John Lewis: Digital comes second in our ‘old world’ view of customer service

John Lewis’ retail director Andrew Murphy has admitted that the company, renowned for its high quality customer service, has a traditional view of customer service that does not prioritise digital technologies.

“We think about customer services in a fairly old world way,” Murphy told the Forrester’s Forum for Customer Experience Professional in London today.

“We try and focus on the things that must be true, that underpin great customer experience.”

While John Lewis does invest in IT and online channels, Murphy said that getting the foundations of good customer service right is where the retailer likes to try and focus. The IT then supports this - 40 percent of John Lewis’ annual capital expenditure is spent on IT, Murphy said - playing a significant role in delivering the five building blocks on which John Lewis’ good customer experience is based.

The retailer has previously acknowledged that “excellent behind-the-scenes” support from IT and operations helps it to deliver high levels of customer service, which has led to higher sales. For example, it uses the Splunk Enterprise platform to analyse date from its e-commerce systems in real-time, to help it better understand purchasing trends, improve customer experience and drive higher converesion rates.

Five building blocks of customer experience

According to Murphy, to deliver excellent customer service, companies should focus on their staff more than their customers; make their business a mirror of their customer; offer more than just transactions and contact; be prepared to lose money to deliver on the customer service promise; and deliver all of this through a “coherent customer experience system”.

For example, John Lewis customers believe they are competent, Murphy said, and the retailer attempts to reflect this by having simple and effective processes in place, competent staff and by providing systems and tools that enable staff to deal with customers competently.

Meanwhile, John Lewis’ retail director revealed that the company spends £8 million a year on ‘goodwill’ payments to customers when things go wrong, which it is ready to sacrifice to benefit from lifetime customer loyalty.

“Deliver this through a coherent customer experience ‘system’,” Murphy said. “Have a good end-to-end journey.”

What’s next?

Murphy admitted that for a company as old as John Lewis - it is 150 years old this year - it is not easy to keep up with the changes in the market, in particular with the developments in omnichannel.

“I’m having to learn about a new way of working around e-commerce and how the channels merge. Most of the touchpoints converge in the contact centre, which is a key battleground for us,” he said.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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