Experimentations with video live chat, changing consumer behaviours and reflections on a 20-year career

Sean Mckee, Director of eCommerce and CX at Schuh
Sean Mckee, Director of eCommerce and CX at Schuh
Listen to this interview:
Episode 1

This week's guest on the On Hold podcast has a unique and exciting point of view on the world.

Sean worked his way up the ranks, straight out of college, to leading the eCommerce and customer experience team at Schuh.

Schuh isn't just any company. It's one of the UK's most beloved high street shoe retailers, now with over 130 stores and a reported turnover over of more than £230 million.

So as he comes to the end of a 20-year tenure at Schuh, we knew we had to ask Sean to unload his learnings and teach us a thing or two about CX and eCommerce.

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.

It's been particularly exciting to talk Sean during the COVID-19 period.

Fashion has taken a hit as consumers are reluctant to spend when a recession is looming.

But, Schuh has been resilient.

In this episode hear about how they've adapted, how COVID-19 has changed expectations and what Sean expects from the future of the high street.

Topics covered include:

  • Two core changes to customer expectations every brand should be aware of
  • Sean's tips for keeping customers happy during a crisis
  • Sean's biggest fear post-COVID-19
  • How COVID-19 will effect this year's big dates (Black Friday and Christmas)
  • How to address the non-internet savvy during COVID-19
  • What the common metric for success should be across a company
  • Why customer loyalty is a misnomer
  • Schuh's experiments with convenience and how drives sales and increased basket sizes
  • Schuh's implementation of video and live chat that ended up increasing the net customer position
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Transcript

Ben Goodey: Hi, Sean, how are you? Welcome to the On Hold podcast.

Sean Mckee: Good morning, Ben. Thank you very, very much for asking me.

Ben Goodey: So just to kick us off, can you give people a little bit of background about you and who you are and your career history because I think it's such a fascinating journey and you've been through multiple changes in eras all within one of Britain's most famous shoe brands. So, I think everyone needs to hear about that.

Sean Mckee: Sure thing. So, I went directly from university into retail training management and, within 18 months I was at Schuh and I was in a very traditional retail career. I spent time in store management, then moved into field management with a regional managers job and then into divisional management where I managed regional managers. And about 10 years ago, I flipped over completely into eCommerce and took over eCommerce and what was then the customer services department.  I've been doing that since 2010 until a couple of weeks ago.

Sharad: Wow. Okay. So, Sean, you started with Schuh around 2000?

Sean Mckee: Before that actually it was in 1996.

Sharad: Wow. It's been more than 20 years for you.

Sean Mckee: Yeah. Yes, it has. Yeah. Thank you for the reminder.  

Sharad: So, you have seen the .com recession, the subprime crisis and now COVID.

Sean Mckee: Well, yeah, I think if I can be a little bit more micro to your macro Sharad, I suppose what I have seen is a very traditional retail model turned completely on its head by the advent of online selling, and then just what that has done to what customers perceive retail looks like for them.

Actually, I've seen a whole range of things that have come and gone and were flashes in the pan. But they all ultimately disappeared and that's part of this particular internet animal, isn't it?

That things are moving at a pace we haven’t seen before. And it's very, very different to what's come before. So, part of an answer of all of this is that things will come into and out of relevance really, really quickly.

Ben Goodey: What would you say has been the biggest shift that you've seen?

Sean Mckee: Well look, the obvious shift is that from a retailer's perspective, there's been the dramatic change in internet penetration. So, the ability of the average customer to embrace the internet, have a decent connection, and as a result of that to learn how to shop online.

More specifically, of course, within that once the iPhone became important in the market, people's ability to adopt mobile internet and what that did to their understanding of a very, very small form factor, but what it could do for them and how they should interact with it, that obviously has revolutionized retail and the way people shop.

Ben Goodey: It is actually fascinating to have been at one company throughout this change. I imagine you've seen every single one of those and had to deal with how the company will adapt to it?

Sean Mckee: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes we were slightly too early. The problem with being slightly too early to change is that we released projects that then got zero interaction with customers. This had the effect of slightly poisoning the subject, so you've almost got to build a stronger case than would have been the case if the timing had been, but that's just the nature of the animal. You take some risks, you get some things very, very right and some things wrong.

Sharad: Talking about risks Sean, every brand wants to grow, they want to innovate, and they want to beat the competition. But what's your take on risk? Do you think brands take enough risks?

Sean Mckee: I think at a philosophical level, we all get that a little bit of risk is good for you.

That the whole sense, failing fast, moving at pace, all of those things. But, everybody gets that at an execution level your ability to take on risk is finite.  Everybody’s happy to take risks and to learn some lessons, as long as everything you do isn't a lesson learned and that there are successes there, too.

So, I think there's probably a definable appetite for risk and that's a very business specific thing.  Certainly, at Schuh there was an appetite for risk. There absolutely is an ability to do things that are not guaranteed to be a success, but there's also an expectation at the same time that the quality of the hypothesis leads to success is a lot more than it leads to risk.

Sharad: As an eCommerce leader at Schuh, how did you balance your personal appetite for risk versus the company’s appetite? I'm assuming there is always a slight friction there. You want to do things, but maybe the organization is not ready?

Sean Mckee: Often the organization was ready to be honest, but isn't necessarily looking at the customer's problem or the issue from the perspective of the eCommerce team. So the perspective might look a bit different. I think we tried to keep the risks contained, small and definable so that you prove a concept in as contained a set of circumstances as possible to mitigate the risk.

We didn’t take risks with the big things. For example, you don't take risks with sales volume, a customer's ability to contact you, or the speed that something gets to the customer's address.

So, you don't mess around with the things that are key, and you approach the areas that are particularly risky with great care, like, particular key pages on the website, for example. You must come at risk, having done your homework and try to make it contained, measurable, very measurable and fundamentally a small risk as opposed to “driving in a coach and horses” through things that are important.

Sharad: Sean, do you mind giving a few examples of experiments which you did and which of those experiments succeeded, which of those experiments failed and what have been your learnings from them?

Sean Mckee: The overriding thing here is that mobile has fundamentally changed my job over time, as well as everybody else's. In terms of what went well, we optimized the site for mobile and optimized the site for mobile alongside an app very early on (sort of late 2010, early 2011). We got in there very early and really started to understand mobile performance from the off as it was gathering volume. So that was good.

And then started to build services around that offering and add a user interfaces around that offering that just improved performance over time.

But we over interpreted the role that tablet was going to play. And, remember in the early days of the iPod, penetration of the iPod was very, very buoyant on a very steep, upward trajectory, but fizzled out relatively quickly. So, we went into a fairly tortuous period of tablet optimization that was short lived. This was about mobile customers and what was then very often called a mobile device, irrespective of what the customer was doing from a behavioral perspective on that device.  And so, I suppose you could say we get the smallest screens very right, and we got the slightly larger screens, not quite right, and ultimately had to backtrack.

And this was all before things like responsive design were ever on our radar. So, we were recognizing that we had to adapt the site for changing behaviors, but didn't really know how to adapt the site in a way that was efficient.

So, I think there was both good and bad in there. We also got a very clear sense of the role of centrally best inventory as opposed to local store based inventory and how they were best balanced. We increased the access to store inventory early on and really understood what that could do for internet volumes and just what the labour looked like at local store level.

We also looked at what things like customer returns started to look like as the customer, and we started to embrace services that were defined as local for them like click and collect, because obviously the penetration of services like click and collect has radically changed over the past 10 years.

So we got some things very right there, but by the same token, we made changes to the website that were sort of Frankenstein type changes, where we would sometimes amalgamate lots of little iterative changes that look like the performed well and then create a bit of a monster when put together.

And I'm particularly thinking about changes to our product page, where we implemented a new design product page that was this amalgam of all the things that looked like in combination, they would be good. It actually underperformed its predecessor. So sometimes trial by committee really isn't the best idea at all.

So I think we've had a combination of very, very good and some things that just didn't fly, but I suppose then you pick yourself up, you learn the lesson and you move on.

Ben Goodey: Cool you mentioned quite a few there, Sean. I would just to like go back and dig into them a little bit. The first one you mentioned was creating an app. When was that?

Sean Mckee: We first brought out an App in the first quarter of 2011.

Ben Goodey: Did it work, have you still got that app and how are things going with it now? To the best of my knowledge consumer behavior has shifted away from downloading individual apps.

Sean Mckee: Yeah, it was flavor of the month.

It was the innovative thing that everybody was doing and for some people it worked. I think for the people that worked that well, it worked in circumstances where frequency of interaction with the customer were sufficient to justify the existence of an app interface.

If you think about it, there's quite a lot of friction involved in downloading and retaining an app on your screen. So it's gotta earn its existence.

For a retail business like ours, where the nature of that product was fairly infrequent, two or three times a year potentially. Well, then you've got to wonder what the purpose of that app would be.

And we went looking at things like loyalty. We were were just looking to replicate ways for the customer to buy things. So, it became very quickly obvious that all of that could be done within a web experience and that the app was of no particular value.

It generated not insignificant volumes, but it was duplicated effort and it was duplicated marketing effort in particular. We were having to get a customer to two different places, but weren’t clear who we would want where.

So, we very quickly formed a view that consolidation to one experience was the sensible thing for us to do

Ben Goodey: That makes sense. So, it's gone now?

Sean Mckee: Yeah, we've long since gotten rid of it. It was an iOS app we didn't ever get as far as any other operating systems, but we always took the view that if circumstances changed or the business case changed that we would go back and look at it again.

I think it remains the case for Schuh that it's a never say never approach, but the business case just isn't there in my view.

Sharad: Thanks for that answer, Sean. You touched on a couple of experiments and my question is: how do you measure whether a specific feature is a success or not?

Sean Mckee: Well, I think what you've got to do before anything goes live in front of a customer, or even a subset of customers, is you've got to define what the metrics for success are.  It’s great if they can be related to traffic, conversion and basket size, but they might be related to parts of that journey, like getting people a little bit further down the funnel or getting a certain kind of engagement that you want to take place.

So, I think it's defining the metrics for success, being very, very clear about what they are, and then of course, making sure that the website is tagged so that you can measure and A/B test.

Sharad: What I've seen in my experience is that within a large organization, every team will tend to have their own KPIs and metrics to measure success or failure. How do you bring different teams and different people together to say, this is our success metric from a customer perspective?

Sean Mckee: Yeah, I think you're definitely right in saying that.

The reality is that we do have different day-to-day KPIs across the business, but in a sales business, the ultimate arbiter of whether you get it right or not is if you sell it. In the end,  a retail business is for selling stuff to the public and it either sells or it doesn't.

And you can demonstrate that what you're doing helps you in that effort or doesn't. So I think that the common denominator of the common language is sales volume or things that demonstrably get you there, like positive feedback from a consumer, a well benchmarked score in a survey or a decent mystery shop report. But, ultimately, all of those things are notches on the journey to getting something sold and hopefully keeping it sold.

So, I think there is a common language and we need to keep steering people back to the common language.

Sharad: You earlier touched on loyalty, Sean, what's your personal take on loyalty and even the use of the word loyalty? As a consumer, am I expected to be loyal to a brand? Or should I just shop wherever I'm getting the right product and right experience?

Sean Mckee: Well, I think we'd love to think that if we treat you well, meet and exceed your expectation, and we give you a positive experience that you choose to come back. And I think, if we’re being optimistic, that's how retailers try to conduct themselves every day of the week, which is, look, we want to get it right for you because then we'll be front of mind for you the next time you want to do something similar.

I think the reality is that loyalty is a bit of a misnomer in that I think it's very difficult to define actual loyalty, right. Obviously, there are metrics, recency, frequency, the basket size, but the reality is that loyalty appears to me to be in the mainly driven by discounting: doing purchase to incentivization. It's paid for.  So, if you've been a little bit skeptical about it you’d say, well, is it loyalty then?

So it's generally speaking an incentivized effort. I think the irony for me here is the organization to which I’m most loyal to within retail, the retail business to which I am mostly loyal, I think demonstrably cares least about me. And, I pay up front for that loyalty bizarrely and that's Amazon.

I'm an Amazon prime customer. Every little bit of Amazon I consume seems to teach me that I need a little bit more Amazon because in the end they win on availability, unbeatable speed of delivery and the network effect of Amazon and all of their products is real in my life.

But they're almost the exception that proves the rule. Retailers generally speaking are paying for loyalty or buying loyalty in some way. And, I think broadly speaking, it's a misnomer. Customers aren't loyal because they don't need to be, people are competing for their business.

But, I'll go back to my more optimistic tick at the start of this, which is that I'd love to think that the right combination of the right products with the right attitude, the right behaviors, brilliant staff, efficient logistics, all of those things make you top of mind when customers make a selection about where they're headed. And I think we all need to continue to put our best foot forward as it were, trying to do those things.

Ben Goodey: It's interesting that you mentioned there about Amazon's impact on loyalty being mainly about delivery and the efficiency of their delivery. I think they're really well renowned for that. I was reading the other day about the impact of COVID-19 and that 50% of customers we're choosing to move from brands that they love and feel loyal, to another shopping experience, another company, just because of delays in the delivery. What has been your experience over COVID-19 and the lockdown? How do you deal with the delivery side of things?

Sean Mckee: Well, I suppose pre-COVID-19, we prided ourselves on the number of delivery selections the customer could make to get deliveries in a way that suited them. And, Schuh continues to roll out ever faster options for the consumer.

What changed during the COVID period though, was that effectively, there was one delivery service on offer, which was “get the delivery” and get it in a timeframe that was defined within the context of distribution centers needing to distance, and the teams to operate in very, very different environments to would have been the case pre-pandemic.

And so it actually became about defining for the customer what COVID had done to their service and that what their expectations should be. So, in the case of shoe, it was a single delivery offering. It was taking much longer than normal, but it was about advising customers that that was the case.

And it was the health and safety considerations that were driving that experience. It was just the practical reality of having distanced people. The distribution center was much less efficient because there were fewer of them and, at the same time were trying to deal with much heavier internet volumes than would normally be the case as a direct consequence of more people moving online because all the shops were shut.


So, it was about giving customers a clear message about what the art of the possible looked like given that we were in the middle of a pandemic.

Ben Goodey: So it shifted from speed being the most important thing to information and managing expectations?

Sean Mckee: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Just, delivering a trusted message about what would happen if you made a purchase, and making people available to be contacted if the customer has any questions about that, obviously.

Ben Goodey: I saw on your website that you have actually multiple different options for the customer to get an item delivered to them. For example, one was In Post ‘click and collect’ type option.

Sean Mckee: Yeah. I suppose we always saw the world in terms of two major divisions, I suppose you could call one private or work addresses, and then the other would be local. Our preferred local delivery point being your local shoe branch, the shoe store, and always seeking to encourage you into the shoe store. From a private address perspective we could see that about half of customers want a free standard delivery service, but the other half are interested in giving you a payment premium to speed that delivery up.

In some cases, particularly very urban locations, they might even want a delivery today if a delivery today was available, but there was a lot of volume in faster deliveries, particularly around next day.

We had a lot of success in ‘click and collect’ and that was from the perspective of revenue in stores. People paying up on the website and picking up local store from either local stock or delivered.

And you mentioned In Post, but we use other third-party networks like Collect Plus and UPS Collect Points and then more recently things like In Post. So, we were always open to, locally based opportunities that were convenient for the customer, but always took actual customer behavior as the only true read of what demand looked like.

And I say that though with a caveat, the caveat that as long as we could surface those options correctly on the website for customers. Because there was always an iterate of job to do there, to better uncover what the customer could have if the customer didn't know they could have it, particularly in their particular postcode.

Ben Goodey: What is actually the driver behind having all these different options?

Sean Mckee: The driver is a very firm belief that enhanced convenience demonstrably drives performance on the website.

We could see a very strong correlation between speed of the delivery and conversion rate, a very, very strong correlation. And we measured it in a very controlled way over many months, with particular reference to next day delivery and what it could do to the conversion rate.

And then of course the subsequent positive behaviors as a result of that conversion.  Customers who consumed faster deliveries, not only did they convert better, but they very often had a slightly bigger basket.

As a result of that delivery premium that they might be paying, they returned fewer items and they contacted us fewer times at the contact enter to track their order. So, it was not only good from a conversion perspective, but the net position was better. You had both more volume and a better overall net position because the behavior was good throughout the customer journey.

So, we very quickly and early got a steer that faster deliveries were good for selling to more customers. And that there was a lot of potential there that was of interest to us.

It's brilliant if you can make a hundred customers very happy, but it's much, much, much better if you can make 50,000 of them happy.

Sharad: Sean talking about customer behaviors in the last few years, what are the big changes or shifts you have seen in customer expectations? Have there been any notable shifts which you can share with us?

Sean Mckee: Sure thing. Well, I'll apologize now for harping back to mobile, but the reality is that mobile has driven quite a lot of the shift here.

I think there's a few things, in terms of how customers want to interact with us. Obviously hand in hand with mobile has gone the role of real-time communication, so that there's much more immediate interaction with the consumer than there was, whether that's live chat or the role of social. The nature of that communication is now that the response time is in minutes, not hours or days.

Of course, now to a much greater extent, customers react to visual stimulus than a textual stimulus. So, if you think about how you start to search in Google today, for example, you're probably much, much more likely to be responding to a picture a thumbnail image than text.

And then of course marry [visual stimulus] to the speed [of communication] we've just been talking about. Overall, we get more real-time interaction with a consumer that's much more aesthetically driven. And so, you can see how things like social really play into the role of the aesthetic and the edited.

So, I think that interaction is really quite different and all of that in a form factor that is embedded in mobile devices.

Sharad: So how do you deal with such a drastic change in behavior? Assuming let's say you had 50 people within your context enter five years ago, you're growing, your sales are growing, but at the same time, customer expectations and behavior is changing drastically…they are no longer ready to wait 24 hours or 48 hours for a response. How do you adapt to such a drastic change in behavior?

Sean Mckee: Well, the reality is that this happens iteratively. There are very few big bangs. So yeah, it's iterative, which means you can manage it. And it's a question of two things, it's firstly a question of how you're interpreting the market, of measuring things and understanding what's going on. You need to be looking for trouble effectively, have your ear to the ground in terms of what's going on. Ask yourself how things are changing, look for trends, look for patterns.

And then secondly, being able to resource the shift when you see it happening.  So we were always quite good at trying to see what was coming and then in that way we could manage resources so that we could manage it.

So, I think it's probably more manageable and I've made it sound because it very often was iterative in nature.

Sharad: You touched upon mobile internet penetration, and now we are in a kind of a pandemic-hit world where sales that ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores typically come down. So how do you address the people who are not so internet savvy? Those who cannot go to the stores, but still, maybe they are not used to buying online?

Sean Mckee: Well, I think you're right certainly to touch on COVID-19 because what we're dealing with here is an accelerated shift, but this shift was already in play.

What we probably have is a degree of acceleration in terms of online volumes, changes to the nature of the way customers want to interact with us, the services that they're looking for, and of course some people need a degree of education to help them understand how to do it. But I think you're always going to have customer who at hearts wants to have a local experience or at least a hybrid experience where they have all the beneficial aspects of the online experiences. For example, they can browse items and pre-select. But they still want to interact with people and enjoy the theater of retail.

So, I think the area to focus on is just what this COVID-19 period is doing to local and how local is being redefined. Particularly if that local is variable, where you could have a lockdown in a city this week that's lifted in two weeks’ time. Where actually, you can't even get a static definition of what local looks like.

I think it is continuing to look for options so that customers can make a selection they understand. And then of course, it's to have a user interface that is comprehensible, clear and simple.

And, so I think to some extent, COVID-19 doesn't change what people were already doing, but it accelerates the shift and it reinforces the need to innovate correctly and to move at speed so that the shift can be fully embraced.

Sharad: What’s your biggest fear post-COVID? And I'm talking more from a customer behavior/ expectation perspective.


Sean Mckee: Well, I think the reality is that we're looking at a couple of years of instability while we learn how to manage our lives and to manage uncertainty.

If you just look at what's going on in schools this week and how the advice is changing day by day because no one really knows what the right thing is to do and how best to manage it. It's quite a hard way to learn stuff, but that is what we're dealing with.

So, I think prolonged uncertainty is obviously very, very bad for the market in general and especially bad for city centers in particular, and any businesses reliant on the physicality of a city center.

So, my biggest fear is that retail doesn't get the breathing space it needs pretty quickly. I’m also concerned about the effect on the market of the perpetuation of a discounting cycle. [Brands] are having to buy interaction with the customer when the customer is reluctant to shop.

So, I think we're not in a position to define what the new normal looks like, and we're not in a position to define when it's going to happen. So, I think the uncertainty is very damaging and my, my biggest fear is that that continues for longer than businesses can sustain.  

Ben Goodey: What do you think about the rituals that are within the fashion industry, things like black Friday or just the Christmas holidays, which are typically used as a big boost to sales and to get engagement with new customers. How do you think COVID is going to affect those big dates?

Sean Mckee: I suspect that black Friday this year is going to be an even longer slice of the calendar than it would otherwise be because the reality is that retailers, certainly from a summer season perspective, have been left with whole season's worth of product that needs to be discounted.

It'll be long gone before black Friday, by the way, it needs to be. But I suppose to point holes in that, you need to buy [stock] for some form of normality and if you don't get normality, then you've got to react to the inventory you're left with.

So, I think the promotional nature of the market means we will just need to continue this calendar year because of this uncertainty. I would very much prefer that black Friday had never happened.

It’s damaged the Christmas season, because the Christmas season is very much now secondary to the peak at the end of November. So, I think it's certainly created difficulties in the calendar and particularly with regard to the Christmas season, that really is a time stores are at their best when customers can enjoy the shopping experience and the atmosphere of city centers that are decorated in particular way.

So, all of that related to people's ability to get out the door and feel safe and doing so, and very often to be able to get on to public transport and to do it in sufficient number,  just to get there in the first place. So I think until we get to a point where all of that can happen, I think uncertainty continues.

Ben Goodey: It's really interesting to hear you say black Fridays is more of an annoyance rather than a welcome boost to say it was.

Sean Mckee: Yeah. It boosts sales, but it boosts sales with a degree of compromise. It's a discount event.  What I would say is that with the Black Friday experience, we are able to boost the sales of full price product, it's a shopping festival. There is an opportunity to drive more full price sales.

But let's be honest, most customers are looking for bargains. Bargains mean reduced margins. So, life would be better to be perfectly honest, if it had never happened, but it's here, it's matured, and I think to what extent the customer continues to be impressed by it remains to be seen. People are quite used to it now and have an expectation of it. I think we've got to just hope that the whole month of November isn't black Friday this year.

Ben Goodey: Yeah, that's a good point. And we can only hope that by Christmas people have eased up to spending more time in shops and more time on public transport in the cities.

Sean Mckee: Well, let's hope so. People should only do so if it's safe to do so. And that's all there is, because retail is absolutely at its best in the marriage of the online experience with the physical experience. They're at their best when each feeds the other.

Ben Goodey: Absolutely. And that's a really nice way of putting it. One thing that we didn't talk about yet was your activity around live video chat that I know that you have done at Schuh within the last year or so. Would you mind explaining what you did there and the motives behind that? And first, just to be clear on what it is, it's a sort of live video chat that customers can use that is available on the website?

Sean Mckee: Yes, absolutely. It’s where the agent can video call and screen share with the member of the public and add things into their basket for them.

The agent can physically navigate the site with the customer help, take them to product, showcase things for them, drop things into the basket and help them up to a particular point in the journey.

So, I suppose you could describe it as enabled navigation. But it’s a selling interaction in almost a store format, finding out the customer's needs and trying to address those needs in real-time.

Ben Goodey: Oh, wow. That sounds cool. So, it was like a pop up saying, do you need assistance? Something like that?

Sean Mckee: Initially all the engagements came as a result of what we call a nudge. All of the engagements came through the nudge, but actually over time we removed them because the nudge has the ability to irritate.

And we were very conscious of that. And as our customers transitioned over to mobile, we at no point nudged them on mobile at all, we felt that was inappropriate on a very personal device.

And now, Schuh live chat accounts for more than half of the interactions at the contact center. And practically all of those interactions are initiated by the consumer themselves and not nudged.

It really did become warmly embraced.

Ben Goodey: The ones that are initiated by the consumer… are they doing video as well? Or is it mainly a live chat?  

Sean Mckee: It's mainly chat. It's about two thirds text chat, one-third video. So, the nudging only takes place for customers who are on desktop and it's got a relationship with the number of desks that are live and where video is available. Obviously, you don't initiate a video chat with a consumer if there isn't an agent available on a video ready to engage.

So, there's an algorithm that drives the number of nudges and the interaction with those nudges. That only happens for customers who are on desktop, and we found that customers on desktop were more inclined to engage in video than customers on mobile because, for obvious reasons, a text chat is extremely intuitive on a mobile device.

Ben Goodey: Okay, that makes sense. So what was it? That was the original motive behind this project.

Sean Mckee: The original motive was to see to what extent we could reduce telephone contact.

And to give the customer a so to speak more digital way of communicating with us that was more efficient. But it became clear to us quite quickly that there was much more to it than just deflecting certain types of contacts.

We found that customers who have interacted with us were seeking a slightly different kind of interaction, that they were, to some extent, seeking an interaction with a real person that could lead to very different behavior. That behavior was a propensity to spend more money, an ability to convert that was a multiple of the normal website conversion and being absolutely delighted by the interaction. We saw NPS scores that were just unmatchable anywhere else in the business.

So it started life as experiment in ‘should we be trying to deflect some of these calls to this methodology’, to a much warmer embrace of ‘this is what customers really want to do’.

Ultimately, it’s a live efficient interaction that drives a much better sales performance from that consumer. And it looks like the consumer really enjoys doing it.

And then within that, we played around with video. So we tried to understand the difference between a text interaction and a video interaction: to what extent the customer was comfortable with video? There’s one way where they could see the agent on one end, but we couldn't necessarily see the customer at the other.  

I think we went from a sort of healthily, skeptical position, to a warm embrace of a web chat as a fantastic means to interact with the consumer and a way of replicating the interaction with a real member of staff.

And by the way, it was a sales-trained member of staff who had worked in a store to understand how to sell product. So, it really was a selling experience and it really just became a way of embracing quite a lot of volume, selling in a very productive way, and doing so profitably as well. We went out of our way to measure the profitability per chat desk so that we could understand that the level of labor was washing it’s face in the appropriate way.

We were very, very pleased with what we achieved on web chat, and I have to pay tribute to my colleague in my team, our head of customer experience, Karen, who was a pioneer for this and went out of her way to develop a very, very can-do working relationship with our provider.

She also really iterated what the customer was experiencing. And thought very, very carefully, not just about the web chat experience per se, but the web chat experience as that transitioned over onto to increasingly mobile forms of experience.

So it's been a very positive experience, really.

Ben Goodey: That's a really great use case. And I bet so interesting for people listening to hear the way you experiment and the results you've seen from that project. I wanted to ask, because there's a couple of times that you've mentioned here about the motives behind your customer experience really being very profit driven. Things like increasing the basket size, etc. I'm wondering, as a customer experience leader does there always have to be an ROI case in there when you're selling a project internally or can you do something that is truly customer centric without that? Can being profit driven be a detriment to the customer?

Sean Mckee: I suppose it's a careful balance because you want to give the customer as much as you can, well, you want to address what they want and give it to them, but you've got to do that within perimeters that are economically sensible.

So, if you would ask customers what they want, they tell you they want free high-speed deliveries and free returns. But economically that might not work. So, you've got to, within that context say, well, here's what we can do for you and offer degrees of mitigation where you can't give the customer everything that they need. So, I think it's a finely tuned.

By its very nature it needs to be very business specific and driven by things like volume, the product margin, the running costs of the business, and on the level of price already given to customer experience in those businesses.

I think it was very clearly defined in the environment I was in, and there was a bottom line consideration, but the reality is you can have both, you can offer the customer an excellent service and make a profit. You've just got to work out where that line is to be drawn.

Ben Goodey: Brilliant answer. We're all kind of bound by the context and environment that we work within. Well, thank you very much for coming and talking to us.

Sean Mckee: you're very, you're very welcome. Thanks for asking.

Sharad: Thanks a lot, Sean.

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