[ Q&A ] Steve Gray – Customer Strategy Guru
We talk to industry loyalty and customer expert Steve Gray, founder and director of SG-retail.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started my career in the consumer goods world with Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Barilla and then went on to join dunnhumby to lead a new venture with Tesco. As MD, I helped to not just monetise the data from the Clubcard programme but to expand the range of services offered and then went on to help take the business into America and other markets.
I then joined PAYBACK (Europe’s biggest loyalty operator and owner of emnos and now part of American Express) and worked with brands across Europe, Australia and America like Carrefour, Metro, Waitrose, Woolworths and Boots/Walgreens to help them to optimise their loyalty programmes. After that, I spent 5 years with Boston Consulting as a Senior Advisor in their retail practice, and worked with some digital innovators, and then the time felt right to setup SG-retail.
Can you tell us what SG-retail does?
SG-retail was started almost 10 years ago as a boutique consulting business that offer a wide range of services. We help brands with their customer strategy, leverage insights from data to understand their market, optimise and design loyalty programmes, deliver ‘collaborative’ CRM and we help to monetise their data. We also work with a few ‘Best of breed’ solution partners that have technologies that can innovatively deliver in this space.
Our experience working with some of the world’s leading retailers and consumer brands put’s us in a favourable position to provide best practices and approaches at the start of projects and throughout their execution.
How complex are loyalty programmes today and where should a retailer or brand start?
Although loyalty programmes are commonplace, it can be l a complex project and getting things done quickly in large organisations can be a challenge. Everybody in the business has a point of view. Finance will have a view on the costs and return, Marketing will be thinking about the customer experience, insights and communications, Instore Operations will be keen to understand the customer journey and will want a seamless checkout experience, and IT will have their view of the technology and how it fits with everything else already in place.
As with transformation projects, orchestrating stakeholders and ensuring key questions like “Why are we doing this” and “how does it fit with our overall brand proposition” must be at the heart of these projects. These programmes need a lot of upfront thinking and alignment, and this is where we come in.
Once everybody has agreed the programme vision, you then need to make it happen. From building an app or wallet pass, sourcing the loyalty programme technology, mining the data, integrating to other systems such as CRM, and procuring the technology to open the programme up to other brands and suppliers – it really can be a complex beast.
SG-retail are often get involved at the design stage, have a point of view about the technology, business and operating model and if needed can even get involved in the operations of running programmes,
How can a loyalty programme help retailers?
A well-designed and well-executed loyalty programme can help retailers to understand and keep existing customers, attract new customers and drive profits. A loyalty programme enables differential service to customers and can create a point of difference and a competitive advantage – particularly when the data generated by the programme is used to make CRM and category decision making more effective.
Take Tesco for example; Tesco have always maintained that the the purpose of the Clubcard was not to grow loyalty, rather, they said what would create loyal customers was having the right products, competitive prices, having helpful staff, not having queues and having a neat and tidy store with clear isles. Those are the five things Tesco believed were key in creating loyal customers and what they would measure their performance on. Clubcard was created as a way of saying thank you and as a tool to better understand customers.
What is critical for every retailer is their customers; how they get more of them and how they keep (and grow) the ones they already have. They need a strategy and that needs to be informed with the best data that they can muster. Increasingly, this is through behavioural data; how they are shopping, what frequency, what products they buy etc.
Transactional data is so important to enable retailers to understand their customers better and can be used in many aspects of the business to refine services strategically. Loyalty programme data serves as the foundation for a variety of key tasks, including store location, product development, pricing, customer service as well as marketing and promotional campaigns.
What are some of the innovations in this space?
Open Banking and loyalty with mobile payments and mobile checkout is a hugely interesting area for retailers right now and an area we’re active in. What’s exciting about open banking payments is the potential cost savings – in the region of t 2% which is big, so we expect to see a lot of development in this space.
The ‘by now pay later’ model is gaining traction in loyalty too. Payment provider Klarna launched their loyalty scheme called ‘Vibe’ in 2020 to give customers rewards and incentives as they pay.
Gamification is more commonplace, aimed at rewarding and reinforcing specific behaviours and actions through behavioural nudges and challenges. It’s an interesting way to emotionally engage with customers who like to feel rewarded and valued. Retailers and brands are not only using gamification with customers, but employees too. Given the ongoing challenges with staff shortages and turnover, this is an area that will develop.
On a personal note, what are the most rewarding aspects of your role?
The most rewarding part? When you do a good job for a client and they thank you for that of course, but also when you can really see the impact that they are delivering on. I’m always pleased when I see Pets at Home talking to the city about the success and size of the loyalty programme which is now an integral part of how they operate. We helped in some small way to make that happen and that feels great. Or how we worked with a global fashion brand recently and helped them save £5m by making their loyalty and marketing systems much more efficient.
You can find out more about SG-Retail here.
Related: Asda trials customer loyalty programme.
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