Home > Uncategorized > Is ‘chaos’ the forgotten secret weapon in winning consumer preference?

Is ‘chaos’ the forgotten secret weapon in winning consumer preference?

In the recent round of conferences, seminars and workshops that I hope will nourish and inspire fresh thinking I was struck by a new insight. This was somewhat unexpected given that, for the most part, the ‘macro narrative’ (easy there Ed) was about the inexorable rise of multi-channel.

The emerging thought, not a revolutionary thought to be sure, was the sense that people don’t turn up for work trying to actively get in the way of progress and company success. They actually want to do a good job, even more so when they are actively aligned behind this ambition. I have recently been surprised that in some instances the parent business rather assumes that the frontline staff will passive-aggressively stifle advancement in order to say at a later date… “I told you it wouldn’t work”. Digital channels therefore are sometimes seen as the inevitable way to mitigate the risk of people interacting with customers.

How refreshing therefore to hear Sir Charles Mayhew talking at the Marketing Society Annual Lecture on how the practical application of ‘partnership’ …90,000 partners indeed, have come to give John Lewis in its two major incarnations, Waitrose and John Lewis, a significant brand and operational advantage. And even more frightening from a competitor’s point of view, is his belief that the talents of this army of front line staff are only partially utilized. Wait until he gets going with plans for full talent utilisation…

Sir Charles (may I be so impertinent and call him Charlie?) believes that most retailers are obsessed with sales rather than customers. He believes that there is mileage to be gained in reversing this. This thought becomes particularly intriguing as 5% of JLP customers account for 50% sales.

While Retail business generally is very inefficient, the rise of Omni-channel marketing offers the opportunity to understand customers much better and apply behavioural insights in real time. But while the customer journey is evolving, with many opportunities to assess, scope, compare and ask questions, the partner interface remains the key deliverer of “wow” moments. The kind of service that people will share with friends and gets recounted across breakfast tables, coffee houses and office water coolers and a myriad of other conversational currency exchange hot spots. Staff, or more accurately, partners, have a vested interest in delivering “wow”…in this case unscripted and memorable service.

All partners at JLP are encouraged to be ‘relentlessly restless’ and operate in a mild state of permanent dissatisfaction in order to keep striving for better. This can create a somewhat chaotic and unplanned progress map but can yield dramatic results.

The big opportunity ahead is to understand customers better and authentically replicate and support what the front line have been doing for years. So for example, a delighted customer met by Sir Charlie in a store check commented on a moment of genuine retail delight: – “Madam – how was your tuna steak…?” – a question posed at the next opportunity and in this instance some three weeks after selling the steak. Pertinent and affable ‘memory’ allied to genuine care and concern for customer satisfaction appears to be winning the battle for customer preference.

JLP are now looking to embrace technology that shares customer knowledge more effectively and appropriately. The trick here is to make sure that confidentiality is maintained and respected.

In Sir Charlie’s view, the partners are a critical part of the brand differentiation and create a halo of trust that flows over the online channels. The result is a new and dynamic symbiosis that is giving customers great service wherever they seek to engage. Brands have an opportunity here to create new blended channel experiences for their customers.

While the commercial omni-channel eco-system is evolving fast, it is reassuring to hear that insightful, off-script and respectful personal service is still a successful ingredient for many. Let a little chaos in to the process and be prepared for a pleasant surprise.

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