Proactive engagement technology helps Express Gifts achieve key business goals

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VoiceSage’s Lee Trenam says a successful re-think of how to connect customers to processes at the catalogue giant may have lessons for all retailers

Trenam: proactive engagement technology boosts Express Gifts

Express Gifts [www.express-gifts.co.uk] provides a personal and successful home shopping service to around 1.6m customers every year through a combination of direct marketing and online via its two key brands Studio & Ace. And I am glad to report that proactive engagement technology is helping the catalogue giant improve customer service, marketing and collections, as well as achieve significant operational efficiencies.

Located in the North of England, Express Gifts is a leader in the home shopping ‘department store in a book’ market, with a brand differentiation always focused on value and choice. As a provider of credit services to its customers, the business also has an active regulated financial services side to its business.

Though its roots lie firmly in the traditional home shopping catalogue world, the business is now firmly focused on a transition to becoming a digital first business. That’s because, in the words of its strategy & transformation director, Martin Dove, “Customer service and customer contact matter a lot to us, so we employ technology from VoiceSage to help us achieve these key business goals.”

Specifically, a new approach to outreach is an important part of Express Gifts’ new  ‘voice of the customer’ programme, which is all about helping the business survey its customers after every interaction they have with it – placing customer contact tech at the heart of the process.

Express Gifts used to have several processes that were slowing it down from providing real-time credit scoring for new customer credit applicants. SMS plays a central role in speeding that rapidly up, sending appropriate, tailored messages out to customers to alert them to credit issues or opportunities, giving them a convenient way of actioning their next step.

“This has proven to be a very big win for Express Gifts,” confirms Dove. “We estimate the extra conversion rate since using this has been at least £1m in the last twelve months alone.”

That’s far from being the only use of outreach, though. The company is also making major use of e-surveys, where it sends out a quick 5-question questionnaire with a combination of transactional questions and a free-text box. This is extremely useful, as it has helped the retailer build up a huge wealth of data it’s now using
to get a better picture of its users and their preferences.

“This data tells us how long they’ve been with us, their account utilisation, the frequency they order from us, how open they may be to an up-sell, and so on. It’s a great, and growing, resource,” he points out.

This data is also being used to help with coaching and performance improvement, he adds: “We see
a marked difference in age, for example, in terms of how people react to us, and as a direct result we have set ourselves some challenges about how we can improve the service we offer to certain key specific demographics rather than just broad brush improvements.”

Customer service and collections

SMS and e-surveys are the principal uses Express Gifts makes of these proactive technologies in terms of volumes per day – but it also uses proactive outreach in other key processes.

For example, the firm is trialing a rich media message-based system to help make it easier for customers to make a payment after it identified that some of its customers may inadvertently miss a payment without intending to, so
a helpful reminder SMS is sent two days before a payment is due as a reminder.

The SMS also includes a unique URL that directs the customer to a payment gateway to conveniently make a payment there and then. For Dove, “It’s a very convenient and easy way to avoid getting into arrears and getting the payment done. It’s proven to be a very popular option with customers; around 90% of Express Gifts customers who used it during the trial came back and have continued using this facility.

“It seems once people use a service like this with their smartphones, they don’t want to go back to the older, less convenient ways.”

In terms of next steps, Express Gifts are currently undertaking a significant people, process and technology transformation, which will include extensive rationalisation and improvement of existing services.

Technology is at the heart of many of these plans – to take just one example, the firm plans to expands its take up of proactive technologies and techniques beyond text and visual messaging all the way out to IVM and potentially AI (artificial intelligence) and chatbots, says Dove.

The message in the tech bottle

What is the significance of Express Gifts’s success with proactive outreach for other brands? We have all seen rapid change in the retail sector, change that has forced retailers to take a hard look at their strategies to transform and make their engagement techniques much more seamless, digital and data-driven in our increasingly global, competitive marketplace.

Forward-thinking retailers like Express Gifts can show the way here, perhaps, in terms of harnessing the power of today’s technology to boost their customer engagement – growing customer trust and loyalty while simultaneously providing up- and cross-selling opportunities in a streamlined, efficient and cost effective way.

The future of retail is a highly proactive one. Is it a future you are getting ready for?

Lee Trenam is head of sales at VoiceSage [http://www.voicesage.com], a specialist in Proactive Customer Engagement solutions that enable more intelligent customer conversations through automated text and Interactive voice messaging