanding of what they were doing to improve the experience, before delivering feedback about what needed to be done to improve things. We did a lot of work on fitting rooms and the metric improved by 7% between Q4 in 2016 and Q1 in 2017. The money was spent and service has improved.
“The challenge I have set is that we need to find out the things we don’t already know. We know what stores do, the issues that come in, but actually there’s so much information that we can make sweat a little harder through future use of text analytics, data analytics. That’s the next step – we’ve got a successful roll-out with the survey but now we’re into continuous improvement and we need to look at these other areas to enrich the feedback we’re getting.
It’s been a hugely valuable exercise. The value we get with partners around the world; the fact that customers are now giving us that insight into what’s going on in-store. We want to ensure consistency remains across all our network and that we’re all continuously improving, so it’s without a shadow of a doubt one of the biggest drivers for determining how well things are working.
If there are projects taking place to do with stores, we can now reach out to say ‘customers are saying this, or that so you might want to consider that point in your development’. That’s compelling data to have on-hand and its on-going, which is key.