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This year’s BT for Retail Summit was held in the motorsport-themed Whittlebury Hall, just a champagne cork’s pop from Silverstone. As they pulled in from the high speed High Street chase, what did the nearly 200 delegates get out of this two-day technology pit stop?

It wasn’t a rest, that’s for sure. Two days, packed with retail technology presentations, demonstrations, articulations and explanations. And, just as Formula One winners are decided by the tiniest of margins, everyone attending was making full use of every second at the event to try and gain an advantage when they rejoined the race.

The focus was on the practical, the here and now. So we had BT futurologist Nicola Millard describing herself as a ‘now-ologist’ while unveiling the latest customer loyalty research which highlighted the importance of reducing effort for customers. Then John Ryan, stores editor at Retail Week and Drapers, raced through a whistle stop tour of the best in-store theatre around the world, ending with “I have one second left…”

This ‘every second counts’ approach ran through the whole event. Even in between formal sessions – in the Indianapolis, Hockenheim and Hungoraring suites – retailers were rattling through a room full of technology demonstrations. Clienteling? Check. In-store wi-fi? Check. PayPal integration? Check? Cloud-based infrastructure? Check. Go, go, go!!

Every one of the delegates would have come armed with analysis of how the race had been unfolding and where remedial work was needed – they’d also have predictions of the conditions they’d be likely to face and an interest in what the competition was up to.

But what shone through was the collaborative spirit. The tone was set by our new CEO David Grossman, who kicked everything off by lifting the lid on some of the latest innovations he’d seen after a recent trip to Silicon Valley.

It was an event that was geared up for sharing as retailers got together to discuss experiences, solutions, insights and challenges. So Brown Thomas, Notcutts and Thomas Pink shared centre stage in a presentation on customer loyalty; Claire’s, Jigsaw UK and Jigsaw24 shared their web design experiences; PayPal and the Logic Group shared a vision of payments beyond plastic; WH Smith and The Co-operative Food Group explained how Elfs and beetles had helped stock shelves and serve customers; and Crabtree & Evelyn and Fat Face had an open discussion on the future of the store.

All too quickly, the pit stop was over and people rejoined the race – fired up for the next few laps. The brand takes all the glory, of course, but the IT, e-commerce, marketing, CRM and operational teams underpinning it are the ones really driving the business.

We’ll have videos, photos and presentations from the event available shortly. In the meantime, you can see the Fat Face case study video shown during the event.

Posted by Justine Arthur, Head of Communications and Campaigns, BT Expedite & Fresca

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We’re about to kick off a new customer relationship management (CRM) and loyalty initiative with the garden and outdoor specialist Notcutts. The company is family-owned and it’s been ‘helping gardeners since 1897’. Now, with 19 garden centres across the country, the personal and expert service that Notcutts has always prided itself on is about to get a 21st century makeover.

We’ll be helping Notcutts build on the success of its Sage Privilege Club, an industry-leading loyalty programme with over 125,000 members. But the new loyalty, CRM and clienteling solution will bring the management of all of this in-house.

The two main planks of the new programme are: the CRM loyalty solution, a multichannel customer database and campaign manager; and a clienteling application that will put customer information at the fingertips of the customer service team.

When it comes to gardening, Notcutts believes that “there’s nothing we love more than rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in” and that hands-on approach is just as important when it comes to tending to customers! The thinking behind the move to in-house management is that Notcutts will be able to drive more responsive and proactive services to its customers, through improved customer insight.

And as well as a more personalised experience for customers, it’ll mean a much more joined up experience too – both for customers and behind the scenes. That’s because Notcutts are also planning to roll out our clienteling tool – which generates a complete view of customer behaviour – to help Customer Services manage queries and follow-ups more efficiently. As a result, the service team will have instant, real-time access to customer activity and interaction across all touchpoints so they’ll be much better equipped to deal with customer queries.

Notcutts will be lifting the lid on its CRM and loyalty experiences at the BT for Retail Summit 2013 next week at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire. If you want to attend, register now.

Posted by Tanya Bowen, Director, CRM Loyalty and Clienteling, BT Expedite & Fresca

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Shopping is often still a contact sport but, when it comes to advice seeking, bagging a bargain and ensuring the item you want is in stock, online retailers often have a distinct advantage over traditional ones.

Online shopping has changed people’s perceptions of service, value for money and convenience. Search engines have made the world our shop window, social media has become our source of trusted advice and smart phones have given us superpowers and blurred the lines between the physical and the virtual.

Showrooming is a symptom of customers’ increasing love affair with multiple channels. 1 in 2 of us now continuously leap around channels in order to get what we need, when we need it and at the right price. As more channels emerge, customers’ appetite for using these channels is continuously evolving. 82% of “autonomous customers” in BT’s recent survey of both UK and US customers say that they want organisations to give them access to all the channels that will help them to meet their needs.

However, more channels often means more complexity. It used to be easy to cope when your customers only walked through the front door of your store – now multiple channels mean multiple doors and multiple connecting corridors and it is very easy to get lost!

When things go wrong, it’s often the old, trusted phone channel that customers rely on to get answers or express our disgust. However, we may not stop there – we may then email, webchat and Tweet our way around the same issue.

The challenge for retailers is to ensure that these multiple doors are connected. The store, the website and the contact centre are intimately linked in the customer’s mind, but are often not even next door to each other organisationally.

Staff in physical stores need to regard the web as an asset rather than a competitor. They need to be empowered to cope with some of the more challenging things that customers (particularly the under 34s) are doing in store – like barcode scanning or location based searches. They also need to be networked in, alongside contact centre advisors, supply chain and product specialists, to newer channels for advice seeking, like webchat and social media. In short, they need to become as omni-channel as their customers.

If you want to hear more about this kind of thing, I’ll be presenting a session at the BT for Retail Summit 2013 on 22-23 May at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire. You can get more information and register for the event here.

Posted by Dr Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist, BT

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