Customer Experience Leadership in Luxury Retail, with Alice Rackley – CB57

Episode Overview

Alice is relatively new to her role at Marks & Spencer, where she is head of customer experience. She’d only been in that about four months (she’s been at the company five years) when we taped this episode, but within the first four months, her action plan is already humming. A lot of my episodes are about the first 90 days or making sure you prove action/get quick wins, and this particular episode is a great example of how exactly to do that.

About Alice

Alice Rackley Jeanne BlissRecently appointed into a brand new role for the business as ‘Head of Customer Experience at Marks & Spencer’, Alice has 15 years’ experience of retailing. She started out as store manager for Waitrose, moved into Retail consultancy with Deloitte and then into digital retail with M& Alice then spent 18 months understanding international retailing with a secondment to M&S India working out of Mumbai. Throughout Alice’s career customers needs have been the center of all decision making. Listening to customers not only appeals to Alice’s inquisitive nature (she’s pretty nosy) but has enabled her to develop an innate sense of ‘the right thing to do’ for customers.


The comprehensive nature of CX roles

I call this “bread crumbs” sometimes. It’s basically thinking about how current CX roles tend to evolve a lot of different hats (customer-facing work, operations, marketing, employee engagement, bottom line knowledge, etc.) They’re such diverse roles that you need to be strategic about your career development and try to switch into digital roles, operations roles, understanding what HR and execs are trying to do around employees, etc.

The four work streams and assessing what needs to be done

She tapped into her half-decade network with Marks & Spencer to have coffee and talk with people about what needed to be done as far as customer-facing work was done. She also downloaded “tons of white papers” and read thought leadership (including one of my books!). She also went out and tried to meet as many customers as possible, including lapsed customers. Finally, she went to several Marks & Spencer stores as a customer herself and made notes on the experience.

This all led to four focus areas:

  • Aligning the senior-most members of the business around a vision for customer experience

Actually, let’s pause on that one for a second and then come back to the other three work streams.

The “clunky, rubbish” video

Alice made her own video explaining customer experience. The goal was to make sure the messaging was on point and that she herself was clear on what she needed to accomplish. She calls the video “clunky” and “rubbish”, but it’s a great paper cut out animation. Unfortunately we cannot show it here as it was done for an internal audience at M&S, but the important insight coming from the project was: you absolutely have to align the senior leadership team before you do anything else. If you skip that step, you will keep getting reset on the work because each silo will wonder “What is this?” or “How does it affect what I do?”

The other work streams

Those are:

  • Getting more insight on customer mission (using data more effectively, from digital to brick and mortar to call center; none of this is currently joined up or “talking” to each other)
  • Cross-business agreement on how to measure the customer experience (shared metrics, what’s important, how does this lead to prioritization of work, etc.)
  • Increased governance (word is a little corporate, but she uses it to mean breaking through silos)

These all fit together. If you break down silos and get product teams working together, then you can adjust the metrics they are using and set the priorities of the work better. A leads to B leads to C and so on.

For example, one silo in her company is doing a lot with “delivery promise.” That involves delivery windows from online orders, in-store pickup, etc. While that work has been advancing well, there’s no connection between that work and marketing — so it’s not being pushed out properly. There’s an example of a silo issue that she is working to connect.

Quick wins

Oftentimes, executives will tell you: “You have time to get this work going.”

A few weeks later, they pivot: “What are you working on? You need to show results.”

So you need quick wins.

Alice is working on an in-store personal shopping program right now. It initially felt like a distraction to her main job, but it’s been helpful in her thinking about what project management teams should look like internally. (And how to make them cross-silo.) She ended up spending a lot of time on this (still is) but has been able to frame it up as a quick win that executives can see, “Oh, OK, this is happening and the end goal is…”

The pay it forward question

“What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?” Alice’s responses:

  • Ask yourself if you’re nosy: Being nosy is important for this role. It helps create energy, curiosity, and opportunities as you begin a role. People who would rather sit at their desks all day probably won’t do as well in this role.
  • Are you bossy? Once being nosy helps you find an opinion, you need to boss through the change and land the target. This is all about communicating the message and building rapport with stakeholders. You can also say “able to engage” instead of “bossy,” although we had a good laugh near the end of the podcast around the “bossy” word.
  • Accept the lack of traction: It sometimes will feel like you’re not delivering as fast as you’d like. If you spend your career developing and delivering things, this role is a lot more long-term strategic. You can “achieve” simply by shifting the thinking of others. But if your career focus has been hitting targets, it can feel a little bit distant from that world.

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