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Using tech to understand the customer journey in retail

Understanding what customers do online and in-store is key to success in retail, says Dixons Carphone CIO.

Four years ago electronics retailer Dixons Carphone took core systems that were based on 20-plus-year-old DEC Alpha hardware and replaced them with twenty-first century systems focused right on the customer.

"What we decided to do was a whole bunch of work where we looked at all the different ways that a customer interacts with us," said group's CIO Simon Post. Post and his team now have a completely new system that handles all of Carphone development, sales and marketing, called Honeybee.

Like most tech retailers, the customer's experience in store is often led by a person in their 20s, said Post. "So it was not much good having a technology which looked old-fashioned to them."

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Dixons Carphone CIO Simon Post: "This approach of involving our colleagues at every stage has fundamentally changed our business."

Image: Colin Barker

As a research tool, the company mapped what it calls "the customer journey" and as a result in its head office it has "what looks like a lot of Tube maps where we have mapped our customers' journeys," said Post.

Post's team looked at all those interaction and measured the results against the competition in the industry, and against other people they thought were good at customer service. Then they did a massive testing exercise with both their customers and their employee, Post said.

The result? The company has deployed to its stores what it calls a "Guided Sales Tour". For example, when the customer walks into the store, staff will do an analysis that begins with a question around how much data they think they use. If the customer doesn't understand the question, then the sales assistant will talk them through it and advise on how they could get the most out of it.

The company uses a tool that runs on a tablet. "We have been using this tool for what will be three years now. We have collected a huge amount of data, and [a lot of] knowledge has come out of that system," says Post.

"Just imagine that every time one of our colleagues touches that tablet, we track it," he says. "So in the actual journey as you pass through the store we are collecting about 900 data points."

As a result Carphone has "an enormous amount of information" for every one of its stores. "Even if you don't finish the transaction, we know where you got to in the transaction."

As a result of the data -- three million customer journeys have been analysed, including how long everybody spends on every single part of that journey -- important things like customer satisfaction can be mapped statistically. This means Carphone can see "if there is a colleague in Wembley Park that has found a better way of selling and we can statistically see that," says Post.

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"Every customer journey gives us insight," he said. "We can see how customers carry out their journey and we can see throughout that journey points where we can effectively 'nudge' the customer."

Having physical stores also makes a difference. "One of the things [is] when someone goes into one of our stores, we need to understand why they would come into a store rather than shop online. Why? Well, if they come into a store, the reason they do that is to talk to a colleague."

It follows that if that is so, "it becomes very important that our colleagues value the technology as much as our customers", he says.

The Honeybee system is already proving to be a success, said Post. Honeybee is a configuration environment, plus all the API connectivity that Mulesoft gives it and, "It completely crushes the SDLC [Systems development life cycle]."

"It can do very complex integration, very complex customer journey creation, and all the business analysis without a single line of code," he says.

The aim is to get out of the way so that the business analyst in the marketing team can take a "customer journey", build it from scratch, modify it, and not need to talk to IT at all, he says.

The back end has all the IT infrastructure -- security, log-in, etc -- along with, "all of those things that I would expect to have to build a complete solution, and not just a Microsoft application on somebody's desk".

The aim has been to marry the worlds of digital and human, and Post believes that they have created something that is "something quite unique". It's so unique that a telco is currently testing the app, he says.

By employing this technology, Post says, what used to take 10 weeks now takes three.

"We go through a process of looking at your workplace so that we understand your needs and then we use, what we call, the Data Calculator, so we can look at how much data you use," he says. "If you want to see how an iPhone 7 compares with a Samsung Android, it will do the comparison and it will do it with a thousand users of the technology."

It can also be used by Carphone's Sales Operation Platform which, "is really the intelligence that sits behind the platform, the analytics, the coaching. We track every time you [the user in the store] touch the tablet, every half second across the entire estate," he says.

"So our CEO can log on and see our entire journey and every journey that is occurring in the store and how that journey occurs."

Post believes that as a tool it is now "invaluable".

For example, on the day a new phone is launched, "we can see within half an hour how it's performing. If people are falling out of the journey, how are they falling? Have they bought another handset, is it the network bundle that's wrong? We can track it."

Post believes the new systems have been a success, and says that they have had lots of interest from companies both in Europe and the US, including a US telco.

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