When a customer has a bad experience, offering a refund is the easy option. But it doesn’t always restore a customer’s confidence in a brand. Claire Carroll, Head of Head of Sales and Services at the Co-op, explains how one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives and the UK’s sixth biggest food retailer has transformed how it responds to customer feedback - with fantastic results


Tell us about customer service at the Co-op.

We think it’s important to build a good rapport with customers – and they think so too! Our most popular customer service channel is still the phone, but we’re seeing a lot more engagement on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.

People want an immediate response, and that’s exactly what our people deliver. Based across four locations, they handle around three million cases per year both from Co-op customers and colleagues. Instead of operating federated customer contact centres, we now have a single team that responds to food, funeral care, and membership queries.


Why does every customer contact matter to the Co-op?

When a customer engages with your brand, it comes from a place of passion. So we are grateful that customers contact us - even if their feedback is negative.

We don’t want to just give people a refund when there’s a problem; we want to give them a genuine response and a personalised experience that they will remember. Every customer service manager has an online account to send a personalised gift to customers. For example, we sent a dressing up box to a young girl after she had a bad experience with one of our products. For our funeral care business, we need to be careful that our tokens of resolution are heartfelt and considerate, so we’ll give a charity donation or contribute to a memorial.

We encourage our advisors to take their time with customers and to follow up with them afterwards. Some customers are so delighted about how we handle a difficult situation that they share their experience on social media.


What is your most important metric for customer service?

That’s easy: customer satisfaction. I look at the numbers every morning and if there’s a dip I know there’s a service issue that I need to look into. Our customer satisfaction rating for membership queries is currently running at around 96%, which is much higher than the industry average.

Our advisors can only meet customer expectations if we equip them with the right tools and information. We’ve created a knowledge management system in Service Cloud to help them provide quick responses and resolutions to customers. Service Cloud is intuitive to use and enables us to take a more automated and connected approach to customer service.  


How do you make the most of new Service Cloud features?

We’ve got a dedicated inhouse team looking at how they can improve our processes on a daily basis. We appointed a group of Salesforce Admins and encouraged them to upskill the team - some of our advisors have even defected and joined their ranks!

Our advisors understand our processes and challenges the best, and they will often proactively reach out to the admins to ask for changes. It’s great to see such a collaborative - and successful - approach to continuous improvement: one year we made around 300 customisations to Service Cloud! The admins also use Trailhead to polish their skills and tap into new ideas. 


What’s next on the customer service innovation radar? 

There’s a lot more that we want to explore from a technology perspective, including mobile messaging, live chat, computer telephony integration, and artificial intelligence. Salesforce will be key to helping us bring our ideas to life. The Salesforce team take time to understand our businesses, customers, and challenges, and to identify how we can make better use of the platform. We are also looking at expanding our use of Service Cloud within the Coop HR contact centre, which will enable us to prioritise colleagues in the same way we prioritise customers.


What advice would you give to companies that want to blaze a trail in customer service?

Listen to your customers. Listen to your advisors. They hold the key to identifying problems and opportunities. By simplifying the systems and processes used by advisors, you can empower them to resolve customer issues in the best way possible. Oh, and don’t be afraid to rewrite the customer service rules! Ripping up the rulebook helped us win the Best Voice of the Customer award at the European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards in 2017.

Learn more about how the Co-op has increased customer spend and satisfaction by transforming its customer service approach.