They have data at their fingertips and your competitor is only a click, or a few steps, away.

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

So, here’s my whistle-stop tour of five key themes of the day:

We’re all in the same boat!

The feeling was that it is incredibly challenging trying to keep up with rapidly changing customer demands (and understanding what these even are!), where big players like online giants Amazon, Netflix and eBay can influence what customers expect from other retailers.

There was broad agreement that we’re drowning in data – so much so that it’s overwhelming and difficult to know where to start.

Andrew Mann, Customer Data Director, Cooperative Group reminded everyone of its purpose:

“Big data is about doing big things for customers.”

However, retailers are making strides, which was very clear from the project details shared by brands such as Office, Tesco, Monsoon Accessorize, the Cooperative Group, AO and Tasty PLC.

John Bovill, E-Commerce & IT Director, Monsoon Accessorize, had these tips:

  • Develop a set of hypotheses – and therefore the questions you want to ask
  • Ensure you have someone who can wrangle the data
  • Ensure you have someone who’s a story-teller and can interpret the data in a way that will make a difference to the business
  • Create a “data theatre” – a room where people can drop in and get the insight they want to help them with their work

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

The personal touch is still important

What was refreshing is the acknowledgement that although quantitative data is important and will take you some way to understanding your customers, it is still very important to speak directly with your customers.

Walking the shop floor and talking to people there, holding regular focus groups and shopper experience sessions were the order of the day. Far from being thought of as outdated, the brands all recognised the importance of this rich qualitative insight as ‘gold’.

Martin Newman, CEO, Practicology and Chairman of the event, shared his view that customers want us to get back to good old-fashioned principles of face to face contact and personal service – like the TV show The Waltons.

He cited Burberry as a good example; store associates have iPads and they assign a personal contact to every online order, who you can then go and see in-store. Victoria Beckham’s flagship store in London brings the till to the customer on an iPad – removing a barrier and making the shopping experience more convenient.

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

It’s a journey for your business and it won’t happen overnight

It’s so important to take your people along with you.

John Bovill, E-Commerce & IT Director, Monsoon Accessorize, told us that managing people and culture were the most challenging aspects of a customer insight and business transformation project. His advice to address this is to get all stakeholders involved at the beginning and act as a facilitator, rather than as a dictator. Share successes and make customer satisfaction metrics part of everyone’s KPIs.

Yossi Erdman, Head of Brand and Social Media, shared a great example of how they are doing this at and creating a culture of customer service obsession.

Understanding that delivery is the ‘final mile’ that leaves customers with a lasting impression of the company, the customer service team came up with the idea to send a ‘driver social media’ report home to drivers every two weeks. The report gave the drivers (and their partners!) more visibility of their impact on customers and they were encouraged to ask their customers to leave feedback on social media. Those top ten with the best feedback receive a personal letter of thanks from the CEO.

In the future, customer metrics should be just as prominent as financial metrics within the business, according to Guy Lister, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer at Office.

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

Tap into customers’ sense of belonging and purpose

Customers like to feel part of a brand that they care about, so social media and user generated content can be very powerful – as demonstrated by

Apart from identifying how ‘people love to count on social media’ and indulging that through clever competitions that make white goods more engaging, they’ve elicited customer stories. Using these stories of how AO solved their problem (e.g. needing to make cupcakes and the fridge had gone kaput) to humanise the customer experience makes it much more relatable than just showing a fridge and a price tag.

Customers care about the wider world they’re living in too, of course. Dr Alan Treadgold, Independent Global Retail Advisor, pointed to a ‘connectivity paradox’ we’re living in, where the more digitally connected we are, the less human connection we actually feel.

More and more brands are recognising that customers want to make a difference through participative engagement, whether that’s on a local level by buying craft beer produced by a small co-op or being part of an initiative where they buy a product and the company does some good in a related way, e.g. like TOMS. Take a look at Wrigley’s campaign launched this week for another great example.

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

Transformative technology must work for the customer

Without doubt the retail and marketing landscape has been changed by technological advances.  As with any element of our service, we must understand what technology it is appropriate to deploy and when.

Sometimes keeping it simple is required.

As Guy Lister, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer at Office pointed out, the in-store environment has changed so quickly and customers can now interact with huge touch screens in shop windows; however these innovations can quickly become like museum pieces if they don’t really meet a customer’s need.

Guy also shared a cautionary tale on the back of this: beware of moving too fast for your customers. Office tried beacon technology in stores and it won awards for the campaign, but from their customer feedback programme, they realised that customers often don’t have Bluetooth switched on while shopping and they don’t like the interruptive advertising. I mean, you would find a survey popping up on your phone while you are shopping an inconvenience to say the least!

This image hsows the BRC Customer Insight 2016 Conference

Final stop…

All in all, the conference was a great experience; a chance to share our challenges, swap tips and techniques and most of all – plan for the future of how we’ll wrangle with the customer journey and all the data it produces to extract the gold of actionable customer insight.

Now I’m back off to my desk to see how much of this insightful knowledge I can cram into my day to day work at Silverbean. I hope you enjoyed my BRC Customer Insight Conference round up, oh and, make sure you say hello over on Twitter (@neinasheldon or @silverbean).


Photos provided by the BRC.