Harnessing Customer Power to Increase Retail Growth

Jan 24, 2011
Bernice Hurst

One of Britain’s biggest
DIY retailers has decided to tackle customer comments head-on. Taking a leaf
from the Dunnhumby manual of data mining, Ian Cheshire, chief executive of
Kingfisher, B&Q’s parent, is recruiting a
new “customer officer” according to the Financial Times. The
appointee’s role “will include overseeing ‘both what the
customer is directly telling us’ through online comments and forums, ‘and
what their transactions are telling us.'”

The report goes on to
say that B&Q is planning to blend some of the “tens
of thousands of comments about its products and services” already gathered
with analysis from their joint venture partners, London-based consultancy Beyond
Analysis, with the information now gleaned from smartphones, social networking
and online buying. Their intention is to “strengthen its understanding
of the sales information coming from its stores.”

An advisory “youth
board” of 16- to 20-year-olds is also being
established “to
provide it with insights into the ideas of future DIY shoppers, and to encourage
its managers to remain receptive to input from customers.”

Mr. Cheshire
is reported as aiming to “hardwire” information into
the organisation.

“Making that transition from being a seller of products to someone who
can read what customers are doing is a big cultural shift. … The key thing
is to realise that you don’t have control. … But I’d much rather
hear what the forums and chat rooms are saying about B&Q, rather than say
we can’t
let that in, we have to control it,” he said.

Best Buy is another example
of good practice to which B&Q is paying homage
as they are known to be working “to change the way they do business in
response to the emergence of new online customers,” according to the Financial

“The venture will really create a much, much sharper data-mining capability,
and we’ll have all the information coming together in one place, with
a customer officer whose job is to make sure that we are absolutely listening
to the customer,” said Mr. Cheshire.

Discussion Questions: How should social networking research be coordinated with traditional methods of research? What should be the role of the emerging “chief customer officer” job?

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9 Comments on "Harnessing Customer Power to Increase Retail Growth"

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Paula Rosenblum
10 years 3 months ago

This seems to be a trend. Last week, Walgreens announced the hiring of a Chief Customer Experience Officer.

The reasons are straightforward enough. The in-store experience at most chains has degraded significantly over the past decade. Payroll to sales ratios have dropped and call centers outsourced to other countries, where scripts take the place of product, store or customer knowledge. And then there’s “voice mail hell.” Consumers are expected to mostly serve themselves.

Shoppers know something is wrong, and have voiced complaints in any media available to them. There are very few barriers to flaming a retailer in any number of places on the web.

The first step to solving these problems is by finding those squeaky wheels (those who are flaming the retailer), and solving their problems. The second step is prevention–making sure the same mistakes don’t happen over and over again.

Hiring a Chief Customer Experience Officer is a good start. LISTENING to the recommendations made by the Customer Officer will be even more important.

Ian Percy
10 years 3 months ago
At first glance this ‘really listen to the customer’ all looks so appropriate. But then I get to the part about it being a matter of “data mining” and all of a sudden I don’t feel so loved. I can imagine feeling the need to sit down with one of my kids with the intent of really listening in order to understand what they’re thinking and feeling. So I tell my wife that I’m going sit down with little Billy Joe Bob and do some “data mining.” Will there ever be a day when our language actually becomes human again? I’m also reminded of the good old “Quality Assurance” days. In order to get quality under control, companies appointed a Director of QA as if he or she could actually ensure quality. My point at the time was that as long as a company needs a Director of Quality Assurance, you won’t actually have quality. I make the same point again regarding a “Chief Customer Experience Officer.” “Thank goodness we have a CCEO,” the employees… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
10 years 3 months ago

We used to call them employees. Salespeople were the brand, the eyes, the ears and soul of retail. Fast forward to a person with a title managing all the “stuff” online rather than the customer experience in the store. I say stop listening so much and start training your employees. They aren’t just bodies–they have a brain too.

Cathy Hotka
10 years 3 months ago

Nearly all of a retailer’s revenue comes from customers, so it’s nothing short of shocking that appointing a Chief Customer Officer makes news.

Gordon Arnold
10 years 3 months ago
This is a critical period in marketing. The company way of doing business is going away and will not return as it was. The internet gives all of us choices as never before. Marketing executives that wish to thrive must learn to listen well to formulate messages that are valid, informative, and inviting to the whole planet. Continuing to do things the old fashioned way that doesn’t work well everywhere is more insane than ever. Corporations that wait to see how things are going to work for the future probably won’t be here to make the changes later. An evolution of change with a willingness to listen will get many rewards. Learning how to sift through the information requires the new marketing executives be keenly aware of who their customers are. After learning who your customer is, developing a good business relationship will get them invited to places on the net where they can learn more about how their customers make purchase decisions which then makes their products and services more successful.
Craig Sundstrom
10 years 3 months ago

I suspect that if this appeared in the FT, it was in Lucy (Kellaway)’s regular Monday column on corporate inanity…and if it wasn’t it should be; as Cathy adroitly points out, a company should hardly need an officer to do what every employee should be doing already: listening to customers and acting accordingly.

Jeff Hall
10 years 3 months ago

B&Q’s efforts reflect an emerging trend we’re also witnessing in the North American retail market–that of brands looking for a practical way of pulling together and making sense of several disparate streams of customer feedback.

The real key is found in having the courage and top-down dedication to truly listening to your customers, understanding their needs, and making decisions accordingly.

Unfortunately, the majority of brands become paralyzed in not knowing where to start, or what to do when inundated with so much customer intelligence, and they therefore don’t do anything.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 3 months ago

From my experience in a similar corporate position at Giant Food, any “consumer advisor” position must be understood and supported by top management, or it can just become window dressing. Having a “customer officer” brings more attention to the customers’ point of view and their experiences as captured from a variety of information sources. Often that person is the only one truly representing what the customers are telling the company and sharing information that others would rather not hear or act upon.

It will take a long term commitment to see if Walgreens can make it work for the benefit of their customers and the company.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 3 months ago

I also like the idea of B&Q using a “youth advisory board” to provide customer input. There is nothing like hearing from customers first hand. Any advisory board needs to be managed well so everyone has a voice and there are clear cut agendas and action items recorded, or you can lose credibility fast.


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