If you’re a retailer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the incredible amount of disruption in the sector. Read on to see how retailers like John Lewis and Co-op are rising to the challenge. 

At Salesforce World Tour London 2017, regional vice president for Retail at Salesforce UK, Chris Wood, listed just some of the ways the shopping experience is changing. Amazon has introduced checkout-free stores. Consumers are using smart speakers and messenger apps as personal shoppers. Levi’s and Google have even developed a “connected jacket” for urban cyclists, with smart fabric that can alert them – thanks to an integration with Google Maps – to nearby shopping experiences.

The pace of change is dizzying, but the message coming across at Salesforce World Tour was a reassuring one. Don’t panic. Just stay focused on your customer.


Focus on the customer experience

That doesn’t mean retailers can stand still and do nothing, of course. Staying focused on the customer means understanding what each customer wants and values, and delivering that to them in the form of a superior shopping experience. 

That comes down to a combination of technology and culture – and the one can’t succeed without the other. 

On the technology side, Salesforce World Tour showcased many examples of retailers using the Salesforce platform to improve and personalise the customer experience. 

Adidas has used it to gain a single view of each customer, whether they’re online or in a store. 

Centrica’s smart-home brand, Hive, helps customers choose the right smart thermostat by enabling them to upload a photo of their existing thermostat to Salesforce Commerce Cloud. There, Salesforce’s Einstein image recognition software analyses it and tells them whether it’s compatible with a Hive smart thermostat. It’s all about simplifying the shopping experience.


Co-op transforms its customer service approach with Salesforce

In a panel session hosted by Chris Wood, executives from John Lewis and Co-op shared their experiences of using Salesforce to put the customer at the centre of everything they do. 

“Lots of contact centres make things over-complicated,” said Claire Carroll, head of customer services at the Co-op. “Salesforce is simple and intuitive – and that makes it easier to train advisors, too.”

Co-op has used Salesforce to support a far-reaching business transformation, led by the executive team behind the company’s recent turnaround. “Co-op has been through a troubled period,” said Carroll. “You used to see advisors arguing with customers. Now, we put the customer first. We’ve removed the bad processes that created a poor experience for them.”

Behind the scenes, that’s meant using Salesforce to create a unified view of the customer across the company’s different divisions. “We now have our membership business and our food retail business on the same platform,” explained Carroll. “It’s allowed us to drive up membership volumes – we now convert 20% of people who call into our food service centre to a membership.”

The investment in Salesforce has been complemented by a cultural shift towards putting the customer first. Co-op’s contact centre agents are now empowered to buy a customer a gift as an apology, for example; a move that’s generated lots of positive reaction on social media. Co-op has received industry plaudits too – being rated top for complaint-handling by the Institute of Customer Service, and winning awards for its contact centre transformation. 

Co-op not only has happier customers, but business is booming too. Its new customer-centric approach has seen the volume of trade conducted through the contact centre increase by 9%, equivalent to an £8m annual uplift. 


John Lewis puts the customer first

It’s a similar story at John Lewis, whose head of customer fulfilment operations, Eva Cullen, said that Salesforce has been the engine of the iconic retailer’s customer-first transformation. “We used to use Six Sigma and Lean to guide process efficiency,” she said. “But now we think about the customer experience, and redesign our processes around that.” 

In the contact centre, for example, John Lewis has designed screens in Salesforce Service Cloud to ensure advisors capture the true voice of the customer. “It can be easy just to hear what you want to hear when you’re handling a customer enquiry,” Cullen explained. “We redesigned the screens so advisors have to listen to what the customer is really saying.” 

The approach extends into the retailer’s KPIs, which are now all around measuring the customer experience. “We’re measuring whether we’re meeting customers’ needs, whether those needs have changed, and if so, what we need to change in order to meet them,” said Cullen.


AI will be key – but the human touch will still be essential

Both Co-op and John Lewis are keeping a close eye on technological innovations, and making plans to incorporate them into their operations. Artificial intelligence is a prime example: it has obvious benefits for retailers, but it’s essential to get the customer experience right. 

“There’s definitely an opportunity for chatbots and artificial intelligence in our insurance business,” said Co-op’s Carroll. “But it must be something that can escalate to a human agent if there’s a problem.” 

John Lewis is also looking at investing in AI, both for internal and customer-facing operations. “We’re looking at robotic process automation, to take away manual handling of data and strip processes down to a minimum,” said Cullen. She also sees a big opportunity for “assisted AI” in customer-facing processes, where predictive analytics can help John Lewis’s people deliver a better customer experience. For example, if AI senses that a customer delivery could be delayed, it could trigger an automated alert to the customer – but also notify a service agent to take action. 

To be successful, AI and human intelligence have to work hand in hand. “We could use AI to predict when a customer is about to have a baby, and suggest relevant products,” said Cullen. “But there are obvious risks there, too. For us, it’s all about what we can do to empower our people to exceed customer expectations.”

The key is to stay focused on the customer – and that’s exactly what Salesforce enables retailers to do. By having a single view of the customer across online and offline, across marketing, sales, and service operations, retailers can use that data to drive ever more intelligent, personalised and differentiated experiences. 

Most important – they can use it to put their customers firmly in the centre of everything they’re trying to do. 

For further insights into how these new technology enabled experiences are disrupting retail, check out this e-book: Engage With Today’s Customers: 4 Ways Retail Can Reimagine Business.