Multichannel Customer Service and the Benefits of Outsourcing – Interview with Iain MacDonald of Crew Clothing

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Iain MacDonald, Multichannel Marketing Director at Crew Clothing, talks multichannel customer service, business efficiencies and the importance of truly listening to your customers.

Tell us a bit more about Crew’s ethos and customer service strategy.

Our business depends on repeat purchase – persuading someone to buy once is OK, but quite often we only make money out of that customer when they come back again – and again. So product quality and service are paramount within Crew.

The service culture goes deeper than that, however. Every member of staff at Crew has a six monthly personal performance evaluation and the “service” element applies to all of us – we all have “customers”, people who need something from us and whom we “serve” in some way. How well we meet those needs is continuously evaluated and reward structures do relate to performance in this as well as other areas.

Crew have an active social media and digital presence. What impact has this had on your business and how do you intend to develop this into the future?

With a turnover around £50 million, Crew receives 27% of its sales online. Digital, in that sense, is a major part of our business, and arguably the fastest growing.  In addition, we have iPads in every store and have done so for over two years. They allow staff or customers to order items when the store is out of stock. It’s a great service to customers, and part of our commitment to service that I mentioned above.

Social media does play a part, but to be honest, we haven’t done much with it so far. We outsourced its management to an external agency, but last week we changed that with the arrival of Gemma, our in-house social media manager. I’m confident we will see more likes, more interaction and greater customer loyalty with this exciting new arrival.

What prompted you to use outsourced contact centre services and in particular, WeAnswer’s?

Crew had already outsourced contact centre functions when I arrived here in 2010. I gather from predecessors that we were not providing a good quality of service, and really the technology, the skills and the management ability to do it well were (i) lacking and (ii) not really our core business.  Crew’s focus is very much on what we know how to do (design and market great products) so we sought expertise in the other areas we needed. There were improvements with Crew’s initial partner company, but we are all delighted with the change to WeAnswer earlier this year. It feels like an excellent cultural fit with a go-ahead partner as committed to quality as our customers expect us to be.

In an increasingly digital age, how important do you feel telephone contact is for Crew’s customer base and why?

Interesting question and one that causes debate between marketers focused on service and customer loyalty, and accountants focussed on costs who say “but you can do it all online these days”. If you sell a commodity product and/or offer discount pricing, customers will settle for low standards of service in exchange for low prices. We don’t do that. Our customers value quality of service as much as fit, quality and value of the products we sell. Telephone service provides not only a friendly, personal touch, it means queries and complaints can usually be resolved immediately and in just one contact – none of that drawn out chain of emails we’ve all experienced with some organisations.

What are your top tips for business efficiencies in retail, on and off-line?

The simplest approach for me is to think about customer groups, and the two that matter most are (i) previous shoppers and (ii) first time shoppers. It’s all about getting past customers to shop again and attracting first timers. All the talk about channels, catalogues, stock planning, product design etc. comes down to making those two things happen. If you focus on that ahead of everything else, the rest will fall into place much more easily.

What changes have you noticed in Crew’s business trends since outsourcing your customer service with WeAnswer?

There have been some great achievements. In particular we’ve noticed higher levels of call answering, higher first-time resolution, higher levels of positive feedback from customers and some really good suggestions from the WeAnswer team which help us improve our customer communications.

You use Feefo – how does that benefit Crew’s understanding of your customers’ needs and how does this influence future design ranges and fabric selections?

Feefo is a fantastic source of customer feedback. We really do listen to what customers tell us and every area of the business tries to respond with changes when customers tell us we fall short of their expectations. The upside is some great positive reviews which we also share with the teams responsible.

What advice would you give aspirant retailers, fashion or otherwise?

That’s an easy one – never, ever, lose sight of the product and why the customer should buy it. The number one retail rule for me is the customer proposition: what are you going to sell and why should someone buy it from you? Get the compelling customer proposition right and the rest can be made to follow. Fail to get that right and no amount of marketing, fancy websites or even service excellence will keep you going for long.

What are Crew’s plans for the future?

We want to keep growing. That means more shops when the right location opportunities occur, and very definitely more in the direct channel, that is to say online and via the contact centre. Those two go hand in hand perfectly and we have the right infrastructure in place so I’m looking forward to a very positive 2014 working with WeAnswer.

To find out how our partnership with Crew Clothing has grown over the years, read the Crew Clothing case study and testimonial.

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