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  • QVC: Customer focus at the core of an omni-channel retail business

    7 December, 2016

    By Nicolas Longo

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    When video and ecommerce retailer QVC originally launched as a television shopping channel in its native USA 30 years ago, its innovative, on-air interaction between customers and presenters made it stand out from the crowd.

    Today QVC – the title refers to principles of quality, value, and convenience – still focuses on customer interaction but has diversified its platforms for engagement. Its omni-channel operation involves live TV, websites, community forums and apps. It also offers UK freephone call centre support around-the-clock and a no-questions-asked, 30 day returns policy covering the wide variety of brand-name products it sells in its beauty, fashion, jewellery, home & leisure, electronics, garden and DIY departments.

    The organisation’s recent research shows that 97% of customers say they would buy from the retailer again and 93% believe it is a brand they can trust.

    An integrated approach to customer engagement

    This “integrated customer ecosystem” was recently lauded as an example of best practice in a report from KPMG Nunwood . This approach “enables the customer to choose how, when and where they want to interact”, via the website or a mobile device. QVC’s emphasis on customer relationships and an informal communication style is also mentioned: “Presenters don’t sell but inform, a style characterised as an “over the garden fence conversation”, as you may have with a close friend. All supported by a product line built from direct customer feedback.”

    James Keegan, vice president of customer service and experience for the UK and Europe, says of QVC in comparison with other companies: “The relationship with customers is a strategic differentiator.” Developing and maintaining engagement among its community of customers has led to descriptions of QVC as “one of the world’s first social networks” .

    James says the company’s core values are teamwork, a commitment to excellence, respect among staff and an ethos of openness and trust, which have driven strong customer loyalty.

    James is based in the company’s customer service centre in Knowsley, near Liverpool, but comes to QVC’s west London headquarters every fortnight. The company launched its UK operation as its first export market in 1993, transposing its customer-focused values from the US. It also has two stores in Warrington and Shrewsbury and reaches 27 million homes in the UK alone (globally it reaches more than 360 million households all over the world, with operations in the USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, a joint venture in China, and, since last year, in France).

    “Having historically been TV only, QVC has become a global, multi-platform-retailer leader. We have a growing global ecommerce business which accounted for $3.9bn of annual revenue in 2015, with 50% of global ecommerce orders generated from mobile platforms.”

    Building loyalty through customer interaction

    Customer interactions range from questions about delivery, returns and products to financial transactions. James says each of these interactions is regarded as “an opportunity to build trust and build our brand”.

    Commentators have pinpointed the hallmarks of the QVC customer experience , which includes personable presenters who identify with their audience, being available at the customer’s convenience via a variety of channels, and allowing customers to share experiences through product feedback, ratings, community forums, and on-air testimonials.

    James defines the QVC approach to service culture: “We have a strategy based purely on creating a long-term relationship with the customer. That is a key differentiator for us, we want to build this relationship, and that is the core of our business model. Our customer focus comes down to immediate problem-solving, a cycle of continuous improvement, and empowering our people to do the right thing.”

    Where QVC stands out from other well-known retailers, James stresses, is on service: “Our customer service and experience team embodies QVC’s culture of building relationships while working to surprise, delight and exceed customer expectations. Our focus on customer satisfaction has fostered high levels of customer engagement and loyalty. Through the dedication of our front-line associates, we are providing a consistent experience at every stage of the customer journey.”

    James also firmly believes that technological developments are nothing without service: “It’s fruitless bringing new customers in and growing the customer base if they don’t have a great experience once they have found us.”

    Balancing customer engagement with employee engagement

    A focus on customers, says James, goes hand in hand with a focus on employee experience: “I’m a strong believer in employee experience, as you can’t have one without the other. We have a very balanced approach to it. We drive the employee experience and employee engagement so that they can ultimately deliver the best possible customer experience, therefore I would never talk about them [employee engagement and customer satisfaction] independently.”

    The induction of new employees includes learning about the company’s values. New recruits also have a two-day session defining QVC’s core principles – what the values are, how the firm demonstrates them, and how an individual should demonstrate them. The idea of living the values as opposed to simply covering the walls in company slogans is important, as James adds: “Our values transcend the workplace, this is very much about how you act as an individual rather than how you act as an employee… It’s a very strong, living and breathing culture that we cultivate; it’s not just a poster on the wall.”

    The company aims to give its people the skills and responsibility to handle each customer interaction on an individual basis. James adds: “I would be devastated if I heard my team members saying “our policy is this” or “our process is that”, so we try to empower and skill our people so that they can solve problems and ultimately build trust with the customer and drive that long-term relationship.”

    While QVC is internationally recognized for being an employer of choice, James says more organisations are gradually waking up to the importance of the employee experience: “I would say there are an increasing number of companies who recognize the value of employee engagement, and how it benefits their business.”

    Customers benefit from being served by employees who are satisfied, happy and engaged, and this encourages brand loyalty. As James says: “The challenge is how to draw customers to us, introduce them to the brand; once they are in, the quality of our customer experience should retain them. Building a long-term relationship with our consumers is at the centre of our business model”.

    Key messages from QVC

    • relationships with customers can be a key strategic differentiator
    • customer experience must be balanced with employee experience
    • employees must be empowered to address customer issues in a personalised way, instead of with a process-driven approach

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