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RBTE 2016: The revelation is out - treat customers well & they'll come back!

Shoppers are "goal-directed" and don't actually understand what the term "omnichannel" means, according to BT's head of customer insights, Nicola Millard.

Talking to Essential Retail, the futurologist revealed some of the findings from a recent BT report into changing consumer behaviours, and praised the growing number of retail boardrooms that are placing customer experience at the heart of their business strategies.

Last month UK grocer Asda appointed Andy Murray to the role of chief customer officer, following the move by a number of other industry players, such as House of Fraser with Andy Harding and Kingfisher with Pierre Woreczek, to create that job position and consequently put shoppers' needs on the executive agenda.

Millard said: "The chief customer officer trend is healthy. We ourselves have just got a chief customer officer and their role is really to make sure the customer is in every conversation – and that is absolutely right."

She added: "I've been in the customer experience world for a very long time and it's always been part of the conversation, but it's very good that it's becoming a conversation relevant to the board.

"In the past, customer experience and service has always been regarded as a cost that should be minimised. The revelation is out – if you treat customers well they will come back!"

Millard argues that the shift in thinking comes as retailers now find themselves with more tools to start tying profitability to the customer experience and at a time when businesses operating in this increasingly competitive space find that service and advice is going to be a differentiator on the high street or online. Maplin CEO Oliver Meakin highlighted this point during his presentation at RBTE on 9 March.

BT has undertaken research over the last few months, dubbed the Omnichannel Swap Shop, which asked customers how they shop and what motivates them when making a purchase. Three distinct consumer categories emerged: the visionary shopper who is positively motivated about their purchase for a special occasion; the crisis shopper who needs to buy something or return an item as a matter of urgency; and the utilitarian shopper who is motivated solely by convenience.

All shopper types behave in different ways of course, but Millard concluded from the research that consumers are "goal-driven" and do not necessarily consider which channels they are using when they start their path to purchase.

"There's a lot of hype about 'omnichannel', and my approach when you get topics that are hyped is to do some research and ask customers if they are changing the way they shop and how they are using different channels," Millard noted

"We sat people down for an hour and asked people how they shopped. The first question we asked was 'are you an omnichannel customer?' and the answer we got back was 'what's that?'."

She added: "It's very enlightening to sit down with customers. The omnichannel one was a surprise because you assumed everyone would understand what omnichannel was, but they didn't.

"We're obsessed about channels in organisations but customers are very much not. Customers want to get to their goal easily."

Millard presented some of these findings alongside additional research from BT's at this month's RBTE, which took place on 9-10 March at London Olympia.

And in her future-gazing role, she'll continue to monitor how shopper habits are changing and look to provide insight for the BT business and the vendor's partner organisations.

She commented: "I have one of the best jobs in BT; I am an academic so I like data and I like doing research.

"I'm a psychologist not a technologist so I very much take the route of understanding how consumers are changing. What is this thing called omnichannel? How are we viewing different channels and what are the implications on retailers trying desperately to provide service to an increasingly demanding, virtualised, gadget-using social customer base?"

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