Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!! Why is it so difficult to understand the importance of customer experience?

There is one thing I can guarantee that everyone reading this blog can agree with – we all know what it feels like to be a customer. We are all consumers. We all interact with different organisations every day – utility companies; the post office; telecoms companies; retailers; restaurants; hotels; petrol stations; dry cleaners – we are customers of all of them. We all have huge ‘libraries’ of experiences built up over the years we have interacted with them. Some of those experiences are fantastic. Some of those experiences are not so fantastic. We have all been customers for years (some of us admittedly longer than others!!). It is when you start to think about the fact that you have been having customer experiences for so long, that it becomes startlingly clear why recognising the importance of the customer is so obvious!

So why is it not obvious? Why do some companies just ‘not get it’? Why do business leaders seem to focus on everything and anything but doing the right thing for the customer? The men in suits that only seem to understand spread sheets and balance sheets are no different to you and I. They are all customers too! They have the same day-to-day interactions with companies as customers as we do.

I have had many conversations with senior leaders about their own customer experiences – experiences they have in their day-to-day lives. Experiences that are very personal to them. When you start to talk to people who run businesses about experiences personal to them, they often get very animated – as we all do. It is the perfect way to get the ‘lightbulb’ lit, so to speak. Encouraging people to talk about the customer experience from their own perspective is a very simple, yet extremely effective way to allow everyone to understand what you are trying to achieve.

You often do not need to tell the business leader, who has just described in minute detail the horrors of dealing with his Telecoms company, that the experience he has just described is bizarrely similar to the experience his own customers are having. If you are lucky, the business leader will twig this fact hallway through their ‘rant’! We will all have strategies for trying to influence organisations to focus on the customer. This is one way of doing it. Obviously, getting business leaders to experience the same customer journey as their customers is another, simple yet effective strategy.

So the next time you are sitting in a room of ‘men and women in suits’ and you are thinking ‘aaarrrggghhhhh!!! why do they just not get it’ – remind them that they are all customers themselves. Get them to talk about experiences as a customer – good and bad. Get them to recount stories of being let down – and the actions they took as a result. None of this will guarantee success – but when people remember that they are customers themselves, it often gets them to think differently.

Your comments on this or any of my blogs are most welcome.

My favourite bit is….. Can you compare your customer experience with a good movie?

Everyone (at least almost everyone) has a favourite movie. Whether it be ‘An Officer and a Gentlemen’, ‘ET’, ‘Gandhi’, ‘The Sound of Music’ or even the latest Bond movie – ‘Skyfall’. We all love going to the cinema and being ‘wowed’ by the stars of the big screen. Now you may be wondering why I am rabbiting on about the cinema in a blog about customer experience!! Well let me tell you why.

The concept of the customer journey is becoming more commonplace all over the world. With the help of customer experience professionals, organisations are acknowledging that the customers they serve experience a ‘journey’ – not a process or a series of processes. It is important when introducing the concept of the ‘customer journey’ to an organisation, you are able to explain it in a way that all levels of the business will be able to relate to. Having a variety of appropriate analogies ‘in your pocket’ is a huge help. That is where the movies come in!

Do you remember the bit in ‘When Harry met Sally’ when Meg Ryan gets a little excited in a diner? I am pretty sure that if you have seen the film (and I may be showing my age here), you will not need me to describe what happened in detail!

What about the bit in ‘Titanic’ where Kate and Leonardo are standing on the front of the ship?

Or the bit in ‘there’s something about Mary’ when Cameron Diaz applies some ‘hair gel’ ……

I am not sounding very cultured here am I?! Whether you like these films or not, I remember these particular scenes because I consider them to be the ‘best bits’ – the ‘wow moments’. I talk about these scenes to friends and family. When I recommended that people go and see a movie, it will have been these scenes that I referred to in my recommendation.

I my mind, the experiences we have on a daily basis as a consumer are no different to the experiences we have when watching a movie. All movies have a beginning and an end. All movies have bits in the middle. If you consider the customer experience that your organisation serves to its customers – what kind of movie might they be experiencing?

Ask yourself the question – can your customers recollect the best bit of the experience – the killer scene? Or is the only scene in the movie they remember a bit of a ‘horror story’? The memorable elements of a customers experience are akin to the ‘best bits’ in a movie. Customers will not necessarily remember anything else about the journey. I certainly do not remember every other scene in ‘When Harry met Sally’ – but without the rest of the movie, the infamous scene in the diner would not have been possible.

Transacting with Amazon, for example, is often a rewarding experience – they are not widely regarded as one of the most customer centric retailers on the planet for nothing. But what are the Amazon best bits? The ‘one click’ checkout is fantastic – I always remember that bit. The fact they know who I am and let me see things personalised to me – that is pretty good to. I do not remember the look and feel of the website – that is pretty standard and not very exciting. I do not remember the delivery driver. Buying something from Amazon is like watching a good movie. It has its memorable scenes, with ‘glue’ that joins the rest of the journey together – not memorable, but essential to make the ‘end to end’ experience happen.

I once asked a company what the memorable ‘scenes’ were in their customer journey – they could not give me any. Why will customers return to experience a journey that does not contain anything positively and emotionally memorable? We often hear professionals talking about the brilliant basics – the art of getting your customer journey to just do what it says it will. If you can add a bit of WOW to the brilliant basics, you have the formula for a brilliant customer experience – one that will have customers coming back for me, as well as telling everyone they know.

So what do you want your customer experience to feel like?

1. ‘Batman and Robin’? One critic said of this film:

“[The cast] is quite a line-up, boasting a broad choice of dramatic styles, and what lends the movie cohesion and integrity is the fact that all those involved have come up with their worst imaginable performances. You sit there feeling brain-damaged and praying for the mayhem to cease.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker.

2. Or ‘The Godfather’? One critic said of this film:

“The wedding sequence… is a virtuoso stretch of filmmaking: Coppola brings his large cast onstage so artfully that we are drawn at once into the Godfather’s world.” –  Roger Ebert – Chicago Sun – Times

In researching for this blog, I came across a couple of interesting ‘movie’ websites. If you are interested, have a look here – and here

As always, I welcome any comments on my blogs – if you just want to tell me what your favourite scene in a movie is, then I would be delighted to hear it!!

Is your customer experience a Victorian penny dreadful or the greatest story ever told?

Great blog post Rod – I often use the analogy of your ‘favourite film’ to describe the customer journey – you only tend to remember the best bits – the WOW moments – the rest of the film is absolutely necessary or you would not have the WOW moments at all. What are the WOW moments in your customer journey? What will they remember? Or is your customer journey like watching a very dull documentary on something that does not interest you!!

Rod's Round Up

I remember reading a great paper from a few years ago in the Journal of Service Research, called “Service Design for Experience Centric Services” that talks about the

similarities between customer experience and plays, novels and films. The main point being to think about and design customer experience as ‘theatre’, and consider the dramatic flow and progression (the start, middle and end) of the customer journey as interactions occur.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about disciplines like customer journey mapping; the paper says we typically tend to remember the high and low points, and the ending, how you feel at the interaction’s conclusion. I would emphasise the word, ‘feel’ here, because it is our emotional response to customer experiences that will stay long with us after the mechanics – the nuts and bolts – of an interaction are long forgotten.

The sad fact is that doing…

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I just want to close the curtains!! Can you take customer experience innovation too far?

This is a building in Glasgow. It looks like any other ‘modernish’ office block in the UK. This is not an office though. This building is a hotel – a new hotel in Glasgow called CitizenM. I had the pleasure (or at least I think that is what it was supposed to be) of staying in this hotel a couple of weeks ago. It is my experience of staying there that is the subject of this blog.

If you have not heard of CitizenM hotels, I had better explain a little more about them – this is what it says on the homepage of their website

citizenM is a new breed of hotel now in Amsterdam, Glasgow and London, and coming soon to New York, Paris and a city near you. citizenM welcomes the mobile citizens of the world- the suits, weekenders, explorers, affair-havers and fashion-grabbers looking for boutique hotel accommodations. So if you travel with an open mind, a love of free movies on demand and free WiFi, come in and take a room tour. The inspiration hungry: meet citizenMag, our lifestyle magazine. The gung ho: jump straight to reservations.

‘New breed of hotel’ – well they have certainly got that right! The first impression on entering is very good – it looks exceptionally cool. Bright colours; gadgets; quirky seating areas; fantastic furniture and lighting – it is definitely different. It looked like the 1960’s had crashed into 2012 and created a whole new style. I actually became quite excited at the prospect of staying the night (which is not what I usually feel on turning up at a typical hotel when on business). So why am I writing a blog about a fab looking hotel in Glasgow?

I am writing this blog because, as many of you who read my blogs know, I am rather interested in the customer experience. The customer experience represents a journey – an ‘end to end’ journey. The experience I had at the CitizenM hotel in Glasgow surprised me – especially as my first impression was so good – but regrettably my first impression was very different to my last.

Let us start at the beginning. The reception at CitizenM is…..different. It looks a little like the check in at an airport these days – a series of self-serve computer terminals. Now the problem with computers is that they are not very personal. They do not say hello with a wide beaming smile. They do not give you a warm feeling on entering an establishment. They are efficient and effective though……..if they work. I was asked (by the computer) to enter my name or reservation number. I could not retrieve my reservation number from my phone (I could not get a signal and had not yet logged on to the hotel’s free wi-fi), so entered my name. The response – ‘name not recognised’. I did this three times before scratching my head. ‘Help’, I muttered meekly. Despite reception being a bank of computer terminals, there were two staff on hand (thankfully). They could not understand what the problem was either. Eventually, one of these ‘people’ discovered that my name had been entered incorrectly into the system – they had missed the ‘g’ off the end of’ Golding. This nice chap asked me to re-enter my name missing off the ‘g’ – it worked. I was to be known as Mr Goldin for the remainder of my stay.

I eventually checked in and entered the elevator – slightly less excited, but intrigued to see my room. And what a sight it was. Not the biggest room in the world, but definitely one of the quirkiest. At one end was an enormous bed – literally filling the space ‘wall to wall’. There was a weird bathroom on the left with a huge shower that had a floor to ceiling glass wall into the bedroom area. The sink was not in the bathroom – but in the bedroom itself (slightly odd), and that was about it.

I was told at reception (by a person, not a computer), that everything in the room was electronic – to be controlled by a ‘touchscreen Moodpad’. The ‘Moodpad’ was basically a large remote control. I found it sat in the cradle by the enormous bed. Now I do not mind using a remote control – we have all been using them to control our TV sets for years. But when the remote control will only work when it is in its cradle (that is nailed to the table by a bed), it can be a little irritating. That is what happened in my case – every time I lifted the Moodpad out of the cradle, I was met with a ‘low battery’ warning. Because I could operate nothing in the room – and I mean nothing – without using this thing, I had no choice but to contort myself or get on the bed to do the simplest of things.

The low battery on the Moodpad was only the first issue. I wanted to do something quite dramatic – I wanted to turn on the lights. Now in the good old days, we were able to turn on the lights by exerting a huge amount of energy to ‘press a switch’. It is a complicated operation that requires lifting up ones arm to apply pressure to a switch on the wall. On doing so, white light would fill a room, or put the room in darkness. I have never had an issue with the experience of turning a light on or off. CitizenM felt it was an experience that needed innovating!

Once I had figured out where on the pad to turn on the light, white light is not what I got. The entire room was illuminated with coloured light – all the colours of the rainbow – fading in and out of various parts of the room. My shower was green – above the bed it was blue. I thought I was either dreaming or hallucinating. All I wanted was a light on – to see. I did not want a disco. Could I figure out how to get the simplest of things like white light – I am afraid I could not.

I am probably sounding very ‘uncool’ at this point – or a little bit of a killjoy. The lights were very nice – my children would have loved them. But are they really necessary? If I was on a romantic weekend break with my wife – they may have been appreciated. It was not only the lights that caused me some angst.

Next I wanted to close the curtains – or blinds in this case. In my house (obviously a very outdated one) – I walk up to my window, reach out my arms, and pull said arms together. It is an operation that takes milliseconds (although in truth I have never timed it). Again, my friends at CitizenM felt that this experience needed innovating. You could close the blinds, by using the Moodpad, or by pressing two buttons on the wall. The problem is that to close the blinds, you had to keep your finger on the button until they had reached their final destination – you could not press the button and watch as the blinds closed automatically like you would in your car. A simple thing like closing the blinds took about 15 seconds – yes I did measure it – 15 seconds wasted – although in total half a minute of my life (because I had to open them again) was lost on a completely pointless bit of innovation.

You are probably starting to realise that the initial joy at entering my hotel had waned by now. I was starting to think longingly about the Premier Inn and Travelodge – they may not be fancy, but at least I can turn on the lights and close the curtains without any bother!! To avoid rambling on and on about my problems with CitizenM, turning on the TV was yet another mind-boggling exercise that was overcomplicated by the Moodpad. My Moodpad had been renamed the ‘BadMoodPad’ by this stage.

There were other issues. When designing a hotel room, and the experience a guest might have within it, it is useful to walk through the journey a guest would. When entering a hotel room, it is very common for a guest to want to put their luggage somewhere. CitizenM did not think about this – the ‘floor’ was the only place I could put my suitcase. It would also be useful to have space next to the sink to put your wash bag – unless you have a very small wash bag, this is another part of the journey CitizenM overlooked. The bed at CitizenM is also ‘unmade’ – with the duvet rolled up on the centre of the bed. Why they think that a guest having to make his/her own bed is a good experience is beyond my comprehension.

It is not all bad news though. The beds are very comfortable – I did have a great nights sleep. I also had a wonderful shower – the shower is very well designed. It is a beautiful hotel – the interior design is stunning. Yet it feels as though so much time has been spent on design and technology, no-one has thought to test if it all actually comes together as a ‘hotel experience’ that works.

This was again evident at breakfast. I came down to breakfast to be greeted by…… I could not work out if I was in someones kitchen/diner, or if I had entered a canteen in a posh student union. I have stayed in hundreds of hotels all over the world, yet in CitizenM I could not figure out what to do or where to go. I felt embarrassed that I did not know what to do. There was no-one there to help me. So having loitered for a short while, I decided to give breakfast a miss. Checkout was not much better. I only had a computer terminal for company – no-one to ask me how my stay was (probably a good job in my case), or to wish me a safe trip.

I have written this blog – not to put down CitizenM hotels – although I know this is how it may look. If you are looking for something that is fun, quirky and cool – they are definitely for you. What CitizenM have done is develop a new product. Something that is definitely different and memorable. However, customer experience is not just about the product. It is essential that a customers ability to access the product and interact with it effectively in a way that meets their needs, is also considered. It is possible to ‘over-engineer’ and ‘over innovate’ to the point where the functionality of your product and experience is detrimental to the customer. Innovation in customer experience is vital – but it must work. CitizenM’s leadership team must ensure that they experience the journey themselves – do as their guests will do. Fix the stages of the journey that do not work, and do not be afraid to mix new technology with old.

Can you take customer experience innovation too far? I think so. I will have two memories of CitizenM. One is that it is cool. The second is that cool does not work. Will I go back? – no (although I might if the kids twist my arm).

As always, I welcome your comments on any of my blogs.

No one likes us….they don’t care!! What do we really think about our bank?

Can you remember when you opened your first bank account? I can. In 1991 I opened a Nat West bank account just before I went to University. Why did I open a Nat West account? In my case it was on the advice of my father who knew the account manager of the branch I opened it at. Many of my friends opened accounts with HSBC (Midland Bank at the time – yes I am getting on a bit!). Why did they open an HSBC account? They did so because it had a branch on the campus of our University – Brunel University in West London. They did not open the account with HSBC because it was a better bank than anyone else; it did not treat students any better than any other bank; they did not deliver a better customer experience than anyone else; they did so because in their case it was convenient. In my case it was because my dad knew the manager of the branch in Knighstbridge – which is a considerable distance from Uxbridge (yes it is just a coincidence that they both have ‘bridge’ in their name).

I can safely say that I have absolutely no idea what the name of this bank manager was/is. I am not even sure if I ever met him. In fact, 21 years later, I do not think I have ever met my ‘bank manager’. 21 years later, banks are viewed very differently. In fact today, bank managers are almost seen in the same light as estate agents (although I do like many estate agents – my brother is one!). We are all painfully aware of the way banks are perceived in the fallout of one of the worst economic crises our planet has seen. Today I heard a debate on BBC Radio 5 Live in the UK about the state of our banks and how they need to restore the consumers faith in them. In this blog, I am to give my perspective on that issue – one that I think is far more deep-rooted than the last five years. In my opinion, the problem is that the British consumer just ‘does not care’!

Think back again to when you opened your first bank account. Did you open it for any other reason than convenience or family legacy? In the last 21 years, I genuinely can still count on two hands the number of times I have directly contacted my bank (or vice versa). Some of those times were in my early student days when I just happened to ‘exceed my overdraft’ a few times. The relationship I have with my bank is one of necessity – we all need to have a bank account, but I can honestly, honestly say that I could not actually care less about my bank. My bank does nothing for me – and I suspect I do nothing in particular for them.

In 2011, I had a series of conversations with a high street bank about a CX role. They grilled me on my thoughts about banks. I told them what I have just told you – I am completely apathetic about my bank. I have no EMOTIONAL relationship with my bank. I asked whether or not they could blame me for having that opinion. They openly agreed with me. For anyone to care about anything, there has to be some kind of emotional relationship with that thing. There has to be a reason for me to want to have an interactive relationship that leads me to tell me friends and family all about it. It is possible to achieve – one bank that achieved that emotional relationship many years ago was First Direct.

Part of the HSBC group, First Direct was (in my opinion) the first bank to really connect with customers – they acknowledged that is what they are, and have delivered excellent customer service for a very long time. First Direct is also a bank where there is no direct face to face contact – it started as a telephone banking service, and is now multi-channel. First Direct understood/understands the importance of a FUNCTIONAL, ACCESSIBLE and EMOTIONAL relationship – and still deliver that today. If you ever ask a customer of First Direct what they think – they will always be incredibly positive. I have not met a single person yet who has said anything negative about them. This is quite a remarkable achievement in the current circumstances. These are some quotes from First Direct customers taken from the ‘TrustPilot’ website:

“Have been with First Direct for about 4 years now and have never had any issues at all.  I had only heard good things before joining and this has proved to be the case. The one thing that impresses me most is the helpfulness of the staff.  A UK call centre certainly makes a good impression and seems to understand your needs better.  As far as I can recall, every time I have called them they have resolved whatever needed to be done, in a helpful and courteous manner.”

“Great service from people who take time to care.  Transfer of account from Barclays was seamless and trouble-free. Have been with them for several months now, and wonder why I ever thought I’d need a local branch, this is the future of banking.”

“Easy to deal with anytime of day and great to speak to a human being often with a sense of humour. Can’t fault them. I’ve never had to walk into a bank since being with them for 20 + years.”

“I am constantly frustrated by the service of many companies but I have to say that First Direct Bank are absolutely brilliant. You phone them and a real person answers very quickly and there are no annoying menus to have to go through. The people who answer are very polite, very efficient and generally can deal with you without having to put you through to someone else. Their call centre is in the UK and so they can easily be understood. Their online banking is great also. I have banked with them for about 20 years and for someone like me to say that I have never had any problems with them is quite amazing. I have baked with about 4 banks in my life plus about 10 building societies and First Direct are easily the best by far.”

First Direct care about their customers – and so it seems that their customers care about them. What intrigues me is that knowing how good First Direct customers think they are, why have I never switched my bank account to them? Why do so few of us ever switch our bank accounts despite our banks seeming to care so little for us? Some of my friends have said it is because it is just too much hassle. However, I am sure that it cannot be that difficult in the new modern world. I actually think that many of us just d’o not care enough’ to even be bothered to move. It sounds terrible does it not? Do a straw poll of friends and colleagues – it will be interesting to see what results you get – I bet that the majority of responses are in the ‘apathetic’ camp.

A couple of years ago something interesting happened in the banking industry. Something that backs up my view of us not caring about banks. That something was the creation of the first new high street bank in over 100 hundred years – Metro Bank hit the British high street in the summer of 2010. It promised lots of things as this poster highlights:

Metro Bank recognised that there could be a different way for a bank to do business. I have met Anthony Thomson, Chairman of Metro Bank, on a few occasions – he is so genuinely passionate about doing the right thing for his customers. Metro bank will open a bank account while you wait  and print your bank card in front of you. They open seven days a week. They will even give your dog a treat! There is no doubt that Metro Bank are offering something different to the norm – but are they offering enough to make us apathists care about our bank account? Well I still have not switched, so in my case they still have some way to go.

It is also interesting to see Richard Branson now getting into the industry. With Virgin’s takeover of Northern Rock, I am fascinated to see what one of the most customer focussed brands on the planet can do to get us to care about our bank. Virgin Money says it is going to do the following:

We are aiming to make everyone better off

Like all Virgin companies, Virgin Money was launched to give customers a better deal. We aim to offer you a wide range of great value financial products that are easy to understand and sort out. In today’s busy world our customers tell us it’s why they choose to deal with Virgin rather than anyone else.

One of the new innovative things that Virgin Money has already done is open a number of ‘Virgin Lounges’ – a space not too dissimilar from an executive lounge in an airport, for the exclusive use of Virgin Money customers. The lounges are located on high streets in major cities. You can make use of free wi-fi, tea and coffee, and use the facility to meet and work. A nice idea, and I am sure there will be many more. Will it work? Will it get me caring enough to switch my bank account? I must point out here that Virgin Money do not yet have current account facilities, but they are coming soon, and you can be assured that they will definately give the consumer and all other banks in the UK something to think about.

The great British public do not like banks. That point is clear. Much of their objection is down to the small number of bankers whose actions were the stimulus for the economic meltdown we are still experiencing. However what the crisis has highlighted is how little the banking industry has cared about the people it exists to serve – its customers. Is it right that I have had an ongoing relationship with one bank for 21 years and not ‘give a stuff’? I do not feel like anything to them, other than a number – an account number. One of these days I will switch – and probably to Metro Bank or Virgin Money or First Direct. At least those banks seem to get it. If one of them can get me to care enough about a bank, they will probably get me for the next 21 years and beyond!

What do you think of your bank? Do you care? As always, your view are very welcome.

Pants! What is wrong with Marks & Spencer?

20 years ago, you could walk over London Bridge – make that any bridge in the UK for that matter – and be pretty sure that almost everyone traversing the bridge with you would be wearing something from Marks & Spencer (M&S). The things they would be wearing would very likely be pants (underwear for our US friends) and socks, although many of the men would be wearing an M&S suit, shirt or tie. Please do not get me wrong – I do not spend my time gawping at people and imagining what they are wearing underneath their overcoats – it is just (or was) a fact! The stalwart of the British high street was as common in the lives of men and women all over the UK, as the GE lightbulb is all over the world.

Today, M&S reported a 9.7% fall in profits – this is what the BBC have posted:

“Marks and Spencer, the UK’s biggest clothing retailer, has posted pre-tax profits of £290m for the six months to the end of September, down 9.7% from the same period last year.

Group sales were up 0.9% to £4.7bn, with much of the growth coming from the food side of the business.

Food sales were up 3.4%, or 1.1% on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of new stores.

Clothing and homeware like-for-like sales, were down 4.3%, M&S said

So what exactly is going on at M&S? Can they blame everything on the current economic climate? Is there anything wrong at all? This blog looks at my view (and it is only my opinion) of the situation.

Going back 20 years, M&S were seen in the same light as John Lewis on the high street. Great products, great service and extremely trustworthy. They were predominantly a clothing retailer with a smaller focus on high quality food – it was always a special treat to get your food from M&S. So what happened? In my view, M&S became complacent – they took their customer for granted. There was almost the perception that the M&S management team sat around their board table, all patting themselves on the back, congratulating each other on how wonderful they were.

As a result of their complacency, M&S did not change. It did not evolve its proposition for years – until it was too late to avert the damage. Ten years ago, M&S started to decline – nothing dramatic, but slowly people stopped coming. As the business continued to invest in its food offering, there was little focus (or so it seemed) on its core non food proposition. M&S stores 10 years ago still looked like they did ten years earlier. They had become stagnant – the experience was not evolving with the climate around it. Online retailers were starting their charge, whilst M&S trundled on doing the same thing it had always done.

M&S did appear to recognise this. They started to introduce new clothing ranges – Signature and Per Una to name two – ranges of clothing that maintained the excellent quality that M&S had always been known for. However, it felt as though the inability to move with the times meant that M&S had started to lose a generation of consumers. Today, as M&S continues its decline, my key question is – what is M&S?

Is M&S a bank? Is M&S a supermarket? Is M&S a clothing retailer? The answer is yes to all of them – but what is the collective name for a company that has many specialities, but is not necessarily great at doing them all as one? M&S has separate business units, that all have M&S in the title – but if someone asks you what is M&S and who is M&S for, what would your answer be?

I have not purchased anything from M&S’s core clothing business for well over a year now. My last purchase was a suit – a very nice one as well. In the last five years, I have been in an M&S on  maybe 5 occasions. Twenty years ago, I went in to M&S every couple of months – to buy underwear, casual clothes and work clothes. My frequency of visit has changed as I am no longer sure that M&S is designed for me. Every time I walk past an M&S, the average age of customer entering and leaving looks to be in my parents age range. Looking through the windows, I can understand why. I am told that the quality is still excellent. I am told that the ranges are great – but if I perceive the store to be for the maturer customer, it is unlikely that I personally am ever going to know.

Whilst I do not think the clothes are for me, the food definitely is – the quality of M&S’s food offering is as good as it ever was. It is still a treat to do an M&S food shop – how can M&S make it feel like a treat to do a clothes shop? What M&S needs to do  (in my opinion) is two things:

  1. Clarify their proposition – what is M&S?; what is its proposition?; why would the consumer choose M&S? Until this is clear, neither the consumer, nor M&S’s staff will know. If you are unable to associate with a brand, you will not interact with it. It is critical that M&S addresses this problem and lets the consumer and staff know about it!
  2. Get emotional – if M&S looks at the three elements that make up an experience – it will notice where its problem is. FUNCTIONAL – their functional experience is good – M&S still has what you need and is able to fulfil what the consumer wants. ACCESSIBLE – they tick this box as well – with a good multi channel offering, M&S are able to compete with the rest of the high street. EMOTIONAL – this is the issue – the consumer has forgotten what M&S is and what makes it special. Unlike John Lewis who have maintained their emotional link to the consumer, M&S needs to re-build theirs. What do you remember about M&S? Many people will say ‘it used to be…….’ – they need to say ‘it still is……’

As the British high street continues to struggle, it desperately needs reliable trusted brands to both maintain consumer confidence AND give the consumer what it needs. M&S, like John Lewis, is a brand that we should all be proud of. t is a brand that must never take its customers for granted again. It is a brand that needs to show its customers that it cares. If it really is ‘Your M&S’, let us see it behaving like it.

Do you agree or disagree with my point of view? As always, I welcome your comments and views.