Closing 500 stores overnight, switching revenue streams, and customer service at Pret a Manger

Edward Deason, UK Head of Customer Service, Pret a Manger
Edward Deason, UK Head of Customer Service, Pret a Manger
Listen to this interview:
Episode 8

When the first lockdown hit the UK, it shook everybody.

Everyone was worrying about Brexit. Who could have predicted a pandemic?

No high street retailer did, and Pret a Manger didn't either.

Pret made just over £700m in revenue last year and was experiencing almighty growth. But overnight, all 500 stores closed and along with it went nearly 100% of their revenue source.

Pret is well-known for it's superior in-store experience, friendly staff, and quality food. So, with the physical touch point gone for an extended point of time it became their priority to find a path to their customers.

How did they respond?

How do Pret continue to engage customers? How did they stay front of mind?

The full details are in this week's podcast episode with Ed Deason, the UK Head of Customer Service at Pret.

As a teaser, their response looked like this:

  • Gifting excess food stocks to homeless charities
  • Ensuring NHS key workers were fuelled with free coffee
  • Accelerating every relevant long-term project
  • Pivoting to different ways to sell directly to customer's homes

One example of Pret's response can be found here: Pret's coffee subscription.

Ed also has 13 years experience in customer experience and support, so we chatted through his journey and other workplace experiences.

Customer journey mapping screenshot
Customer journey mapping screenshot

Industry experts from companies like Pret a Manger, Gartner, Three and HP discuss how to turn customer support into a driver of bottom line growth.

In this episode, topics covered include:

  • Challenges of CX in a tour operator environment. Challenges in not owning all the touchpoints in the customer journey.
  • How to deal with customer issues when they’re still experiencing the problem
  • How Ed dealt with moving CSAT surveys from physical surveys to online. And how they maintained an 85% response rate.
  • Joining Pret 4 weeks before lockdown. How has Pret been affected by the pandemic? What new challenges were thrown up.
  • How did Pret change their in-store experience?
  • Pivot to digital
  • How the pandemic "suspended the rules”. A situation like the pandemic gives you an opportunity to rip up the rule book.
  • Results from the coffee subscription
  • How does Pret create such a tight customer-focused culture?
  • What’s next for Pret?
Struggling with manual customer feedback collation?
Our AI platform turns high volumes of qualitative text from support tickets, surveys and reviews into actionable insight, so you can reduce CPO and improve churn rates.
British Airways LogoSchuh LogoDHL LogoNew Look LogoNestle LogoZendesk Logo
Learn More

Transcript

Ben: Welcome to the On Hold Podcast!

Ed Deason: Thank you very much, Ben.

Ben: Having you is really going to be an interesting chat, I'm looking forward to it. So the way we've been approaching this with every guest to start with is three favourite things. Just to get the conversation started, but also to get some tips from you.

The first one is, what's been your favourite customer experience lately or your favourite company that you've been admiring the way they're doing their customer experience?

Ed Deason: So I was thinking about this the other day and I'm not sure I've had any sort of any stand-out customer experiences recently.

And I don't know if that's because I'm in this area and I'm more discerning as a result or maybe it's just cause I've been interacting with more companies online. So you get less of that kind of face to face interaction and the opportunity to provide that exceptional service.

Not proud to admit it but I think if you look at Amazon, for me, they are stand out at the moment because you know exactly what you're getting. They provide an absolutely consistent customer experience and like a lot of people in lockdown, I think probably been shopping online more and more.

And like I say, with Amazon, you know exactly what you're getting.  They keep you in the loop the whole time and the shopping is really intuitive. They might not be the best in terms of corporation approach but they are providing a great customer experience.

Ben: Yeah. They've definitely nailed it. I think everything from that prime stuff to as being a subscription to getting next day deliveries is like everything that you want. It's hard not to use them and almost everyone would say “Oh yeah, they're not being very ethical as a company but extremely useful”.

Ed Deason: Yeah. That's it. I think, for a lot of people ease of experience can outrank other consents.

Ben: Okay, perfect. That's a good answer. No one said Amazon yet, but I'm surprised by that.

Okay, second favourite. Do you have a favourite influencer or podcast or blog that you learn from in this industry?

Ed Deason: Oh 100%. I wouldn't say it's necessarily strictly limited to customer experiences as such, but there is a blog called Farnam Street and it's run by a chap called Shane Parrish. It's about better decision-making and it covers a little bit of everything. So whether that's mental models that you can use the biases and heuristics that we all use individuals,  historic examples of success and failures,  genuinely it's a truly exceptional blog and it's really about how you as an individual make better decisions, how you can encourage other people to make better decisions and how you can identify where you make taking shortcuts perhaps, and taking approaches that aren't going be successful for you in the long run. There's a random old school button on the front page, and it's easy to lose yourself for a couple of hours down the rabbit hole, following sort of link to link and article to the article but I genuinely never left that blog without feeling smarter.

Ben: That's just what you want. Is it personal decision making, or is it like from a business perspective?

Ed Deason: It's everything, absolutely everything. So it's about generally just making better decisions, whether that's in your personal life, whether that's in your business life, whether you're setting out on new things or reflecting on things that you're currently doing.

And there are so many exceptional real-life examples used throughout blogs the examples throughout history and he uses the latest mental models. He'll talk about condiment and heuristics and biases and genuinely it's the best blog I've to think I've read.

Ben: Wow, you've really sold it. I’m definitely going to get on that critical thinking and the ways of making decisions are 100% something that everyone needs to learn more about

Ed Deason: Yeah. And he talks a lot about the key underlying mental models. I think he's got a list of them on the site, and these are models that you can and will use day in, day out. And if you try and work them into your repertoire your decision-making will improve a hundredfold.

Ben: I'll lose myself in that later No doubt. Okay, last favourite. What's your favourite thing about working so closely with customers?

Ed Deason: This is a really interesting question.  I think for me personally, it's seeing just how much a brand can actually affect customers, affect consumers. So I think it's easy to forget when you're in business, sometimes that there is a customer at the end of your sale. I know there's a real individual or a real person at the end of it, but working in customer experience, you see some of those kinds of really exceptional customer experience has been delivered and what they mean for customers.

I worked in the travel industry and the travel industry is all about emotion. It's all about providing really memorable experiences for people. So example one of the places I worked, we had a customer who travelled with us over a hundred times and he'd been literally all over the world with us and we were a huge part of his personal identity. There are other people, for example, they had honeymooned with us when they got married 30 years ago and they were returning for their 30th wedding anniversary to the same resort, to the same hotel that was still being run by the same family. So for me, it's about how as a brand we can impact people's lives.

Ben: Yeah, it's quite a responsibility really if they've had good experiences with you, they remember and you take up a little bit of their mental space and loyalty and all that kind of stuff.

Ed Deason: Yeah. And I think maybe it's perhaps it's slightly skewed, but in the industries that I've worked in, hospitality and travel where you have no travel holidays for people, it's probably the biggest purchase they're going to make that year. You don't buy cars every year, you don't buy houses every year, but you probably buy a holiday every year. So they're incredibly important to people and that's our emotive as well because you wait all year to go on holiday with your loved ones. So it's no surprise that as a holiday brand or hospitality brand, you can have a big impact on people's wellbeing and people's emotions and they feel connected with you.

Ben: That's so true. It's one of those purchases like you're actually taking time off work. It's a limited time that you want it to be good. You are spending a lot of money and a lot of people see that as their outlet that's where they get their kind of why they work or we get it for what kind of thing.

Ed Deason: And it's the holidays are an expression of people as well. Don’t you express yourself on your holiday like “Oh, I'm a traveller? I'm going somewhere exotic this year or “I love to party. I'm going to Ibiza this year” and as I said, they're a bit of an expression of your personality as well.

Ben: It sounds like customer experience in the industry would be really fun because it is so full of emotion

Ed Deason: Yeah very fun but very challenging as well.

Ben: I bet so you're talking about your work at the hotel plan, right? Could you tell us a bit more about that and your background in this space?

Ed Deason: So I started my career at Royal Caribbean. I left school around 18 and had no real idea of what I wanted to do.

And I got a temp job working for Royal Caribbean who is one of the Croton largest cruise lines in the world based out of Miami. Enormous, incredible cruise line. The ships are just unreal, largest cruise ships in the world so a really exciting place to start with my first job. So I worked in the customer service team and eventually worked my way up to manager.  Before I started, Royal Caribbean is an enormous blue-chip company listed or on the US market, and then from there I moved over to explore, which was opposite, a tiny company, offering adventure, travel holidays, and based in the UK.

Ben: Those industries sound great to work for because if you play your cards right you could get some foam perks out of them did you get to go on any cruises or free adventure holidays

Ed Deason: This is the same question that everyone else tells you in the travel industry, you must get a lot of free holidays. I think it's fair to say that, you do get some perks from working in the travel industry and one of them tends to be holidays. I've been on some cruise. It's been on some adventure trips.

Ben: That sounds like so much fun have you got any examples of places

Ed Deason: Yes. My favourite trip was with Explore and Adventure Travel. I took my wife to the Galapagos Islands and that was truly incredible. And if anyone listening has the opportunity to go, do.  

Ben: Yeah, For sure. Each of these companies that you've been at, were you in the customer service team, like dealing with customer contacts, or were you more focused on the customer experience side of things and I'd really be interested to know how you've seen those two interlink and work together.

Ed Deason: So it's been a bit of a mixed bag. Certainly in Royal Caribbean, I was heading out in the customer service team and that was largely just a kind of purely operational customer service role and then moving to Explore. I did a bit of both actually, so I'd explore. I was the customer service manager to start with.

And then we identified a need for a real focus on customer experience. As there have been some technical challenges with a rollout of a new booking system and kind of the heart of any travel business is their booking system. So we'd rolled this out and it was over budget and as a result, we'd really been impacting customer experience and explore hugely loyal customers. So we were at real risk of turning some of these customers off for good from the customer service role and explore. I moved into a customer kind of a pure customer experience role really focused on restoring customer loyalty, improving those customer experiences that we'd had the challenges with the new booking system.

Ben: Wow that's interesting. Can we dig into that a little bit like how did you measure the customer's feedback, how did you understand that there were issues and what did you do to improve the customer experience in the booking system on this project?  

Ed Deason: Yeah. I suppose it was one of those where it was fairly obvious that explore had rolled out this new tech system but as a part of it, there were so many kinds of elements that worked and became manual.

So became manual for our teams, trying to make the bookings and it became manual for our customers as well. And it was really impacting their experience because adventure travel is not like we'll fly and flop each other day. If you like, you need to provide more information when you book so you need to provide insurance details. You need to be comfortable that you're fit enough and you're healthy enough. And you understand what going on an adventure holiday means. So there's a lot more back and forth with the holiday company than there might be with the invention of the company, then there might be with a beach holiday company, for example, where you can sign up book and you're done and you just tied up a vehicle.

We identified that we were having customers who were not having a great kind of booking and post-booking experience before they went on holiday. So the holidays were still exceptional. They were the same holidays they'd always been, but that lead up to the holiday was not memorable for the right reasons.

And we want people to be excited about the run-up to their holiday rather than concerned or frustrated.  So one of the key initiatives there was introducing a self-service portal for customers,  which enabled them to do a lot of access the things they needed, access the information they needed at the right time, make sure that we were talking to them at the right time, and just making things much easier for them.

Ben: I think it's so interesting that it's so often the case that people just want clear information and an easy way to access that information is exactly the same with the pandemic response and almost every country. We just want a clear timeline about what's going on and some clarity. And you're in adventure bookings, it's complex and people just want access to that information about what they can expect

Ed Deason: Yeah, you're right. I think when you go on holiday as I said, it's an expensive purchase.

It's a purchase that you're emotionally invested in and you want to be comfortable with. You want to be excited about the run-up to it, you want to know exactly where you need to be and when you need to be there. You want to know that you’re insured and you're covered and you're safe and you don't want to have to fight for that information.

Ben: Yeah, definitely. So what exactly was it like before, and then after these projects?  

Ed Deason: We saw a huge improvement in customer satisfaction. It was like I say, we automated a serious number of manual processes. We started speaking to customers in different ways. We started presenting information that at a time it was more convenient for them. We also moved a lot of the customer satisfaction surveys and this has been a bit of a theme through my travel industry experiences. We moved our customer satisfaction surveys online as well. If you've been on holiday before you'll be familiar with being handed, the paper questionnaire on the bus or the aeroplane pats to say, to let them know what your experience was like.

And we moved that online to make it easier for our customers to make it more convenient. And so we could sort of analyze the data and produce better insights from it.

Ben: Interesting. I imagine that must have been a difference in the response rates from getting emailed customer satisfaction surveys or getting handed them in person. Did you have any challenges there or were you worried about the difference in bias and who was responding and the response rates?

Ed Deason: Yeah 100%. So I'll talk about the hotel plan here because this was one of our biggest concerns when we did a hotel plan. So like I said, explore customers are very loyal and very engaged with the brand.

And they were people that were very keen to provide feedback anyway. So we didn't see such a huge challenge with exploration. When we were doing it, a hotel plan, we used to use the paper surveys. And we had something like an 85% response rate on paper surveys, which is if anyone in the customer experience world knows that's a pretty exceptional response right? And these surveys were the fundamental basis, of how we assessed the performance of the hotels we used, the transport providers we use and take it back a step hotel plan is a tore up right then. And that means that we package the holiday together. So we bring the flights together, we bring the transport together, we bring the hotels together. So the customer has this kind of combined experience but the real challenge as a tour operator is you don't own the hotel, you don't own the transport provider, you don't own the airline so you can get very different customer experiences.

At each of those touch-points, you might have a wonderful bus driver who talks about the sites and drives you to a hotel and then a terrible checking experience. So you've got that real dissonance between different elements of the holiday. So for us, these customer experience surveys always work and customer satisfaction was absolutely critical to ensure that we can make sure our customers had a consistent, enjoyable experience. So there was a real concern within the business that by moving online, we'd lose a lot of those contexts, we'd lose a lot of those responses from 85% to typically online you might get 10 or 15%. So we put together this really thorough kind of comprehensive plan about how we would be requesting this information. And in the end, we worked on a few different touchpoints with our customers. So we still handed them cards but I had a QR code on them so they could scan and go straight to it.

We followed up with emails and we followed up with SMS as well. And in the end, our response rates were almost comparable with the paper surveys. And it was so critical to the business to get this right as well. It was like I say that this was the only way of feeding back satisfaction levels to our suppliers, which is critical when you don't own all of those different parts.

Ben: Yeah. I think that was a really interesting point that if you don't own all the touchpoints, how do you monitor that or how do you own your customer's experience?

Ed Deason: So for us, it's about really building deep lasting partnerships. Some of the hoteliers we worked with, for example, we had been working with a hotel clamps for 30 years or so, from father to son. You know these were family-owned hotels in Austria that we'd worked with for years. So it was critical that we could give this information, this feedback back.

Ben: That's such a fascinating point and it's definitely something we've come across in our customers and I think airlines travel have this problem where they don't own all of the touchpoints along with their customer's experience and they can't necessarily impact it  

Ed Deason: I think. E-commerce, for example, it's fairly simple. You generally own most of those steps yourself perhaps the only bit you don't own is the courier but it's a fairly standard transaction.

Whereas when you get into something where there are huge swathes of the journey that you don't own and that journey could go on for two weeks, it becomes a kind of a key part of what you're doing- customer experience.

Ben: Yeah if you've sold a holiday and they're actually like chips out on the food when they get there or something, I don't know what it would be made. That would be really annoying. And you'd feel a bit conned by the tour holiday person who sold you this.

Ed Deason: Yeah. If you're an individual making one holiday patients from a company as far as you're concerned is that company that's responsible. The consumer is not fast. It wouldn't be that they don't care but it's the airline that's messed up or the hotelier that's messed up or the transport company that's messed up as far as they concerned each unit is messed up. So I think travel presents a lot of exceptional challenges for customer experience.

Ben: Definitely. I saw on your LinkedIn that even at Royal Caribbean cruises that you say, like handling 40,000 contacts yearly how did that change it? Explore and hotel plan and how do you deal with that many.

Ed Deason: Yeah. Teams are usually the answer to that. The volume difference between Royal Caribbean and Explore was pretty extreme and as a result, the team size is different significantly between the two. I wouldn't say there's, a desperately different approach other than to say Royal Caribbean is probably a bit easier because you do own a lot of that journey. Most of the experience that the customers have is on both the ships themselves and the company owns the ships and the company runs those ships so you do have more control over it than say, I don’t know a shepherd high in Turkey or I tented in Camden in Jordan.

I always tell you that Explore was the kind of the real point end of tour operating where you have so many different places to stay and so many different transport providers involved.

Ben: Customers calling you from Shepherd's heart in Turkey and saying this is an issue. Can you sort it out?

Ed Deason: If I could get reception sometimes. I think one of the interesting things about travel as well is that sometimes you are dealing with things at the moment if you think about e-commerce, typically you're dealing with the customers receive the product and it doesn't work well then there's an issue with them. Whereas the travel that customers might well still be on holiday for another five days. So you've got to really think about what we should do right now at this moment to turn this experience around for the customer. And what you don't want to do is say, “sorry, there's nothing we can do”, but spend another seven days frustrated, not enjoying that holiday, and then coming home and raising the issue.

Ben: That's already a point, isn't it because like with an e-commerce company, you'd call them and you'd maybe say, my package was late or arrived damaged and you get it sourced out. But if you're on holiday, you need that sorted out right now.

Ed Deason: That's not why we can return the holidays. For a replacement, you have to be creative. You got to be Prattared to work with the customer to understand what their needs are, what you can do to support them, and what you can do to turn that experience around for them at that moment.

Ben:  How do you approach that challenge? Like what was the normal case of this and then how do you seek them out?

Ed Deason: Yeah. For those customers that are contacted on a holiday, I suppose getting to the bottom of what their needs are in that moment, for example, you've got some of them with mobility issues that maybe didn't declare it at the time or hadn't understood the place that they're staying at might be like, so you could say, you didn't tell us, but that fundamentally isn't going to solve it for the customer.

So it's about understanding, what are your needs, how can we make this easier for you? Could we move, you'll run to the ground floor, for example, could we move your room next to a lift? Would these be things that would help?  So it's like a lot of customer service, just a little bit more complicated sometimes in that you have three or four people to work with to find that resolution.

Ben: It sounds like you were pretty on it compared to a couple of travel experiences I've had,  but I think you've shared a lot of good insights there for people in the travel industry about owning their customer experience. So let's talk about Pratt so you moved to Pratt this year what a crazy time to join any company

Ed Deason: I moved to Pratt at the start of this year, about four weeks before we went into the first UK lockdown.

Ben: Did he see it coming?

Ed Deason: I wished I had.

Ben: How has Pratt been affected by the pandemic? And I guess obviously we know that there's been everything shut down, but what's it been like internally? How has everyone been, what's the anxiety level of the company right now?

Ed Deason: That's an interesting question. First of all, obviously, Pratt was a very successful business. Last year I think we made close to a billion in revenue. We have over 500 shops, and a significant proportion of those are in the city of London. So what was like all hospitality venues on the 26th of March or something around that overnight, all of our shops closed so our revenue went from a pretty exceptional figure to zero overnight like all kinds of bricks and mortar retailers. So you could probably say that there was a pretty severe anxiety spike then and then we've been doing our best to react to it over the last six to nine months.

Ben: It's just crazy to think. I can't imagine what you do and your revenue goes to zero. Like every plan that you've had suddenly has to be like, Oh, can we afford this? Should we be saving that money?

Ed Deason: Yeah, I wouldn't presume to speak for the board of Pratt, but like I said, with every hospitality business, you said she shut your doors and that's your source of revenue.

If you're a brick-and-mortar retailer and that is all you do, then your revenue drops to zero overnight and that is a pretty intense position to be in. It's not a situation that realistically anyone predicted, I think what's particularly interesting is if you reflect on the last year or so, the people's main concern has been Brexit, I don't think a global pandemic was even on anyone's radar. So one minute everyone's preparing for Brexit, trying to make sure that supply chains are holding together and that we can get our goods and services and overnight and how can we even sell our products

Ben: Every challenge has changed tax.

Ed Deason: Absolutely.

Ben: What about the customer service team? like how did things change? You must've just got up to speed so if it was just about got up to speed in this role and then this happens. What did you see differently on the day-to-day?

Ed Deason: I mean at its most simple, I suppose our customer contacts dropped to essentially tiny levels overnight with people not able to come into our shops, there were fewer complaints, there are few issues so on the customer satisfaction side, there was that real kind of that first four week period after lockdown when broadly everything was shot and we maybe only had a few shops starting to open up. It was really about how do we engage with our customers? How do we remind them that we're still here?

How do we keep ourselves in front of mind when they can't pop in and meet our really friendly staff every day? And they can't buy a cookie and that flat white and they want the size. So how do we stay in front of the mind? And also how do we do the right thing for our customers as well? It was really important to us just as it was coming clear that lockdown might be something that happens.

But the NHS was under a huge amount of strain. So we went out and offered our kind of NHS key workers free hot drinks because we recognized the incredible pressure they were under and we discounted lunches as well. So they could pop in and not worry too much about that when they had plenty of other things to be worrying about.

So we wanted to try the right thing. When we closed all of our shops as well, we donated a lot of our unsold food to charities that needed it to hospitals, to homeless charities to make sure that if we weren't going to be open anytime soon that at least people were benefiting from our suppliers and our resources.

Ben: And that would have been like a sort of a tragic waste of food if all of that had just gone in the bin as well.

Ed Deason: Yeah. It would have been an incredible waste and there were so many people working so hard at that point. It was for us and they might not be our typical customers if you like that, but it was the right thing to do and that's always been one of Pratt's key principles.

Ben: I think like the world isn't 100% watching, what brands do in times like that and it's really important how they respond, how they care about like the NHS regard was like so important to so many people.

Ed Deason: yeah, so it certainly wasn't a part of the plan but we had 20,000 contacts on social media and just so many people saying how grateful they were and they were pleased that brands were thinking of them and that we were recognizing that the tough times ahead.

Ben: So did you stay open in hospitals? Is that right?  

Ed Deason: No absolutely not purely for sort of safety reasons, we had to close all of our shops and I suppose about three or four weeks later we started to open up our shops for takeaway only. And we did it in kind of small batches to ensure that we were opening safely, primarily when we first reopened, we opened near hospitals.

So with the aim that we would be able to provide NHS staff with their food, with their lunches. We didn't stay open in hospitals through that first period but then we began to reopen the hospitals initially.

Ben: I think it's interesting because you talk a lot about customer experience. So would, is it under your sort of mandate as the head of the customer service to also be quite heavily involved in customer experience?

Ed Deason: Yeah, so we don't have a kind of a head of customer experience to Pratt so I am heavily involved in it as are a few of my colleagues. So we have quite a lot of projects going on at the moment where there needs to be a customer experience focus as well. So that's typically forced to me as I'm so close to the customer experience at the moment.

Ben: Okay. That's really interesting. So you as a company, first of all, closed the stores and then you pivoted to near NHS hospitals and you moved to takeaway only. Is that right? How did you change the in-store experience?

Ed Deason: Yeah, I think our in-store experience is one of the biggest things. So obviously now it's a requirement for our customers to wear masks for our team members to wear masks.  We've placed like a lot of bricks and mortar retailers. We've taken a lot of steps to as best we can mitigate.

It's getting the virus. Social distancing in our city and areas obviously no longer is an issue because today is the first day of lockdown 2.0. So we, once again opened for takeaway only, social distancing in the queues, multiple team members and customers perspect screens so it's been interesting and then the biggest change we've made is not so much with our bricks and mortar, but it's the pivot to doing much more digitally and doing much more in the homes of our customers rather than in our shops.

Ben: So have you done that?

Ed Deason: So I think this is the most interesting bit for Pratt and the most interesting impact of the pandemic is at the point that we went into lockdown near enough, a hundred per cent of our revenues were driven by customers coming to Pratt. As I say, at that point, we were chasing skyscrapers. We were very much, kind of city-based or lunch provider, essentially for office workers and then overnight office workers are now working from home. So we had to pivot exceptionally quickly and go from bringing the people to Pratt, to bring in Pratt to the people.

Ben: That's such a big change. Isn't it? Complete orations change.

Ed Deason: Yeah, It's a complete pivot. If you think for 30 years we've been doing the same thing, which is providing exceptional experiences, fresh food, fresh coffee in our shops and overnight that's not an option. So it was a big move for us, a big switch for us.

So I suppose two of the key projects have been a real push for delivery and the launch of our coffee subscription as well.

Ben: How did you pivot to food delivery? Did you opt for one of the third parties who are dominating London at the moment or did you set up your operation?

Ed Deason: Up until sort of a start of lockdown, we weren't big on using third-party delivery sites. We had a small test run with one of them but we hadn't moved to use the third party. So Uber eats just eats delivery and it comes back to that how much control do you have? In our shops, we've got this wonderful customer experience. We've got a friendly, bubbly staff. They know exactly what they're doing or the speed of service is great. And when you introduce a third party, those things can change. So up until that point, we'd been a bit reluctant about working with them with third party suppliers.

But like I said, overnight things changed and it became very apparent to ensure that we could still provide our customers with great fresh food, great fresh coffee that we would need to work more closely with third parties. So we ramped up deliveries with Avery just dates and delivery.

Ben: I guess that's such a massive advantage to be able to overnight tap into their delivery infrastructure but with these delivery third parties, how do you manage the sort of order value to the cost of a delivery problem because you know, I've noticed that my order from Pratt typically is quite low which could probably match the price that I know that they're charging for delivery at the moment

Ed Deason: Yeah, absolutely. And this is where it came down to making sure that we were in front of mind for our customers and the time that we weren't trading. I suppose we recognize the customers, where they might've been in an office every day and popping into Pratt.

Every day for lunch and buying one thing, they might not be in the same kind of circumstances to go to do that, to continue to do that, doing that from home. But we still want them to think about us. We still want them to feel like they're getting value from us. The order size might go up slightly, but the frequency might go down a little bit but we've worked to do free delivery.

We've also worked to see where we could offer promotions for our customers, where we could add a little bit of value perhaps with free packets of crisps or free cookies.

Ben: I think one of the great things that Pratt did that, at least everyone I know, talked about at least once was this coffee subscription service. What was your idea there?  Was that already in the roadmap or was that a new thing?

Ed Deason: It's a good question. Well, I suppose what the pandemic did for a lot of companies is it suspended the rules. If you think of a lot of organizations, there's this huge sense of inertia. This is the way we've always done things. It's always worked for us previously and therefore, this is the way that we're always going to do things. And you know whether that's a hospitality company or an e-commerce company or a house builder, once the organization gets to a certain size, there's this kind of sense of inertia and situations like this gives you the opportunity to respond to that and gives you an opportunity to rip up the rule book.

And there are typically two approaches that an organization can take. One of them is probably what most of the travel industry have done actually, which is hunker down battened down the hatches cut costs where they can wait for the storm to pass.

If people fundamentally can't travel so there's very little, you can do to encourage them to buy holidays. So that's kind of option one and option two is go right. The way that we're trading at the moment or the way we were trading is not sustainable for us right now. So we need to pivot quickly and we need to do something different.

So for us at Pratt, it was a case of right. If we can't bring people to our shops, then how do we bring you to talk to our customers and we had a lot of projects on the roadmap probably for the next two to three years enough to keep us busy and what the pandemic kind of forced us to do is really accelerate those projects that were due for a year or two at work reduced to six months or three months delivery times.

Ben: Okay. So was this one of them? Was this like a new idea floated?

Ed Deason: So this description was one of them. I mean, all of the project's subscription had the first fastest turnaround time, but it has been phenomenally successful.

Ben: Would you be able to tell me the numbers of people?

Ed Deason: Yeah, absolutely. I think our initial month prediction was around 60,000 customers signing up and by the end of month one, we were around 200,000.

Ben: Wow. Okay. So nearly four times, three and a half times the amount if I live next to Pratt it's a no brainer, it makes so much sense because it seems very cost-effective.

Ed Deason: Yeah, absolutely. If you drink coffee every day, you've made back your subscription costs is probably the first week or so.

Ben: So something you mentioned just before we started recording was that as you've gone down into lockdown again, people are a little bit unhappy about their subscription because they have less access to it, how has that?

Ed Deason: So I guess they're two groups of customers.

So the customers that are continuing to work are our key workers who are still in the city. Eight to six people like our taxi drivers, our NHS people, people that cant work from home so they still have access and they're still able to redeem, we're keeping our shops open on this occasion where we're open for takeaway still.

And then we've got this other group of customers who are probably going to be working from home quite probably can use perhaps from the home counties are a good example. So they might have access to Pratt every day. They're in the office when they're at home there isn't a friend nearby.

Ben: Okay. That's difficult.

Ed Deason: Yeah, absolutely and it's totally understandable as well. So for them what we've done overnight is we've put in the functionality to pull subscriptions.

Ben: OK. Nice. That's the meat of the problem completely.

Ed Deason: So we recognize that there are customers that won't be able to get to Prett shops.

They might still want to but realistically and pragmatically, they can't get there immediately. So we've said the right thing for us to do as a business is to pause subscriptions so people don't continue to be charged and then, we'll see them when it's safe to do so.

Ben: I think that's just another reason why so many people love Pratt. There's one thing that we talked about on this podcast where the Alis Godfrey in our interview with her was Pratt's initiative to give free stuff to people seemingly randomly in the stores when you come in and they just say this one's on the house. And how much of an impact that has on you every single time you get it? What was your reasoning behind that one? For example, you have an ongoing theme of doing very selfless and great customer experiences, what was the reasoning behind this one?

Ed Deason: Something that historically we've always done and it's one of our core principles of practice to be kind honest and generous. And that really is kind of us taking the generous box and it's great for our customers and it's great for our team members as well. If we say to our team members, “Look, we want you to have fun at work we want you to have a great time at work and part of the way you can do that is if you see a customer who needs it or you see someone deserving of it give them a free coffee, give them a free cookie, do something to brighten their day”.

We've seen so many sorts of examples where our customers have written to us and said “I was having the most dreadful day. I went into your shorts, my mascara was smudged and I'd been crying I've been upset. One of your team members saw me they were so generous they clearly saw that I wasn't having a great day. They gave me a free coffee. They gave me a free cookie and it brightened my day. And it made such a difference to me.”

Those kinds of stories are great for them. We want people to enjoy their experience so we have, super fun, super bubbly, super passionate team, and the joy of Pratt is a way of cementing those relationships between our team members and our customers.

Ben: I think that's what customer experience and customer service is about at its core creating those fun experiences for both your customers and your employees

Ed Deason: Yeah. Fun is it for us? It's about those little moments of joy for our customers about them. I suppose having a great time with us and where hospitality has such an opportunity is that these face-to-face relationships, these kinds of individual experiences you can have as part of working at Pratt, when you first start you spend a week in the shop learning to make sandwiches, learning to work with tills, doing a bit of cleaning and tidying as well.

I spent my first week of Pratt in my local shop and it's incredible to see our baristas. I was amazed the first day I worked on the tills and there would be people walking through the door. So the door was the other end of the shop, probably 20 meters away, 10 meters away and the barista would look up, let's see the customer coming in. And by the time the customer got to the checkout, their drink had already been made, our baristas have this phenomenal memory for that their favourite orders, what they order every day. And it is such an incredible experience.

And it's what makes Pratt price-wise. It's part of our fun, it's part of our experiences, it's part of those kinds of relationships that our staff build with our customers.

Ben: That is amazing. And I think it's underrated. It's just something you feel and I didn't think people necessarily put that into words about Pratt. One thing I think people will be thinking is how do I unlock the budget for this kind of thing? Most companies we'll ask you to prove a revenue case or prove ROI from this kind of thing but being generous and giving away things for free doesn't have a direct impact necessarily but it has to be part of your DNA as a company

Ed Deason: Yeah, absolutely. And I'd love to take responsibility for it, but this is this way predates my tenure at Pratt.

And like you say, it's part of the company DNA. I think it's one of the things that attracted me to Pratt. And it's one of the things I love about being here is that being kind, honest, and generous is genuinely a part of the culture. It's not a little tag printed overall, the doorway, and our headquarters. It is something that our team members see, feels, and experience.

And it's like you said, it's part of the culture because people understand that there were some guidelines to it and as a result, it works.

Ben: Absolutely. And I think it's a goal that we can arrange for. We haven't got much time left, so I think he'll go for one last question. What is next for Pratt?  

Ed Deason: Okay. Today is the first day of new lockdown so our priority right at the moment is ensuring that we can continue to provide the best experience for those customers who perhaps can't get to Pratt.

Continuing to focus on the delivery experience, continuing to see how we can best get to our customers, for example, we signed up with Amazon in the not too distant past to sell our coffee beans. So those customers that perhaps couldn't get coffee in our shop could make a coffee and the company's riding home and with the same coffee beans that we'd use in the shop.

I suppose the coffee subscription for us has been the kicking off point for us to start thinking about customer loyalty for Pratt. We've got right able to engage in our customer with our customers in a way that we weren't previously. So we're looking at what does that means for our customers?

How do we really, build these great experiences and how do we recognize those loyal customers? How do we do it in a way that is distinctly Pratt? How do we inject a bit of that joy of Pratt into loyalty and recognizing our loyal customers?

Ben: You have any ideas?

Ed Deason: Lots of ideas. Those are the kinds of things that we’ll be looking at are what does loyalty mean for Pratt? How might we encourage and reward our loyal customers?

Ben: Nice. I'm looking forward to seeing that whatever that is, whichever product is chosen next to it.

Ed Deason: Keeping an eye on our social channels but in the meantime, we'll be really working to make sure that our customers have the best access to fresh food, fresh coffee, wherever they might be.

Ben: Cool. Perfect. Thank you very much. Is there anything else that you think I have not asked that is a burning important question for people?

Ed Deason: Yeah,  maybe I think one thing that’s pretty important for everyone right now is this focus on digital products especially if you're in the bricks and mortar, the retail sector is how do you engage with your customers digitally? And it's easy to have a lot of digital products going on. Did you have projects going on with product owners who are very focused on delivering those projects?

I think as customer experience champions we should be pushing for not just an MVP, which is a minimum viable product, which is quite a digital product terminology. People are trying to deliver the kicking off point for their customer as customer experience experts, we should be pushing for an MVE, which is the minimum viable experience.

So we should be pushing for these digital products to really fit in and improve the customer experience. Overall delivering the minimal workable product we should be going. What is the minimum experience this organization look like? How do we ensure that we deliver a consistent brand experience for our customers?

With the amount of two projects that are going on at the moment for everyone. And this isn't just a reflection on Pratt at all. It's how do we ensure that our customers are having truly exceptional, memorable brand experiences regardless of the channel they speak to the zone, or regardless of which channel they interact with this one.

There's not so talk about MVP. So the minimum viable product and probably not enough focus on the experience and how that product that you're about to introduce fits into your overall customer ecosystem.

There's absolutely a recognition that you need to get products out there and you need to test them but if you are launching them with live customers who already feel this great sense of, loyalty towards you and already bought into your brand experience, the last thing you want to do is turn them off with a product that doesn't fit inconsistently with the rest of your brand and the rest of your experiences.

Ben: That's really interesting because I haven't heard of MVE before is that something that people typically talk about

Ed Deason: Yes, probably. And certainly not as much as MVE but the terminology does exist and like I said I think it's really important. It's so easy to get caught up in the delivery of a product and forget occasionally that you've got customers at the end of it and they don't necessarily know that it's a new product. They just want how will they speak to you? Whatever your brand is they want that experience to feel consistent.

Ben: That's an excellent point to end on. Thank you so much. It's been awesome talking to you today

Ed Deason: It's been my pleasure.