Customer Experience? ‘It’s more than my jobs worth!’


Few of you reading this blog post will not have seen one of these machines. Not many of you will have avoided having to use one in the last twelve months. My recent half term holiday with the family to Lanzarote saw me come into contact with  one such machine. The machine itself is not the subject of this post. It serves a very valuable purpose. It exists to enable anyone that boards a plane to do so with a little more confidence that only things that should be on the plane are indeed on it. I am therefore very happy for my bags, coat, belt and shoes to be placed on to the belt to travel the short distance it takes for them to be cleared for take off.

However, not many machines can be operated without some assistance from the humble human. These machines require the support of a number of people to complete the ‘baggage check’ process. One person looks at a screen to see what is inside the items going through it. If they see anything that looks as though it should not be permitted on board a plane, they take action. At Manchester airport, this means that the bag in question is ‘pushed’ by the machine away from the passenger, and towards the other humans in the process. These people are the ones who have the responsibility to ‘seek out’ the suspected offending item(s).

The official who happened to be the one to check my daughters rucksack at the start of my holiday has proven to be one of the inspirations for this blog post. To explain why, please afford me a little time to tell you what happened.

Caitie is eight years old. She is a little girl who gets very excited about going on holiday – I am sure your little people are no different. Caitie packed her rucksack in preparation for our half term sojourn at least a week before we were due to leave. Full of books, colouring pads, pens, iPod, headphones, and a little bit of ‘One Direction’ memorabilia, the content of her bag was exactly what you would expect from a little girl. It was packed to perfection, exactly as she liked it. Being responsible parents (at least Naomi is anyway), we did check her bag before we left the house – the only items that needed removing were multiple bottles of nail varnish!!

So when Caitie’s bag was ‘pushed’ to the baggage check official, we were a little surprised. Maybe we had forgotten a bottle of nail varnish – that would have been a simple mistake. As I was the first through the physical check, it was I who questioned why the bag was being checked. I was very brusquely told that there was a pair of tweezers in the bag. A pair of tweezers. Caitie has never owned a pair of tweezers – I am not even sure she knows what tweezers are!

Now at this point, I suspect that some of you may be thinking – ‘the official is only doing her job’ – and you are absolutely right. My gripe has nothing to do with the fact that the lady in question was doing her job. It was the way she did it that made me rather cross. Making absolutely no attempt to engage in a positive way with me or Caitie, she proceeded to very slowly remove every single item from Caitie’s bag. Ignoring my comments that Caitie ‘does not own tweezers’, I was shouted at for ‘touching the bag’ to help her remove items from it.

By now, Caitie was starting to get upset, she could not understand why this rude and horrible woman was taking everything out of the bag. The woman had not acknowledged Caitie’s existence. Naomi, having survived her ‘frisking’ had now arrived at the scene. Seeing that the colour in my face had changed, she gently encourage me to ‘walk away’ – she is a wise woman my wife. From afar I could see Naomi trying to communicate with a woman who was on a mission to find something that quite simply did not exist. Eventually, having removed the entire contents of the bag and found nothing, she put the empty bag and its contents back through the scanning machine. Surprise, surprise, the bag came through without being ‘pushed’ anywhere. No apology, no explanation, no help in replacing everything she had removed. ‘I was just doing my job’.

Again, I must state, I have no qualms with her doing her job. What I must question though, is that is ‘just doing your job’ when you work in a profession such as this, ever an excuse to treat your customer with contempt? What would it have cost this lady to have smiled at Caitie when she started checking her bag? How difficult would it have been for her to gently explain why she was doing what she was doing? Would it have been impossible for her to treat a little girl’s possessions with respect and care? The stony faced ‘I can do what the hell I want’ attitude does not help anyone. Why did she seem to care so little about her job and the people she is there to help protect? What could be done to change her behaviour? I’ll come back to that later.

Do any of you remember the TV programme hosted by Esther Rantzen called ‘That’s Life’? This lady would have been a prime candidate for their ‘jobsworths’ award. Unfortunately, this lady (and I must point out that she undoubtedly does not represent the behaviour of her colleagues, some of whom I am sure do not act as she did) was not the only example of what I would describe as ‘jobsworths’ on our holiday.

The next example occurred very shortly after we finally cleared the baggage check, and whilst my blood pressure was still higher than it should have been! I needed to buy a bottle of water. Just one small 500ml bottle of the clear liquid we need to sustain our bodies. I approached the WHSmith shop expecting to complete the transaction within a minute of entering. As I approached the checkout, I clearly observed the shop assistant asking for boarding passes prior to taking payment. Everyone in front of me was purchasing magazines, books, and an assortment of food and drink. Surely I would not be asked for my boarding pass to pay for a bottle of water?

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You guessed it! ‘Boarding pass please’, was the instruction from the pleasant lady the other side of the till. ‘Can I ask why you need to see my boarding pass’? I enquired politely (despite my high blood pressure levels). ‘Because I will be told off if I don’t’ was the response. It was obvious that she had no idea why she was asking for my boarding pass – she was merely doing what she had been told to do. Do you know why I had to give her my boarding pass to pay for a bottle of water? No-one has ever explained why this is necessary to me. I do not blame the lady for ‘doing her job’, but surely she should be in a position to explain why it is necessary to a customer. On our way home, I bought two bars of chocolate from a little shop at the airport in Lanzarote. This time I expected the lady to need to see my boarding pass. On this occasion though she waved it away saying it was ‘not necessary’. I have no doubt that she was ‘supposed’ to see my boarding pass – she could not be described as a ‘jobsworth’, but is it worse to fail to do what you have been told to?

Fortunately, once in Lanzarote, all thoughts of ‘jobsworths’ dissipated – only to be replaced by glorious sunshine, lovely food, and great fun. Exactly as a holiday should be. I do have one more ‘jobsworth’ story though. This time it is related to an experience that many of you will be able to relate to. The wonderful experience of checking in at an airport outside of the UK. This is what we experienced on arrival at Lanzarote airport, two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart:

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Had there been an ash cloud? Was the weather so severe in the UK that all the flights were delayed? Had the airport staff gone on strike? No, no and no – although the staff may as well have been on strike. The reason we were met with this scene, is that the airport staff will only open the checkouts in this airport precisely two hours before the flight is due to depart. Not a second before! I am sure the airport in Lanzarote is not the only one to have this ‘policy’.

Who cares that passengers are queuing outside the terminal doors. Why should anyone worry about screaming children? It does not matter that there are so many people squeezing in to the airport that no-one can pass the queue to check in to other flights. Let alone the fact that queuing people are not spending money in shops the other side of the baggage check.

What I also fail to understand is why some airports (especially those outside of the UK) do not have a ‘snake’ queuing system – where everyone joins one queue and those at the front go to the next available desk. Not only does this make queuing easier, it significantly reduces stress levels as passengers fight each other to join the shortest queue.

All in all, and down to the ridiculous ‘jobsworths’ that deem it necessary to stick to the ‘two hour rule’, many holidaymakers who have ‘de-stressed’ during their holiday return to the stress levels that make a holiday necessary in the first place. The experience will make me think again about travelling to Lanzarote for a holiday – the airport is still very much a part of the customer journey that makes up the complete holiday. Going home is bad enough without having to face such a poor experience in the airport!

I asked the question earlier in this post of what could be done to change the behaviour of ‘jobsworths’? There are many professions that could be seen in the same light as the lady doing the baggage check. Police officers are just one of those professions. It is possible to ‘just do your job’ and treat the people you are serving in a friendly, courteous and engaging way. Many police forces use the ‘WOW Awards’ as a way of engaging their officers to treat ‘customers well’. The WOW awards is an employee recognition programme that encourages employees to do the right thing by their customers, thus encouraging customers to nominate them for recognition – perhaps this is what the companies now responsible for checking baggage in airports should consider doing. You can find out more about the WOW awards here – http://www.thewowawards.co.uk/

We all have a job to do. We all have procedures and processes to follow. Yet it is our ability to engage with our customers in a way that makes them feel as though they have been treated well and fairly that will make doing our jobs so much easier. Empowering, training and recognising the good things our people do will encourage peers to do the same.

What experiences have you had with ‘jobsworths?’ What do you think we could do to change behaviours? Your comments as usual are positively encourage!

Is It Time to Hire a Customer Experience Director or Chief Customer Officer?


Douglas Jackson Executive Recruitment Consultants for Customer Strategy, Customer Experience, Customer Insight, Contact Centres, Resource Planning & Customer Services

For those of us working across the Customer Contact space, Customer Experience is not a new concept, however, dependant on which company, or organisation you talk to, the understanding and use of Customer Experience and the people employed within this category is still very different from business to business.  The role of a Chief Customer Officer, or board level Customer Experience Director is a post yet to be fully embraced in many companies or organisations but should this change?

Is It Time to Hire a Customer Experience Director Chief Customer Officer.pptx

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‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – Justin King’s response


Many of you that read the blog post featuring the experience of Helen Kewell (http://ijgolding.com/2013/02/11/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-it-does-not-matter-what-you-look-like-a-customer-is-a-customer/) will be extremely interested to know if Sainsburys responded to the blog. You have probably guessed by the title of this post that they did. To their credit, Sainsburys responded very quickly, advising that it would be passed directly to their CEO, Justin King, who would get back to Helen and I personally.

I think that Mr King’s reply is very honest and open. I appreciate the time he has taken to both read and respond to Helen’s experience, and the fact that he is very keen to ensure no-one in the future experiences it again. Some would argue that this is exactly how any business leader should react when being made aware of poor customer experiences.

In order for you to form your own conclusion, you will need to read Mr King’s words for yourself – so here goes: (if you did not read the original story, do so first here – http://ijgolding.com/2013/02/11/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-it-does-not-matter-what-you-look-like-a-customer-is-a-customer/

Dear Mr Golding

Thank you for your email, bringing the very poor shopping experience of Mrs Kewell to my attention.  I would like to assure you, and Mrs Kewell, that this is certainly not the standard of service you should expect from Sainsbury’s and I am very disappointed you have both been left with a poor impression of us.

We always want to provide our customers with the highest standard of service ensuring shopping trips are easy and enjoyable for all our customers.  We do understand that some customers may struggle with certain situations or environments, hence our training materials place great emphasis on treating our customers as individuals.  I am therefore very disappointed to hear of Mrs Kewell’s experience in one of our stores.

Our colleagues should be polite and courteous to our customers, and certainly not make assumptions or dismiss their need for assistance.  We should strive to fulfil any requests from our customers, going the extra mile to deliver quality service and it is certainly not the responsibility of a single colleague to help with bag packing.  Our colleague on the checkout should have immediately offered packing assistance and slowed down to accommodate this.

We do monitor the scanning performance of our checkouts colleagues, however, colleagues are trained to moderate their speed to suit the needs of each individual customer and should slow down if they are asked to do so.  We also value the customer feedback we receive, as it shows us where we can improve, and our supervisor should have given Mrs Kewell’s complaint the serious attention it deserved.

I would like to apologise to Mrs Kewell personally and would welcome the opportunity to address this incident at the store in question.  I would therefore be grateful if you could reply with Mrs Kewell’s details, if she is happy for us to contact her, and the name of the store involved.  This will give us the chance to ensure there is never a repeat of this.

Customer service is at the heart of what we do and we go to great lengths to ensure our customers feel comfortable in our stores.  Our colleagues receive training focused on disability awareness, however, we are always looking for ways to develop this further.  We will certainly take your feedback on board and learn from Mrs Kewell’s experience.

I do appreciate you bringing this matter to my attention and I hope I have helped restore your faith in the service we provide to all our customers.  I look forward to hearing from you and hope we have the pleasure of serving you, and Mrs Kewell, for many years to come.

Yours sincerely

Justin King

So what do you think? Please let me know.

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – it does not matter what you look like, a customer is a customer


This is Helen Kewell. I met Helen and her husband Nick last year whilst attempting to climb too many mountains in too short a space of time. Helen is a very intelligent, witty, attractive mum of three – I am sure she will not mind me saying that she does not look like she has had three kids!! Looking at her picture, all of us can make assumptions about Helen – we can do so with anyone we meet, whether it be in real life, or via a photograph. Why this is important will become clear as you read on.

Last week, like many millions of us around the world, Helen posted a status update on Facebook. Her update was a brief ‘rant’ (as she put it) about an experience she had just had in her local Sainsburys. Helen’s words struck a chord with me – even in the few sentences she posted, I could see that what she had experienced was actually quite significant – to the point where others can learn from it. I therefore asked Helen if she would be interested in writing a ‘guest blog’ for me. You can probably tell that she agreed. I am delighted to give her the opportunity to share the story…….so here goes…….

“In life it is a great and humbling quality to be able to see beyond the facade and not assume anything about the people we interact with. I fight with this on a daily basis in the quest to be a nicer and more accepting person! It strikes me that the companies that excel in customer service are investing in this and getting it right.

Let me give you a personal example of a company that got this wrong today.
I suffer with ME, some days are better than others. My symptoms wax and wane but, crucially to this example, you would rarely guess it from the outside. I look ok, I smile, I do normal stuff. I am lucky enough not to have severe symptoms and I’m as high functioning as I guess they come. However, certain environments and situations can be hard and sometimes there isn’t a warning when a crash is coming.

So today after a busy week (and a lack of organisation) I find myself at Sainsburys as I forgot to book the delivery that I’ve come to rely on. No biggy. We’re a family of 5 though so a weekly shop is big and heavy and can be tiring. Factor in the bright lights and low level noise and (ME can cause hypersensitivity to light and sound) and by the time I got to the checkout I needed a sit down and I was aching. I’m not someone that likes to admit defeat and I’m not someone who likes to ask for help so I was very proud of myself for telling the lady on the checkout that I needed help with packing. I still had to load the car, unload the car and put it all away so I knew some help at this point would give me a boost. Reading that last line I realise that sounds crazy as its such a normal thing to do to go and shop for food, but ME can feel on a bad day like very bad flu and even the simplest things seem complicated and hard.

The lady in my checkout told me ‘the person’ who helps with packing was helping someone else and pointed at this one person who could help, who was indeed arm-deep in orange Sainsburys’ bags. She shrugged. She looked a me a little more closely and I knew she was asking herself why I needed help, didn’t see a strong case for needing help and got on with scanning my food. I asked her to please go slowly so I could keep up with the packing. Whilst doing this I looked around and counted 4 other staff in the area not on checkouts. One packing shelves, one with a clipboard and 2 of the ‘headset’ mafia who, according to one of my friends, look more like members of Steps than useful employees…. Anyone of them could have been asked by my checkout lady to help if my case looked stronger I supposed i.e. if I showed outward signs of distress, illness or disability.

I was cross for not saying more so I approached one of the headsets when I’d paid for my groceries and explained what had happened so that she could be aware of it and maybe feed it back in the next team meeting or something. Tired and a little emotional about the experience I had tears in my eyes and was a little embarrassed by this. In return all I got was a weak “sorry” and a slight raise of the eye brows. The worst thing was that I was too exhausted to make any more fuss! While I had been shopping earlier I noticed a Sainsburys employee accompanying a blind woman with a guide dog and seen staff talking to her, addressing her and her dog by name. I’d been impressed by this level of care. In retrospect it makes me more angry at how I was treated.

What can consumer brands learn from this experience? Don’t make assumptions on customer needs based in what you see in front of you. Listen to what they are saying, look for the clues that are not obvious as well as those that aren’t. There are so many disabling conditions that can’t be easily noticed: depression, colour blindness, back problems, arthritis, anxiety, partial hearing to name but a few. Everyone that walks into your store has a story to tell that differentiates them for the next and it runs far beyond what you see on the outside. But fundamentally if a customer asks for help – help them! Don’t allow your staff to make subjective judgements just because it makes their life easier or interrupts their productivity. Productivity is nothing if you destroy trust and goodwill.

Now if I’d been in a competitor store, you know the one with the green and white branding starting with a W…I’m pretty sure the story would have been different. I bear no ill feelings towards the lady on the checkout by the way. She was doing her job and processing my groceries and taking payment. She isn’t necessarily working in an organisation or for a store that has trained, encouraged or rewarded her to think beyond what she sees in front of her, to go a little more for customers and see them as individuals. She hasn’t been taught to look beyond the cover to see or guess at the story inside.

Helen Kewell, February 2013

This brilliantly written and eloquent account of what should have been an insignificant grocery shopping experience hits right at the heart of what consistently delivering a customer experience is all about. Customer experience is about delivering a journey. All journeys have start and end points with lots of bits in the middle. If anything in that journey goes wrong, it can have a material effect on what the customer feels and will remember about the experience.

People are the critical glue that gels the experience together. People are the element of the customer experience that can still make things feel good, even if they go wrong. If your people ‘get it’, your customer should always feel as if someone cares – which may forgive some of the shortcomings elsewhere in the journey. In Helen’s case, it was regrettably the lack of caring from Sainsburys people that proved to be the downfall.

I chaired a customer experience conference in London last week. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to a presentation from Tesco’s Customer Service Director. She spent forty very valuable minutes explaining to the audience all about Tesco’s customer service strategy. The key point of her presentation was that Tesco knew that they had to get better at delivering excellent customer service – I find this a heart warming sentiment from an organisation that makes millions of pounds worth of profit every year. She shared the Tesco core purpose:

“We make what matters better – together”

She also shared Tesco’s Values:

  1. No one tries harder for customers
  2. We treat everyone how we like to be treated
  3. We use our scale for good

From the looks of it, Helen’s experience would not have happened in Tesco – and I agree it would also have been unlikely in Waitrose. Perhaps it would have been unlikely in other Sainsburys stores. I am no sure if Sainsburys have similar values – if not, they could do with getting some!

The purpose of sharing Helen’s story is to enable others to learn from the experience. I would like to think that Sainsburys will also share this story with their store managers and staff. It would have been so simple for the lady on the checkout to call the checkout supervisor – but she made a snap decision that it was not important enough. If a customer asks for help, that is enough.

Thank you Helen for being prepared to be so open and honest in sharing with us. I hope that good will come out of your avoidable experience. You can follow Helen on Twitter @helenkewell

As always, your comments will be very gratefully received.

‘Up-selling = No-selling’ – how Clarins may be damaging their customers experience


What does this picture say to you? Trust me…..this is not a trick question. Let me hit you with some suggestions. It conjures up words to me such as ‘relaxing’; ‘sumptuous’; ‘luxurious’; ‘sensual’ – exactly the kind of things that would make any woman (and some men) smile if they were given a Clarins facial as a gift. The prospect of being given a wonderful facial with world renowned beauty products is one that not many people would take for granted.  It may therefore be a surprise to find me writing a blog on the subject of Clarins today.

I have had facials in the past – not many (I can hear some of you chuckling at this thought) – but enough to get the point. Like a massage (I have had a few of those as well – stop chuckling) a facial is intended to be relaxing and re-vitalising – a well earned treat. As long as the beauty therapist is not intent on attacking the multitude of blackheads that have gathered around your nose, most of the time you leave the building feeling exactly as you expected – relaxed and re-vitalised. So what has this got to do with the subject of customer experience?

Let me explain. Yesterday, whilst delivering a talk to a group of MBA students, I was asked whether customers always knew exactly what to expect – whether they always knew what they needed. It was a great question – the questioner went on to ask if organisations were sometimes guilty of trying to give customers things they did not always need. We only need to look at the fallout from ‘PPI-gate’ to recognise how prevalent the mis selling of products has been in recent times. There are many examples of businesses trying to sell things to customers they did not initially intend to buy.

When was the last time you went in to a WHSmith? Were you asked if you would like to buy a gargantuan chocolate bar for a discount at the till? In one of the new Clinton Card shops the other week, I was asked if I wanted to buy a pen when making payment – if I wanted a pen, I would have put one in my basket!! McDonalds are perhaps the most ‘expert’ at this phenomenon, forever asking you if you would like to ‘go large’ – if I wanted to go large, I would have asked for a large meal!!

‘Up-selling’ as it is often known is not a new concept. In my early days at Shop Direct Group, contact centre agents were expert at convincing a customer who had telephoned them to buy a pair of jeans that they should also buy a pair of anti bacterial gold velour pillow cases as well. Although the concept has ben around a long time, it is important to understand the effect it can have on the customer experience – and this is where Clarins comes in.

My wife, Naomi, was fortunate enough (or so I thought) to receive a Clarins facial as a gift for her birthday. It is not the first time she has received such a gift. Yesterday, Naomi went to have the facial in Chester. That evening, as any good husband should, I asked her how it went. ‘The facial was nice, but I hate they way they do it’, was the response. I was surprised by that, and so enquired further as to why.

If you have not been for a Clarins facial before, you may not know what actually happens. You do not just turn up, be greeted by a smiling beautician who shows you to a treatment room and carries out the facial. Clarins approach is to provide the customer with a beauty experience. Post the treatment, the customer is given a ‘Face & Body Care Skin Care Planner’- sounds very technical. It is actually a glossy product brochure disguised as a ‘consultation’ document.

The beautician took time to ‘diagnose’ Naomi’s skin, deciding which products she should use, and more importantly, which products Naomi should buy once the facial had been completed. Although Naomi has been a regular customer of Clarins products for years, the beautician wanted to ensure that Naomi knew exactly what products she had not been buying that she should now buy. The beautician even circled the products clearly in the brochure to make sure that Naomi would not forget.

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Now you might be thinking ‘what is wrong with that?’ – can you remember the suggested words that came to my mind when seeing a picture of a Clarins facial? They were ‘relaxing’; ‘sumptuous’; ‘luxurious’; ‘sensual’ – that is how you should feel after the facial has been completed. However, in Clarins endeavours to ‘up-sell’ product to you, during the post facial experience you are subjected to a sales process. If you are anything like me, I cannot stand people trying to sell me things I do not want, or indeed need. If I wanted to buy the products the beautician had just used on me,  I would ask her about them.

Naomi had experienced a facial with Clarins before – she knew the ‘hard sell’ was coming – it made her tense before the facial had even been done. The Clarins facial experience was sullied for Naomi by this strategy. I asked her if she would have chosen a Clarins facial (i.e. if she wanted a facial and it had not been given to her as a gift) – her answer was categorical – no. In fact, if asked by a friend or colleague if she would recommend a Clarins facial, Naomi would be unlikely to do so.

I have often referenced Bruce Temkin in my blogs, and I make no apology for doing so again. Bruce’s view of the three components that make an experience (below) is pertinent in this Clarins example. The emotional element of an experience is absolutely vital – especially if you want your customer to remember the experience for the right reason. Although Clarins may well succeed in selling product to many customers who have a facial or other beauty treatment, how many of them will come back again?

I do understand that people reading this may think I am barking mad. They may consider that ‘up-selling’ is a natural component of a retail strategy. Many business models rely on it. I also do not doubt that there are consumers who like to be ‘advised’ of products they may be interested in. As a result, I am not necessarily saying that Clarins are wrong to do what they do. However, it is clear that their process of ‘up-selling’ is to a degree in conflict with the principle service their customer is in this case experiencing. If they were able to ‘advise’, without it feeling as though they are ‘selling’, they may be able to deliver a better end to end customer journey.

One thing cannot be denied, in this example, a big brands process of trying to sell a product to a customer who has not asked for it has not worked. Not only did they fail to sell any additional product, Naomi’s experience is more likely to lead to negative sentiment when discussed with friends, thus eroding the value of the brand. If Naomi is representative of as little as 10% of Clarins customer base, the negative sentiment will be multiplied many times.

Any business trying to sell me something I have not actually asked for is going to cause irritation – maybe I am just easy to irritate! However, from experience I know that I am not alone. So if ‘up-selling’ is part of your business strategy, make sure you experience the customer journey for yourself. How does it make you feel? Make sure you ask customers – if it is not working, change it!

As always, this blog is representative of my opinion – an opinion you may not agree with. Your comments are always welcomed.

Re-invention and innovation – why we should all admire Littlewoods


When was the last time you visited a Littlewoods store? Think about it……..been a while? Well it would have been at least 8 years ago to be precise. It is all too easy to forget that this icon of British retailing disappeared from our high streets in the mid noughties. Unlike recent retail casualties though, it was not forced into submission. Its vanishing act was deliberate – it was an intentional act by its leadership to ensure the sustainability of its brand – and that is the big reason why I think we should all admire Littlewoods.

We will never know whether the conversations that were had by the board of directors resulted in pure genius, or if they were just plain lucky. The decision they made though was to completely re-invent their business. To understand this a little better, let us have a quick look at the history of Littlewoods. Littlewoods was started in Liverpool in 1923 as a football pools business by John  Moores and two partners, all of them then full-time employees of a telegraph  company in that city. John Moores entered  retailing in 1932 with a mail-order business and in 1937 opened the first  Littlewoods chain store.

Littlewoods became a powerhouse of home shopping. Many of us can recall our Mothers or Grandmothers having a Littlewoods catalogue on the coffee table – often alongside the Kays Catalogue. Littlewoods has been a British brand for so long, it even turned up during the filming of Turn Back Time: the Family – a living history programme I was lucky enough to have been part of last year. In one scene, I was asked to read a newspaper – during wartime. This advert was on the back page of the paper (an original)!!

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If you are into your nostalgia, the Shop Direct Group website (the company that now owns Littlewoods) has a wonderful video of the history of Littlewoods – it was produced for their 75th birthday celebrations. I wonder if you know anyone in the video!

Although all this reminiscing is lovely, we must not forget why I am writing this blog – re-invention. Littlewoods is a brand that has been around for so long, it was inevitable that it would have to change and re-invent. It is a brand that in reality has potentially changed more than any other. I have already mentioned the Littlewoods Pools – It was sold in the year 2000. Littlewoods wanted to focus its efforts on retailing. Do you remember Index? The Littlewoods competitor to Argos in the high street? The loss making catalogue stores were closed in 2005.

Also in 2005, Littlewoods made the historic decision to close its entire estate of high street stores – all 126 of them. The decision was historic, because it meant for the first time since the 1950’s, Littlewoods would no longer be on the high street. All of these decisions were made for strategic reasons. The closures were deemed essential to ensure the sustainability of the Littlewoods brand – so let us explore this a little more.

By 2004, internet shopping was becoming more and more popular. The Littlewoods board had recognised that whilst their high street business was starting to decline, their ‘home shopping’ business was booming. By 2005, 30% of their ‘catalogue’ sales were being transacted online. Why keep expensive to run ‘bricks and mortar’ retail outlets, when ‘making it easier for customers to buy what they wanted online’ seemed to be a growing trend? As business rates were on the rise, maybe getting out of the high street would be a smart move.

And what a smart move it has proven to be. The Littlewoods leadership decided to completely change their strategy. They wanted to be the best ‘home shopping’ business in the land. By ‘getting rid’ of potentially loss making bits of the business, they could focus all their energies on becoming the best. Although this change of strategy came at a human cost – with many people losing their jobs – things could have been far worse if the business had failed altogether. Instead the changes made have ensured that the Littlewoods brand still thrives today.

Today, Littlewoods still does what it always did – it is a family brand that helps its customers to buy the brands they aspire to have. The official Littlewoods mantra is as follows:

Littlewoods is the hero who makes it possible for families to have all the great new things they want straightaway. This is because they can pay in bite-size amounts each week, which provides its customers with a real sense of empowerment – knowing they don’t have to wait, save up or blow the budget!

The 1930’s Littlewoods customer would be proud. The Littlewoods brand is still doing today what it was created to do 80 years ago. However, it is down to a succession of forward thinking leaders that have made it happen. From John Moores to Mark Newton Jones, Littlewoods has been led by retail experts who were not afraid to take a risk. They understood their customers and their business. They knew that if something did not work, you had to change it.

Today, more than 70% of Littlewoods customers transact online – via desktop computers, tablets, or smart phones. They still send out thousands of catalogues as well – and some customers still like to pick up the phone to place their order. I guess it is inevitable that at some point in the future, that may change as well.  For now, though, one thing is for certain – Littlewoods is not going anywhere. Whilst many brands have failed to re-invent themselves, Littlewoods have become a shining example of how to do it. We are sometimes too quick to criticise organisations that instigate fundamental change – but if we take time to reflect, we can clearly see that changes are often necessary to guarantee the future.

http://www.littlewoods.com/?aff=google&affsrc=retention&cm_mmc=google-_-Brand+Terms-_-Littlewoods-_-littlewoods_2if15gqP_3791906486

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