5 Minutes With Rachel Lewis, Customer Response Lead, Iceland

Retail Gazette hears from Iceland customer response lead Rachel Lewis on the importance of giving customers a voice, and how AI-powered reviews and insights inform their campaigns, including the retailer’s mission to reduce its environment impact.

Rachel Lewis

Describe your role and responsibilities at Iceland:

I’m responsible for proactive customer feedback across both digital and physical channels for product and service-related reviews. This also encompasses any other views relating to trials, or to specific customer segments from which we’re trying to gain insights.

My role not only involves driving engagement with our product and service reviews, but also liaising with internal stakeholders to ensure there is broad awareness of our customer’s voice internally, enabling us to quickly act upon the feedback where necessary.

How has Iceland been able to respond, listen and take action on feedback?

I’m sure I don’t need to emphasise the importance of giving your customer a voice in today’s customer-centric world. If you’re not actively listening, learning, engaging and improving, customers have so many other options to express their views and of course other brands who are prepared to listen to them.

With our current toolset, which includes Feefo’s reviews and insights platform, we can not only listen to what our customers are saying on a scale not previously available to us, but also rapidly assess trends, drive customer-inspired improvements and therefore provide a better overall service.

How has Iceland used sentiment analysis to uncover what customers care about?

Being able to ask large volumes of customers for feedback is fantastic. Getting incredibly quick responses is also wonderful, but being able to analyse that feedback quickly and at scale, highlighting key topics and trends, is essential.

Using sentiment analysis capabilities we can now see clearly when we make a change from one week to the next, and the immediate impact that change has on our customer. This also has the added benefit of allowing us to determine over time what really matters to our customer, and thus helps to ensure that we can focus on what’s important when we talk to our customers or drive change within the business.

“I don’t need to emphasise the importance of giving your customer a voice.”

Sentiment analysis enables specific targeting that will improve overall engagement and allow us to focus on specific metrics that can be measured over time to monitor performance more effectively. This has been particularly useful when it comes to customer profiling and developing campaign strategies that engage our customers.

By using an appropriate tone of voice, and messaging that best reflects the opinions of each demographic, we were able to look at creating a set of campaigns that were specific and unique.

How is gaining real time feedback helped Iceland?

The real time feedback collated has been imperative to making decisions in the business. We can now run multiple localised trials simultaneously, and segment and determine differences in customer feedback quicker than before.

A good example of this is our company’s mission to reduce the use of single-use plastic and our impact on the environment. We were able to trial multiple options to determine the best possible approach, and I was able to gain and share the feedback quickly with all the relevant stakeholders.

More retailers are improving customer shopping experiences by implementing an AI-powered performance profiling tool. Why?

I’m sure retailers all have a focus on costs and efficiency, in conjunction with a customer obsessed approach, while national or global retailers such as ourselves also need the ability to scale with high degrees of accuracy. All of these facets will make AI-powered tools and capabilities look appealing. We are certainly investing significant amounts in tools that have AI at their core.

What’s in store for Iceland or 2019?

We’ve invested hugely in new commerce and service platforms, both of which have AI at their core. Improving customer service is absolutely one of our main focuses for the foreseeable future. We are expecting to see our first implementations of these new systems in the first quarter of 2019.

There will certainly be a lot of focus on our ethical values in the year ahead. This gives Iceland the opportunity to gain a whole new target audience and, once defined, these customers will be asked for feedback and suggestions to further improve our processes.

“It is important for retailers to try not to be distracted by Brexit until we know how it is going to affect us.”

Customer service is always our highest priority so if we can take feedback from the customer that helps us to enhance their experience, that can only be a good thing for us.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector?

It is important for retailers to try not to be distracted by Brexit until we know how it is going to affect us. Not knowing the nature or timing of it is obviously unhelpful but shouldn’t affect the vision of the retailer. The challenge will be for retailers to be adaptable when the time comes.

Personally, I think the biggest risks retailers face currently are related to customers’ circumstances and expectations. Today’s climate doesn’t allow many customers to treat themselves to luxuries on top of their basic needs. However, if retailers open themselves up to change and accommodate the customers’ circumstances, then this isn’t likely to be too much of an issue.

Luckily for Iceland, we are in a fortunate position as people will always need to eat, and I can’t ever see the UK customer becoming any less demanding of simplicity, convenience and good service.  So as long as we continue to focus on doing what’s right for our customer, I’ll let other people worry about Brexit, consumer confidence and economics.

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

Having completed a degree in media and marketing, I spent my early years living in Dubai, working for Emirates Airline in a customer service-focused role. From there I moved to Iceland the first time round, working on internal colleague engagement within the corporate communications team.

I had a year out to focus on customer-facing marketing within the travel and hospitality industry then returned to Iceland in 2018 to move into my current role where I can focus entirely on the customer and their needs.

What got you into retail in the first place? 

When I was just 16 I began my journey in the retail industry – my first couple of jobs were customer-facing and particularly sales-driven. This helped me to gain knowledge of the industry, the challenges that must be faced and the rewards that can be gained from it.

I have worked in travel and hospitality too. However, I much prefer retail as I find it to be diverse, innovative and quick to embrace change. I am a creative individual so the ability to explore new ideas has a real appeal.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

Having worked for Iceland before, I already had great insight into the company, the environment and what makes it tick. I absolutely loved my time within the HR team but sadly it was only temporary so had to move away for a while, into a sales and marketing role within hospitality.

“I much prefer retail as I find it to be diverse, innovative and quick to embrace change.”

All my previous experiences combined have armed me with the different skills that have proved invaluable to me to continue to grow in my current position, but I’m a long way from done yet.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?

There are always going to be challenges in any job, particularly in retail because if you don’t understand your customer and your brand then you will struggle to work within that environment.

I can honestly say that the most rewarding part of the job for me is the fact I can boast that I work for Iceland. I am possibly a little biased. However, the reason I work for Iceland is that they genuinely care about their employees and their customers, and they have strong environmental and charitable values. The pride I feel working here is the biggest reward anybody could hope to have in their working environment.

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

There is never a dull moment in the retail industry. If you have a passion for people, an ability to be forward thinking, and you are innovative, willing to put in time and effort, and adaptable to change, then it’s the industry for you.

Every opportunity in retail has the possibility to grow into something special. It’s enormously rewarding to feel you are an integral part of the machine that keeps the business thriving, especially when you see the business is performing well – the sense of pride you feel is like no other feeling.

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