Big interview: Specsavers customer service director Jill Clark

The Institute of Customer Service said in January that customer satisfaction across the wider business landscape dropped in 2013 after a continuous rise over the previous five years.

Contentment levels fell in 12 out of 13 sectors analysed, with the banking and building societies industry the only area to report year-on-year growth in customer satisfaction. Despite an annual dip, retail was the best-performing sector in the index, and the use of technology in-store and in the back office is seemingly playing an important role for many of players on the high street and wider industry landscape.

Glasses retailer Specsavers has made a number of investments in new systems to boost customer service in recent months, including one from customer intelligence business Maze, which helps measure staff performance levels and gives employees access to these results on a daily basis.

At the end of last year, the optical group also rolled out Kallidus's learning management system (LMS) across ten of its global territories, including the UK, Netherlands and Australia, which allows the business to centralise induction training and professional training programmes. The LMS tool will give Specsavers the opportunity to share training content, ideas and courses across its worldwide network.

Like many other retailers, Specsavers is finding that fast-changing customer requirements are driving significant change across all areas of its business.

Jill Clark, director of retail communications & customer service at Specsavers, told Essential Retail: "We are continually trialling new systems and at the moment we are using iPads to enable us to deal with higher volumes of customers, even if we have no dispensing desks free.

"Our customers hate waiting more than anything else – Maze tells us this loud and clear – so we have embarked on a new strategy to eliminate waiting, and the use of iPads is one of these."

Clark is evidently a keen advocate of Maze – a tool that has replaced paper and telephone customer questionnaires, and one that adds immediacy to the process of assessing shopper feedback. Staff can discuss incidents or overall performance based on comments made within 24 hours.

Presented in the form of a digital dashboard, members of staff can access the data to compare store or colleague performance or monitor specific areas of the retailer's operations, using a traffic light system of red, amber and green smiley faces.

"[It] really engages staff at all levels as they can see fact based unfiltered feedback from real customers," said Clark.

"This enables store managers to make every daily huddle far more refreshing and engaging due to Maze providing updated customer insight on a daily basis. It also means that individuals can be congratulated on their excellent service – and the rest of the team strive to receive this recognition as well."

Individual store targets can be set using the customer satisfaction index score generated by the system, and extra support can be channelled to those shops that have more challenges with their service delivery.

Specsavers received over 700,000 individual pieces of customer feedback in 2013, and the results allow the group to develop company-wide strategies and store-specific plans based around what customers are saying about the brand and service levels.

The company has also made a number of changes in recent months from an IT infrastructure perspective. The business's IT applications & quality director, Jason Taylor, said last year that Specsavers has benefitted from using HP's application lifecycle management solution, Agile Manager.

Taylor said that IT projects undertaken by the group are now of a "much better quality" when they go live and there have been opportunities to establish standards and processes across its applications.

However, such standardisation is not so common in the more random world of social media, and Clark suggests that Specsavers' customers are increasingly using the likes of Facebook and Twitter to express their opinions about the brand. Often messages are posted when a customer is still in the store, and on occasion head office has been able to call the store in question and resolve the issue with immediate effect.

"The internet is not the ideal way we want complaints to be highlighted and resolved, but younger people would rather do it this way than speak to another human – but at least they are telling us so we can put it right," she acknowledged.

Enthusiasm for using technology in the shopping process continues to grow among consumers and, as in the case of Maze, the retailers themselves are gradually embracing new systems that can make them more productive and customer-focused.

"We had the usual third/third/third scenario where some stores loved it immediately, some stores took a while to really engage and some were a bit stubborn," explained Clark.

"It took us a good year to get all stores engaged with the system – but now they have the technology on their store computers as well as smartphones, they love it."