5 Minutes With Ettienne Brandt, Managing Director for Channels & Trading, EE

Recently, telco giant EE began rolling out a major expansion of its retail footprint in the UK, including a partnership with Sainsbury’s, which will add 100 EE stores by the end of 2019. As part of the expansion drive, EE is also launching a variety of new store formats: the ‘Showcase’ stores. We caught up with the managing director of channels and trading, Ettienne Brandt, to find out how these were different to EE's other stores.

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Congratulations on the recent launch of the new Showcase stores in London & Nottingham. How did the concept come about?

Thanks – it’s a really exciting time for us. Our new Showcase stores are about creating a destination where customers can speak to a real expert face-to-face to solve any problems, charge their device, or just have some fun while immersing themselves in the latest technology.

How are these stores different to other EE stores?

The stores have been revamped with customers in mind and showcase a variety of new features, including dedicated customer help hubs, in-store video calling technology for on-the-spot resolution and a number of experiential zones.

Customers can also experience new immersive technology, such as Apple Music on the showcase stage and they can sample content from both EETV and BT TV via our 85 inch screen.

The Showcase stores also have more self-service options. For example, if customers are unsure which device or plan best suits their needs they can use our touchscreen Product Finder to get a bespoke device and plan recommendation, and use our touchscreen Coverage Checker to find out what coverage and data speeds to expect where they live, work and play with EE.

How are the Showcase stores different to other retail shops?

The new Tottenham Court Road Showcase store, one of four new showcase stores, is the latest initiative as part of our customer service strategy. This new retail experience is very much aimed at offering customers a combination of the latest technology and a personal touch – in contrast to other companies on the high street that are investing less in the physical retail experience.

Why is customer experience so important for retail?

It’s important to create a destination for customers – a place that they don’t just visit because they have to, but because they want to.

We firmly believe that nothing can replace the personal touch and speaking with real people face-to-face, so we use the latest technologies to support our staff in store, on the phone and online to help them provide the best possible experience.

How is EE addressing some of the challenges facing the UK high street as a whole?

We’re always making improvements to our service in an effort to not only provide our customers with the best experience, but also to help encourage change within the way our industry operates.

We believe it is important that customers across the country can benefit from the same level of service that those in more densely-populated areas already benefit from, and for this to happen companies need to look at their retail presence.

That’s why we’ve recently announced that we’ll be expanding our retail footprint to 700 stores by the end of 2019 so that 95 per cent of our customers can access an EE store within 20 minutes’ drive.

As part of this evolution we’ve worked hard to offer flexibility to our customers through access to multiple store format options – including pop-ups, store in store, showcases and more. This strategy also easily allows us to adapt as the market requires.

More and more Brits are holding on to their phones due to rising prices from the Brexit-hit sterling. What are your thoughts on this?

We certainly aren’t immune to the impact of the change in foreign exchange rates, for example, and we are seeing increased customer demand for SIM-only contracts to use with their existing phones. However, at the same time, we continue to perform well as a business and we still see strong demand for the latest smartphones.

We were the number one mobile operator across Europe for iPhone 7 sales, the Samsung Galaxy S8 was our best-selling Android smartphone ever, and we’re seeing excitement from customers around the new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X.

We’re also seeing interest in the new Apple Watch 3, and we’re the only mobile operator in the UK to provide cellular connectivity for it.

Describe your role and responsibilities.

I’m responsible for EE’s direct and indirect sales channels, including EE’s stores and retail strategy. We’re expanding our retail footprint with new formats and through partners like Sainsbury’s and Argos, and we’re focusing on providing the best customer experience in all of our channels – retail, online and through our call centres.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before EE.

Before my current role, I was the Corporate Marketing and Commercial Director at EE, where I headed-up the indirect sales team, marketing communications, propositions and trading for all of EE’s corporate and enterprise customers.

Previously, I’ve held various positions both in South Africa and the UK at NTL (now Virgin Media), the Caudwell Group, and Orange UK.

I’m also a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

I have worked indirectly in retail in many positions over my career and have also worked directly in retail in South Africa where I was a General Manager for the large retailing group, Edcon.

The energy and pace of retail is what initially got me involved. That pace and energy is only multiplied in telecoms, where retail sits at the forefront of customer trends.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I’ve always had an interest in the telco sector and have held a number of positions covering various aspects of mobile and telecoms – from marketing and strategy to finance and sales. Having this varied experience has certainly served me well. My work in “pure play” retail, for example, has really helped to combine my retail knowledge with my telecoms knowledge.

At EE, so having a broad base of experience and understanding certainly helps to break down silos and create good service for our customers no matter how they interact with us.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

The technology continues to evolve at an amazing pace, as does the way that our customers use their mobiles in everyday life, such as mobile becoming the primary way of making purchases and interacting with brands.

Making sure that we remain focused on our customers’ needs and expectations is really rewarding, and forces us to constantly evolve and make sure we’re trying new things – which is a challenge in the best possible sense of the word.

And the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of evolving and introducing new customer experiences is seeing our amazing frontline staff bring that to life. It’s great to see the energy and ideas they bring to work every day, whether that’s helping customers to get the most out of their technology, or helping to come up with our next campaign idea or retail execution.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

It’s essential that they are keenly aware of the power of human interaction and creating immersive experiences. It’s not enough to just produce a sales environment anymore, we have to look at how we best create destinations and experiences for customers they will enjoy and come back to.

So definitely learn about all of the latest retail technology, but don’t forget that retail is 24-7, and those most successful in the industry understand that a lot of work goes into giving customers the personal touch.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

The biggest risk is that we risk taking our eye off the consumer if we rely too heavily on technology. Customers value human interaction and it’s imperative that this remains at the heart of what we do in retail. I believe it’s crucial we continue to embrace a customer-centric omnichannel in the coming years.

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