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Holt Renfrew clients attend an intimate cocktail and ?conversation with Oscar de la Renta? event in April. Mr. de la Renta is shown with Barbara Atkin, vice-president, Fashion Direction, Holt Renfrew. (Holt Renfrew)
Holt Renfrew clients attend an intimate cocktail and ?conversation with Oscar de la Renta? event in April. Mr. de la Renta is shown with Barbara Atkin, vice-president, Fashion Direction, Holt Renfrew. (Holt Renfrew)

Shopping experience

Getting customer feedback - and using it effectively Add to ...

Ninety-nine per cent of retail customers don’t give feedback without being asked. “It’s up to the retailer to do the asking,” says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group, a retail consulting firm.

Luxury goods retailer Holt Renfrew does a lot of asking. With 11 department stores from Quebec City to Vancouver, the privately owned Canadian company uses a mix of formal and informal feedback mechanisms to ask customers how they’re doing and give them opportunities for input.

A key tool is their customer service scorecard. Holt Renfrew hires a third party to make about 900 calls every month to survey customers who recently made a purchase.

“We ask a series of very specific questions about the details of the customer service experience,” says Alix Box, Holt Renfrew’s senior vice-president of sales and distribution. “We look at things like, how warmly was the customer greeted? Did we follow up with a thank you card and make sure they were happy with their purchase? Originally, we had some vague questions that didn’t give us any clear, actionable feedback. Now we continually review questions to make sure they’re relevant and effective.”

Survey results for each store and department are sent out on a weekly and monthly basis so managers can follow up.

“The big thing that we changed a couple of years ago was giving real-time feedback to our individual sales associates instead of the whole store,” Ms. Box says. “We also tied in a recognition program where we celebrate and reward associates in front of their peers when they’ve scored 100 per cent – what we call ‘a perfect shop.’ ”

Whenever there’s a negative reaction from a customer, managers are expected to deal with it personally within 24 hours, Ms. Box says. They are also expected to give feedback to the sales associate involved.

“Holt Renfrew’s scorecard system works both ways,” Ms. Atkinson says. “An unhappy customer will complain, but often you don’t hear from the customer who’s really happy. The fact that it’s being monitored by the company and that they reward great salespeople is good. But whenever you have an intermediary translating the information, you are not hearing it first-hand. Informal feedback is No. 1 – being in-store and talking to your customer in person.”

Front-line sales staff are a fantastic source for informal customer feedback, Ms. Box says. Sales associates are expected to know their customers– including their lifestyle, what occasions are coming up, whether they travel and the colours they prefer.

“I personally meet with the top sellers across the country to find out what their customers are telling and asking them,” Ms. Box says. “Then we take that feedback right back to our buying team so they can be on top for the next season in their buys.”

Ms. Box and Holt Renfrew’s new president, Mark Derbyshire, also do monthly floor walk-throughs, talking to customers along the way. In the past, the company held dinners with top-level customers across the country, but Ms. Box says Mr. Derbyshire prefers inviting smaller groups for breakfast or lunch, or individual meetings, to get one-to-one feedback from their best clients.

Social media is another forum where Holt Renfrew customers can communicate, with an emphasis on the younger shopper.

“We have people in our office who check our Facebook page and Twitter daily,” Ms. Box says. “And we respond to customers the same way we would if they wrote a letter.”

Jen Evans, president of Sequentia Environics, a Toronto digital communications firm, suggests Holt Renfrew could go further to allow customers more input. It’s all about audience, explains Ms. Evans, who wonders whether Holts has surveyed its customers and has learned that they are not only active on Facebook or Twitter but also use social networks to talk about fashion.

She sees this as an opportunity to focus on education and become an arbiter of fashion in Canada with trend information, Q&As with designers and experts, or by inviting readers to submit pictures of fabulous outfits on Facebook and vote on the Most Fabulous Outfit in Toronto or Ottawa.

Holts would also benefit from adding social features such as outfit sharing and social shopping, in which shoppers share information online. They could also tap into the “haul” video trend, in which shoppers show what they just bought, to reach out to younger demographics, Ms. Evans advises.

According to Ms. Box, a shared shopping experience for both males and females is just one of the selling models Holt Renfrew is testing.

“We’re looking at all sorts of different ways where we can continue to innovate,” Ms. Box says.

Pipeline to customers

“A lot of companies think they listen to customers, but you really need to have a bunch of different touch points – a balance of formal and informal mechanisms – that give intimate knowledge.” Alix Box, Holt Renfrew senior vice-president of sales and distribution

“Product reviews are an absolute staple. If you’re not allowing customers to get online to talk and review, that’s a real problem. If you do nothing else, do that.” Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group in Toronto, a retail consulting firm

“Survey questions need to be specific. It doesn’t work if surveys are complicated and difficult to understand.” Ms. Box

“Social shopping is said to be the next big thing. If it is, luxe brands like Holts are sure to benefit.” Jen Evans, president of Sequentia Environics, a Toronto digital communications firm

“If you go to the trouble of asking, you’d better have a system in place to manage the feedback, because it’s worse to ask and find out what the problem is and then not do anything about it.” Ms. Atkinson

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