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Whether it’s known as Marks & Spencer, ‘Marks and Sparks’, or simply ‘Marks’, the M&S brand is an icon of the UK retail environment. Like any brand that has stood the test of time, M&S has had to change with the times. In 2004, the business embarked on a strategy to infuse what had been a ‘product-centric’ approach with a culture of customer service. That strategic drive remains in place to this day, reflecting the wider move in UK businesses towards the new, ‘relationship economy’. As Head of Customer Service at M&S, Jo Moran was originally in charge of promoting high standards of service in the traditional retail arm of the business, but since 2008 has taken on responsibility for the entire organisation.

Great service is part of the brand

Jo heads up a management team that focuses on customer service centres, together with a smaller team that focuses on the retail experience. Both teams are geared around ensuring all M&S employees deliver the consistently great customer experience that is so much a part of its brand. While the service values are consistent, there is huge range and variety in how they might be delivered. As Jo says: “I’m responsible for customer service across the brand. How that looks and feels in our store, in our customer service centres, customer contact by phone or email, letters, social media, even down to the home deliveries experience.” With the challenge of ensuring customers experience the same service values across all these touch points, Jo and her team use The Institute of Customer Service’s National Customer Service Week (NCSW) to remind everyone that they are truly involved.

A drumbeat throughout the week

NCSW runs during the first full week of October and M&S have been taking part since 2012. Jo describes it as ‘a marker in the diary that you know everyone is going to get behind.’ “Each year has been better than the last, both in terms of the NCSW experience and its business outcomes for M&S.” She says: “This year has clearly been the best yet. The support and structure coming out from The Institute provided a real drumbeat throughout the week, that we could build around.” Jo announced the NCSW early to her heads of region and frontline managers with both emails and conference calls. “We had a longer run-in around the communication of the week” she recalls, “so we could galvanise people and do more around recognition and rewarding great service.”

A framework for engagement

M&S used themes The Institute provided, running from ‘understanding your customers’ and ‘dealing with problems’ to ‘recognising the business impact of customer service’, to generate a toolkit suggesting daily activities for retail stores and service centres. Meanwhile, for the duration of the week, M&S used its internal social network, Yammer, as the place for employees to share their customer service stories and experiences and a budget was raised to reward customer service excellence wherever it was found. In just seven days, M&S recognised and rewarded 567 individuals who had provided exceptional customer service. The national event provided a framework to further promote customer service within the company and see staff actively engage with its values.

I can see the return on investment

M&S has been a member of The Institute for the last five years, and has just renewed that membership for a further four, to gain further assistance as the business continues to move with the times. Being a retailer with one foot on the High Street and one foot in the digital space brings its own particular challenges. “Online is a faster moving environment” says Jo. “How do we act in a more agile and responsive way on customer feedback particularly in regard to social media? They are ahead of us in terms of multi-channel; customers think multi-channel just as a matter of course, and how we join that experience up is really important.”

Jo believes the best approach is to take a broad view, using insights from The Institute to spot examples of good practice wherever they may be. Meanwhile, the company’s own training materials are accredited by The Institute, to ensure they always reflect the latest research. “It’s essential to look outside your own sector” says Jo. “The Institute gives us an independent, UK-wide perspective on customer service. And it’s valuable to get that external review and verification on how our people are trained.” Ultimately, it was Jo’s decision to renew M&S’s Institute membership ā€œ it wasn’t a difficult choice. I can see the return on investment from the work we’ve done so far” she says. “I was happy to sign that budget off.”

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