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[Interview] Graham Johnston, Asda

Exclusive. We sit down with omnichannel guru Graham Johnston to find out what to expect in his keynote at the upcoming Omnichannel Futures 22 event and… View Article


[Interview] Graham Johnston, Asda

Exclusive. We sit down with omnichannel guru Graham Johnston to find out what to expect in his keynote at the upcoming Omnichannel Futures 22 event and learn about what Asda are doing in this space right now.

Can you tell us about your role?

I’m the Senior Director for Omnichannel Customer Support at Asda looking after all our assisted and unassisted customer support channels which includes our contact centres and our online digital support channels supporting all Asda and George businesses. I’ve just crossed the 1-year mark since joining. Previously, I was ‘Head of Omnichannel and Digital First’ for Three UK where I spent 10 years. My role at Three looked at all customer touchpoints and creating that omnichannel strategy across acquisition, retention and support. At Asda, I’m now focussed on running and transforming the customer support channels.

Shifting from Telco to Retail – how was that?

It’s interesting because the customer journey in food retail (Asda) and clothing (George) is quite different to a subscription business such as a mobile telco where customers are usually committing to a 12- or 24-month period. With Asda, customers shop and interact with the brand far more frequently and so the requirements and demands are different – but it’s still all about the customer. The customer support aspect and how customers want to interact with brands are quite similar so it’s just about understanding what customers want and then working out how to meet and exceed those expectations.

Asda have a lot of loyal customers and they shop often. You’ve got a lot of opportunities to get it right, but you also have a lot of chances of getting it wrong. We want to build customer loyalty, support experiences and build the brand as far as possible and that’s really what this role at Asda is all about.

How does Omnichannel fit with Customer Experience (CX)?

Omnichannel is central to CX as it’s what customers expect. We work hand-in-hand with the marketing and customer function at Asda on this but it’s an organisation wide approach to delivering the best for customers, so collaboration is key. We interconnect because omnichannel takes an integrated approach. My team interacts with our customers whenever they need support whether that be digital, self-service or assisted. It’s therefore critical that we work across all functions to ensure that this is a joined-up, Omnichannel experience with the customer at the centre of it all.

Why is omnichannel important to retailers?

In a word – trust. Trust is really important. Technology is at a point where you can enable your collegues, or stores, or online, to provide a personalised experience. You may never have met your customers but provided you have the tech in place, you can support the customer and understand what and where they are in their journey. Then, you can build a one-to-one relationship with that customer, and it’s this relationship that builds trust.

Omnichannel is a word that is now synonymous with customer facing businesses. Don’t just think about your channels or how to reach customers but think about the customer and how they want to interact with you. It’s all about interactions with the customer at the heart of it all, personalised to them. The ultimate goals are to remove the friction points and make it as seamless as possible for customer. It’s complex and not easy to do. I believe that innovation really comes from a strong omnichannel strategy which equals a seamless experience for our customers.

Asda is now under new ownership – what’s it like “behind the scenes”?

Extremely busy! At Asda, there are a lot of transformation programmes going on. Our previous owners were Walmart and so a lot of the platforms and tech we used were Walmart owned. We’re building our own Asda tech stack which is a massive programme – one of the largest transformation programmes going on in the UK today. My team are heavily involved across these programmes because of the positive impact it will have on the customer support functions. We’re most active in the platforms that customers will interact with from a self-service perspective and the platforms that our collegues will use to support our customers.

We’re also innovating with our own, legacy and partner platforms too, constantly looking at making them better for customers. For example, in our help centre we’re looking at how we make it easier for customers to find information more quickly. We partner with companies like Yext to use their Answers platform on our support pages be able to respond to customers more quickly and more relevantly. We’re also looking at our CRM systems, our voice channels, our technology support and our improved interaction through the IVR. Investing in tech that will support our colleagues in providing a better experience for our customers is key, so we have a lot of exciting activities going on right now.

What’s the priority for the year ahead?

We’re constantly innovating and looking to transform the customer experience – Customer support is top of my agenda. Millions of customers trust us every week for their online orders or instore shop and our job is to support these customers through that journey.

We’re really looking to create a seamless journey for customers and make it easy to get support when they need it. One element of this is innovating with our automation and self-service capabilities, another is showing up in channels that are native for our customers.  That’s why we’ve recently trialled WhatsApp as a support channel for the George business. It’s proving to be extremely popular with customers who have loving the experience they receive when using it, so we’re making it a permanent fixture. It’s testing channels like this that allows us to innovate and learn. Potentially, WhatsApp could be a real growth channel for us across other business areas. It’s convenient for customers and it’s great for our colleagues too because they can support multiple customers at the same time.

Understanding the needs and desires of customers across all the different channels we have and being able to open up different routes for customers to get what they need is at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve.

What can we expect to hear from you at the upcoming TRB Omnichannel Summit?

People think technology is the silver bullet that will solve a lot of challenges, but it’s not. Technology on its own is not the innovator, it’s simply the enabler for supporting businesses and brands to help customers be supported in the way that they want to be supported. I’m going to delve a little into the past to look to the future. I’ll explore where and how interactions have changed and provide some food for thought on how omnichannel really is the innovation of today and how it’s tied to the fourth industrial revolution.


Join us at the Omnichannel Futures 2022 event on 9th February. Book your free ticket here.



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