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John Lewis: a leading omni-channel retailer


John Lewis has been voted as the ‘nation’s favourite retailer’ on more than one occasion. This can be attributed to one main factor, and no it’s not the Christmas adverts, it’s the unrivalled customer service proposition.

You see John Lewis is something of a pioneer for omnichannel customer care.

Yesterday, the British retailer announced it is partnering with Stibo Systems’ product information management solution STEP as part of its omnichannel retail strategy. STEP will be used to deliver highly accurate and specific product information consistently across all of the retailer’s channels. The expectation is that the time it takes to bring products to market will be reduced, and that there will be a drive in operational improvements when handling customer queries processing product returns.

What John Lewis has done, is recognise the growing importance of IT and systems infrastructure, which is underlined by a 400% increase in investment in this area over the past 5 years.

Speaking of the past 5 years, 2010 is when John Lewis truly demonstrated it is a retailer light years ahead of its time.

Recently, this journalist was browsing the website of a British brand and stumbled upon a dress that had gone into the sale. Leaving no time to hesitate, this journalist rang the nearest branch of the retailer to see if it was in stock, before heading over to purchase it, and maybe a bag and some shoes too. Alas, there was no answer. So this journalist rang the second nearest branch, only to be greeted by nothing more than an endless ring. After ringing 4 branches, this journalist attempted to connect with a well known British department store retailer, which houses said British brand as a concession, but a switchboard operator, who sounded incredibly bored, put me through to a line that rang out. This journalist gave up.

To put a call in to John Lewis would be another story. Around 5 years ago, the partnership began implementing a system that would guarantee almost every call was answered directly, and that customers would receive service over the phone that was in line with in-store service. John Lewis partners across the UK now answer your telephone calls via two centralised locations in Didsbury, Manchester and Glasgow.

Talk time for agents has increased from 40% to 70%, and now the level of service across channels is consistent. Speaking to a John Lewis partner over the phone, every effort is made to ensure your query is dealt with immediately, including placing orders. If a customer absolutely must speak to a partner on the shop floor but there is no-one available, a recorded ‘CRM’ is sent to in-store runners, who will see to it that requests are actioned with 2-4 hours.

Global supply chain consultants LCP Consulting produced a report in September, outlining four omni-channel archetypes. By definition, LCP described an omni-channel pioneer as a retailer who has “fully committed to transforming both their front-end and back-end operations to deliver a seamless experience to customers.”

For this archetype, omni-channel is core to delivering long-term growth and value. This group is clearly ahead of the curve achieving the highest reduction in delivery-related customer complaints but also demonstrating a real appreciation of the scale of the task at hand.

“I’m seeing some retailers who are building organically on their current model and I‘m flabbergasted because it is self-evident that three, four, five years down the line that that’s not going to be the right model. They should be pausing, evaluating where they are investing, and then investing in the model that is appropriate for the longer term” Dino Rocos, Operations Director at John Lewis told the consultancy firm.

LCP defined one of the key ingredients for omni-channel success as ‘seamless order management and customer experience’ – making it easy for the customer irrespective of what channel they are using, and allowing them to process and manage their order the way that suits them in one place.

John Lewis will refund delivery charges if consumers return the item(s) in that order, also offering customers 90 days and myriad ways with which to physically make those returns – it is difficult to become much more seamless than that.

Published on Tuesday 20 January by Veebs Sabharwal

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