Engagement & Private Brands Customers

This guest post is written by Jan Fura is a co-founder of S4RB and a highly experienced senior IT professional and business analyst. He has developed award-winning software solutions for a wide range of retailers during a 25-year career. Fura’s leadership has enabled the S4RB team to help retailers succeed with a wide range of initiatives, from new product development and product quality surveillance to engaging with suppliers in efforts to drive increased accuracy and efficiency. Fura is a passionate advocate for supplier engagement and underscores the importance of collaboration as a key ingredient for the success of any private brand initiative.

Learn more about Unified Brand Experience when Kieran Forsey, CEO & Co-Founder, S4RB North America presents “Unified Brand Experience – Private Brand Success Reimagined” at Velocity: The My Private Brand Conference.

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Call Centers and Engagement

In late 2016, Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB) commissioned a study of top US and UK retailers to assess their Unified Brand Experience (UBX) performance; focusing on their private brand (PB) customer care and on website reviews of their products. We wanted to know how well these key areas of retailer activity were connected to their overall brand strategy and processes.

The study benchmarked the quality of customer care and product knowledge at Call Centers and online, alongside retailers’ willingness to receive and indeed encourage feedback. And the results were extremely interesting. Over the following weeks, in a series of blogs, I will talk you through some of our observations and conclusions, as we investigated the evolution of Private Brand practices in the key area of consumer brand engagement.

In the first blog in this series I looked at a group of retailers that – for me – represent those at the early stages of evolution in their approach to Private Brand consumer engagement, we named these the Happy Ostriches. Today we’re looking at the Accepted Norm group that represents the bulk of the industry.

The Accepted Norm: Missing the essential magic
Going into the survey, we fully expected to find that the UK (with its longer history and greater enthusiasm for Private Brands) would also have a more advanced approach to Private Brand customer care as standard. But the results showed this not to be the case at all. We did identify a greater number of US retailers that were failing their customers miserably. However, most US retailers we surveyed more or less matched the performance of their UK counterparts. These retailers all appear to be content with an approach which seems to offer good quality service – but which is only skin-deep.

So why this contentment with superficial customer engagement around Private Brand products? The reasoning seems to be a combination of two main factors.

First, the common “silo” nature of retail operations (where departments are mistrustful of one another, choosing instead to operate as independently as possible) means that Call Center and Service Center delivery does not have a firm line of reporting back to Private Brand teams. Rather, it is typical that even though Private Brands is one of the teams serviced by the same Call Center or online Service Center, they have to fight to get any quality data at all.

Second, the drive for a consistent approach and experience across all of a retailers’ consumer touch points often trumps the need for the specialist processes and delivery that would enable Private Brand teams to differentiate their offering from that of National Brands. All too often, Private Brands are grouped in with National Brand items under the unhelpfully broad classification of “products” and the kind of feedback gathered suffers as a result.

The common result of these two factors is that Private Brand Call Centers (or the Private Brand agents at generic Call Centers) adopt an unimaginatively homogenous process with Key Performance Indicators that focus on delivering as fast a resolution to complaints as possible, combined with agent courtesy. These KPIs typically include the number of issues resolved on the first call (First Call Resolution) and Satisfaction Scores around agent empathy levels.

On both sides of the Atlantic we observed that whilst agents were often delivering a highly professional and courteous experience when customers called them, they were almost always keen to move quickly into resolution mode and offer compensation (usually in the form of vouchers). The level of detail they tried to capture about the callers’ concerns, not to mention agents’ level of knowledge about the products they were supporting (for example in relation to whether they contained GMO’s, etc.) was varied and felt more than a little hit-and-miss depending on the agent involved. There was one example in the UK (from one of the top three retailers) where this need for speed and a clear intent to deliver rapid gratification had been taken to extremes: Callers were routed straight through to an automated message informing them that they would be rewarded with twice the product value if they returned it to store. Absolutely no attempt was made to collect feedback about why the customer was calling.

Consumers who take the time to call in about Private Brands are showing that they care. They want to be heard, and in fact, are usually waiting for the retailer to regain their trust and turn them into a satisfied brand advocate by responding with true engagement. But to properly engage requires more than first level empathy. Retailers’ Call Centers and online agents need to demonstrate deep subject knowledge, commitment to see issues through to a satisfactory conclusion and real curiosity about the causes of customer calls. To make a true brand advocate it takes more than issuing a voucher to buy more product!

As I mentioned in the first blog in this series we are seeing an industry trend towards spending increasing amounts of time and money on gathering vital product feedback through panels composed of consumers and industry specialists. This means that Private Brand owners recognize the value of consumer feedback, and yet when they have the opportunity to gather high volumes of quality customer feedback through their Call Centers, they regularly do little or nothing about it. Deep-dive questions from Call Center agents – about things like how often consumers bought a specific product, what their in-store experience was like, and what their general preferences are – were present in only about 10% of the calls placed during our study.

The net result of an interaction with Accepted Norm Call Centres like the ones we have been discussing is nearly always a satisfactory but shallow and disconnected Private Brand experience. The customer is happy, but their crucial feedback may never make it back to the people who can act on it to improve products for everyone. It’s a crucial missed opportunity for continuous improvement and excellence. It’s a missed opportunity to join the dots and create a Unified Brand eXperience around your Private Brand.

In the next blog in this series, we’ll be looking at the performance of the best-in-class examples that we discovered, including one model Private Brand Engagement Center that we were directly involved in setting up.

Learn more about Unified Brand Experience when Kieran Forsey, CEO & Co-Founder, S4RB North America presents “Unified Brand Experience – Private Brand Success Reimagined” at Velocity: The My Private Brand Conference.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.