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Customer First Live: The Dangers of Taking Your Customer for Granted

Thu 12 Sep 2019 | Martin Newman

Customer First Group founder Martin Newman discusses the state of the UK high street and how integral organisational change is to consumer-facing businesses seeking customer-centricity

Renowned internationally as one of the world’s leading experts on customer experience, consumer behaviour, multichannel operations and e-commerce, Martin Newman is a passionate advocate for customer-centric transformation. This year, he founded the Customer First Group to help drive this transformation with consumer-facing brands.

As part of the business’s launch, a new interactive event – Customer First Live – will enjoy its debut alongside industry favourites eCommerce Expo and Technology for Marketing at London Olympia this September.

Ahead of the conference, Newman sat down with us to talk about his thoughts on the state of the UK high street and how integral organisational change is to consumer-facing businesses seeking to achieve customer-centricity.

The Changing Retail Landscape

After 35 years in the retail sector, witnessing the rise of ecommerce in the mid-90s, Newman says one of the greatest changes to the landscape has been the balance of power shifting from the retailer to the consumer. 

“Up until [the rise of ecommerce], consumers had limited choice; where you could buy, what you could buy, and when you could buy. The internet changed all of that. The democratisation of retailers saw the consumers become empowered.”

Condemning the scaremongering tactics of the press, trying to instil fear in retailers that the high street is dying, Newman argues, rather, that it’s simply changing. 

“Fundamentally, what’s happened is that there has been a channel shift. House of Fraser, for example, have something like 25 percent of all sales are now made online. They haven’t started gaining customers; they’re just giving them different ways to shop.”

Newman believes it’s the independent retailers that will shape the new high street: “it’s what high street retailing will look like in the future. National chains don’t do as well as independents. Customers want back that sense of community; retailers knowing their name, what they buy, what they like. It’s hard to find a connection when all shopping centres look the same.”

“Consumers have so much choice; retailers need to get their act together and truly become customer-centric”

How Retailers Can Go Back To Basics

The store of the future “has to become more experiential” according to Newman. But at the same time, it must get back to the basics of customer service and experience. 

“It’s about retailers using technology to bring the experience to life,” he says.

Sometimes that experience can be as simple as playroom for kids, which Newman describes as a great way for retailers to send a positive message to customers with families that they acknowledge their shopping experience and are willing to accommodate it. 

When thinking of other examples of smart and powerful customer experience, Newman recalls a recent experience during a holiday in Tel Aviv. 

“The restaurant we were eating in, every table had a small device with three buttons on it. One to call for the bill, one to cancel, and one to order. Super simple and basic, but incredibly effective when you think about how much money restaurants lose to bad customer service.” 

Newman explains that in this way, every customer could dictate when they wanted to be interacted with and as such dined on their own terms.

CFL 2019, 25 - 26 September 2019, Olympia

Customer First Live is the first cross sector conference for all consumer facing businesses including retail, automotive, hospitality and leisure, travel, food and beverage and financial services.

Why Customer-centricity Is Important For The Organisation

Newman admits he finds it ironic in modern retail that there is an increased emphasis on customer-centricity, despite the concept of trade and goods exchange existing for as long as humans have. 

“The customer should have always been at the core [of the business]; we’ve lost sight of that. Instead, there’s been a short-term focus on profit or growth, often dictated not by the retailers themselves, but by stakeholders.”

Newman expands: “Stakeholders like to think in terms of the next 12 months. But only thinking this far ahead, it’s hard to envision the future beyond just one year.” 

But according to Newman, this shouldn’t equate to businesses taking their time to adapt. “If you want to be 100 percent right, you’ll be 100 percent late. Too late to change and too slow. You have to try something.”

Newman notes that this approach requires flexible and understanding stakeholders; those willing to be told by consultants, like Newman, that things need to change in the business. 

“Legacy leadership is past its sell-by date. I was being held accountable [for the success of ecommerce] but not responsible [for how it was prioritised or implemented]. If you have to prove a business case for everything you do, you’ll be out of business.”

Newman is also critical of the way modern retailers approach ‘traditional’ customer experience, in the sense that they only think of it in terms of touchpoints, which he points out only make up 25 percent of the customer journey.

“75 percent of it happens in the back office. Organisational structure, culture, hiring people that actually want to be in the service industry, empowering people with the right confidence to give good customer service — that’s how you effectively change processes and deliver great customer experience. But most businesses don’t have this thinking joined up.”

What To Expect At Customer First Live

When talking about Customer First Live and how he hopes it will empower business leaders to enact this change internally, Newman says the event is unique in the sense that it brings together all the consumer sectors into one place, as opposed to other events normally organised by verticals like retail or travel. 

“[It’s a chance to] all learn from each other. There will be speakers I know who want to share insights and talk about experiences within their own sector that’s relevant for other sectors, as these businesses have similar challenges.”

“Also unlike most conferences where you get inspired but then you get back to the office and realise you haven’t learned anything practical, each attendee will receive a pack with all the top tips from speakers to take back to their business and hopefully implement.”

“Very few retailers and businesses in consumer sectors have a single view of the customer,” Newman claims. “Consumers have so much choice; retailers need to get their act together and truly become customer-centric. If people buy from you, how do you get them back, how do you drive customer lifetime value?”

Newman’s answer, and parting advice for retailers? “Don’t take your customers for granted.”

Experts featured:

Martin Newman

The Customer First Group


customer experience
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