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Greggs creating customer director role shows no room for complacency, no matter your business size

British bakery chain Greggs has created a new senior position to help shape the direction of the company, Real Business was told, as it seeks to dominate the food-on-the-go market.
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The new roll, sorry, role created by Greggs is that of customer director – a position filled by Hannah Squirrell.

Having joined in February, Squirrell has spoken with us for the latest feature in our Corporate Insights section, which offers details on how growing SMEs can adapt the operational strategies used by large firms.

Starting off with why the role was created, she said: “With our vision to become the UK’s favourite food-on-the-go destination, it is vital that we see our business through the eyes of our customers and continue to invest in understanding their needs better.

“The role has been created to place the brand and customer firmly at the heart of the business and to be the ‘voice’ of the customer in every decision we make.”

In the post, Squirrell will help to drive customer engagement by influencing the journey with a solid customer experience. This will be achieved by ensuring Greggs has consistency for customers in terms of quality across stores and products with a multi-channel strategy.

She noted that loyalty is already high, but must remain that way, which is achievable be understanding how customer needs are constantly changing.

“We are absolutely focused on what really matters to our customers, and our staff work hard to ensure customers receive the best service, at the right speed for them,” said Squirrell.

Customer experience visits take place across all 1,760 stores, while Greggs also goes out of its way to recruit friendly workers and brand ambassadors to meet company objectives.

She continued: “We provide all our staff with training for the relevant skills once they’ve joined the team. All our employees are trained to listen to the voice of the customer, and always take in their point of view.

“We introduced our award-winning loyalty scheme ‘Greggs Rewards’ over three years ago, which is a mobile payment app designed to reward customers for their loyalty whilst making shopping across our shops more convenient, quicker and easier.

“The app was the first entirely digital loyalty scheme launched by a UK food-on-the go retailer, eliminating the need for customers to carry a separate loyalty card or their wallet when they shop. We were also one of the first UK retailers to accept Apple Pay, allowing customers to make contactless payments with iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and Apple Watch.”

Inside Greggs Store

“It’s impossible to know what is affecting your customers or how they may be tempted away from you by sitting at your desk in head office”

Squirrell has worked in customer engagement for over two decades. She has worked with the likes of Thorntons and Avon, while she has also been marketing director at Tesco Bank.

With some 20 plus years of experience to draw upon, she has four key lessons from her career:

Ignore customer feedback at your peril. No matter how hard it is to swallow, if a customer has taken the time to help you improve as a business then you must listen and act, never ignore,” she explained.

“Don’t assume as a business you know what a customer wants. I’ve been in businesses where customer propositions are developed and launched without even a conversation with a prospective customer.  They rarely work. If ever. 

“Try to take a long-term view. Many businesses are year one objectives focused which can hinder real customer engagement and investment in their needs. Building true and meaningful relationships with customers takes time and should last the lifetime that the customers has with you – therefore invest in these from a budget and time perspective accordingly.

“Shop frequently with your brand and competitors. It’s impossible to know what is affecting your customers or how they may be tempted away from you by sitting at your desk in head office.

Of course, many changes have taken place in commerce over that period, and Squirrell noted customer control as the most significant transformation as shoppers now have more say.

With blanket marketing via email, post and mobile once a go-to method for many, she said that consumers will now ignore brands that aren’t relevant or timely with communications.

Squirrell added that social networks such as Twitter means that companies such as Greggs can now be named and shamed on an open forum, so it’s in their best interests to be transparent, efficient and deliver the best possible service.

As for customer service patterns that will always remain, Squirrell opined: “At Greggs we’ve always focused on delivering a genuine and friendly service that is locally relevant and ‘down to earth’. I think, simply put, consumers just ‘get us’.

“We’re a feel-good brand that customers can easily understand and empathise with – the warm and caring familiar friend. 

“Undoubtedly, it’s our Northern heritage which provides us with the strong building blocks of our brand personality and an offer customers perceive as being straightforward, no fuss and requires little or no interpretation. We’re a professional, public company but we still have distinct family values – something which is very rare.

Greggs staff

“Ultimately businesses will drive loyalty by delivering their goods and services well”

She added that service efficiency is also a customer expectation that will never waver. In the case of Greggs, offering food-on-the-go, customers want speed, quality and good value for money.

Of course, SMEs can’t necessarily afford to bring in a customer director to oversee these things, but Squirrell has an alternative option for growing companies.

“I firmly believe that everybody’s role, no matter where they sit within the organisation, should ultimately have the customer at heart. To do this, employees need a strong understanding of who their end customer is,” she said.

“By understanding customer needs, wants and desires, they can adapt their roles and deliverables to exceed customer expectations and broaden the brand appeal/loyalty.

“Too often businesses adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, trying to be everything to everybody, rather than recognising that customers are individuals with different needs and expectations.”

Squirrell cited UKCSI data that found customer satisfaction is at its highest for five years, but complaints have also grown. It means that businesses need to step up and avoid complacency.

She suggested that technology – such as online orders, contactless payments, self-service – be introduced where possible to make things convenient for busy consumers, or firms will fall behind. Word of mouth can also trip up businesses.

“It’s no longer the case that one poor experience equals one lost customer. By the time they have shared their story with contacts and friends, it’s more like 20,” said Squirrell.

“And with social media providing consumers with a quick, open and far-reaching forum, there is scope for one customer’s bad experience to be shared with millions of others. Never has the way businesses respond to demands and complaints been so important. Speed, honesty and humility are key.

Closing on how SMEs can stand out and drive loyalty, she concluded: “Ultimately businesses will drive loyalty by delivering their goods and services well.  If you provide a great experience that is the most important thing.  Within the customer journey it’s about removing the barriers and frustrations that customers encounter and amplifying what people love.

“At Greggs, when there is a hero product on the menu (e.g. our iconic sausage roll) we need to make sure that we are consistently delivering the best product in terms of recipe, bake and delivery. 

It’s also vital that our teams are fully engaged and understand how key they are to delivering a great experience for every Greggs customer, every day.”

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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