Are you being served... well?

AN old adage has it that the customer is always right. But how can business owners fully ensure that they provide what is right for the customer?

Emma-Louise Veitch who runs All About Customer. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (29508885)
Emma-Louise Veitch who runs All About Customer. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (29508885)

After all, the customer may also be fickle, switching their allegiance from one product to another, or from one provider to another, as trends and markets develop and change. Savvy businesses, the ones that will retain and increase their clientele, are those that manage to keep one step ahead of the game, anticipating and reacting to changing demands.

It sounds like a formidable challenge coming, as it does, on top of the day-to-day task of running an enterprise. Fortunately, however, professional help is at hand.

Emma-Louise Veitch, who is a customer-experience expert, set up her company, All Things Customer, in July last year. It is a consultancy that works with businesses which could be online, operating in a more traditional physical presence, such as a high street store, or even a multi-channel concern. Her aim is to offer customer experience and journey reviews, customer and employee insights, training and general consulting.

‘These services enable businesses to understand their customers and improve the experience for them, as well as assisting with their operational efficiency,’ Ms Veitch said.

Her business model is certainly based on a wealth of impressive experience. Originally from London, she cut her teeth in the world of gleaming metal at the luxury end of the motor trade.

‘I worked in customer service and workshop control roles for several prestige motor dealerships, including BMW, Mercedes and Audi,’ she explained. ‘This is what led me to Jersey. In 2008 I was brought over to work for Jacksons, a multi-franchise dealership, again focusing on customer services and workshop control.’

Two years later she moved to Innovate (Jersey) Ltd as a sales, marketing and client management manager. This post included having overall control of the motoring magazine Accelerate.

‘I then went to work for HSBC International as events and corporate sustainability manager. I was responsible for designing, developing and delivering their events programme and corporate sustainability activities. One of the career highlights for me while there was to manage and lead the building of the award-winning bat tunnel for Durrell/Jersey Zoo. This was the first sustainable building of its kind in the Channel Islands and the largest corporate sustainability project that HSBC has ever taken part in.’

A period at the Jersey International Business School followed, where she worked as head of marketing, events and publications. This position led her to a six-year spell of owning and developing the customer experience strategy for global online beauty retailer Feelunique – the largest business of its kind in Europe.

‘Effectively, that was my dream job at that time,’ Ms Veitch said. ‘It included developing and owning the overall customer insights programme, sharing what was learnt and driving change throughout the business, as well as the overall management of the customer care and beauty advice teams.’

It was a formative rung on the career ladder which provided the impetus to launch All Things Customer, a business philosophy which she describes as ‘looking at the whole customer journey’. In other words, giving consideration and, where necessary, making improvements to the experience that we, as customers, encounter from the moment that we first make contact with a business right through to the completion of a transaction.

‘This could be an online customer experience review, for example,’ she explained, ‘which involves looking at the customer journey, their touchpoints and their experiences all the way through, at how the website is laid out and the commercial offering; is it informative and is all the product information there? Is the check-out easy to use? Is it made clear exactly when you can expect to receive your order and, if you need to call for help, how is it handled? And when the goods do arrive, how is the packaging? Is it the right size for the product? And what about returns? Is it an easy returns process? By looking at all these aspects, I can analyse a whole client journey for a company or, if preferred, concentrate on just one part – a sticking point, perhaps, that needs a little refinement.’

The years that Ms Veitch has spent delving into and perfecting customer experiences now brings many benefits to the commercial world. The aim is to provide improved customer satisfaction and retention, reduce complaints and enable customer-centric solutions and consistency to be driven throughout businesses. Helping to increase client numbers and, at the same time, profitability, is something about which she is hugely passionate.

This year, of course, the entire business community has been turned upside down by the measures enacted to battle the Covid-19 outbreak. For Ms Veitch, it meant the challenge of finding new strategies in order to try to help.

‘With so many local businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, I was keen to help. So, I set out to understand the behaviour of customers before, during and after the virus. I focused on three sectors which would most likely be adversely impacted in a big way.

‘My survey results aimed to enable these sectors to understand how the behaviour of customers will change as a result of the pandemic, so that they can pivot and adapt their strategies if necessary.’

This particular survey certainly threw up some fascinating results. For instance, 96% of those who responded said that they felt safe on shopping trips before the virus, 66% said that they shopped once a week, while nobody at all among the survey sample claimed to rely on deliveries or on friends or relations for their everyday needs.

During the pandemic, those figures changed dramatically. Only 35% reported feeling safe on shopping expeditions, 49% shopped once a week and 22% were making use of delivery services.

But perhaps the most significant figures for business proprietors to pore over relate to how the survey respondents believed they would behave once life returned to normal. Only 59% thought that they would feel safe heading back out into supermarkets, while 57% plan to return to shopping once or twice a week; only 9% would persist with home delivery.

However, if food delivery services became more readily available, 36% would use them rather than visit a shop, while 32% would be prepared to use a combination of shop visits and deliveries.

Retail, though, is not the only sector to benefit from Ms Veitch’s skills. ‘I recently worked with Caring Cooks to harness secondary school meal insights for their government tender to cater for all secondary schools. I created a bespoke survey to understand the uptake of the current school meal offering, the challenges the students faced – especially with regard to price and the time available to them in which to eat – as well as looking at what they felt about the existing meal offering and what improvements they would like to see.

‘This survey was shared with all secondary school children in Jersey, allowing Caring Cooks to gain a full understanding and for their tender to include the voices of the students. The survey results were key to the success of the tender process and Caring Cooks secured the secondary school meal contract in the Island.’

In another exercise, Ms Veitch worked with the parish of St Helier in a bid to discover just what might encourage consumers to carry out more of their Christmas shopping locally and how the parish could create a safe, festive atmosphere within the town centre.

‘These results are informing the decision making of this year’s plans, she said, ‘in what are some particularly unusual circumstances to navigate this year.’

Looking ahead, Ms Veitch stresses that she is ‘100% optimistic’ both for the future of her business and for the Island’s commercial sector in general.

‘I believe that I can help any type of business to get their offerings right,’ she added. ‘I am the voice of the customer. Happy customers are loyal and they tell everyone how great you are. They bring in new and repeat business without you even having to lift a finger.

‘Customer experience is something I’m hugely passionate about and I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some incredible people and businesses who have believed in customer-centricity. They have enabled my passion to thrive by supporting my strong belief in a customer-first culture.

‘As a customer myself, I have often been left feeling disappointed by service that I have received and these poor experiences are part of my motivation to improve customer experience generally. Sometimes it can be the smallest things that make the biggest difference, so, by using my personal experiences alongside my expertise and passion for All Things Customer, I want to help businesses to identify any negative experiences and give them the tools to create positive ones.

‘The statistics say it all: 93% of customers are more likely to make repeat purchases with those who offer an excellent customer experience. And, attracting new customers is six to seven times more expensive than retaining current ones. Therefore, looking after your customers makes good business sense.’

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