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Interview with Darren Williams - retailers are failing to engage with customers

Far too many retailers simply talk about customer engagement but do not fully understand it, and they invariably do not act upon their words, which is causing them increasingly serious issues.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Interview with Darren Williams - retailers are failing to engage with customers

This was the warning from Darren Williams (pictured), founder of DW Exec and operations director of Vini Italiani, who will be chairing the TRB Customer Engagement Summit 2018 on 5 June in central London.

“Some businesses have fancy customer engagement strategies but they just talk about customers. They don’t bring a sense of reality to it. They don’t really understand it,” he suggests.

The “woeful” lack of understanding of digital and the resulting paucity of actual decision-making by the directors on the board further compounds the tough position retailers find themselves in. “Retailers are standing by and watching what happens. There is this issue of boardrooms procrastinating and doing nothing. It’s the same with casual dining – the glacial paced decision-making astounds me,” says Williams.

Finding solutions to this scenario underpins The Retail Bulletin Summit, he says, adding that the Mega Panel and Interactive Debate will explore some of the key areas of challenge for retailers and help them become more customer-driven. This certainly involves taking a more flexible and agile approach.

“They need to listen to customers and see what they are buying. They tend to just hold firm on their plans even if it’s not working. Boards need to change direction (or product) when customers tell them to do so,” says Williams.

He found this to be an issue at Vini Italiani where he is on the board. The stripped down menu at its Covent Garden site did not reflect the fact that customers constantly asked for pasta and pizza.

The leadership team had previously resisted but Williams advised changing through the addition of a small number of new dishes: “We’ve remained very loyal to our roots and foundation but we’ve broadened the range to include what customers want and are requesting – this was key.”

Among the Interactive Debate panelists is Julien Callede, co-founder of Made.com, whose views will be good to hear, according to Williams, because his business model is based around asking customers what they want and then sourcing such products direct from the manufacturers.

Williams also believes there are often far too many decision-makers in retailers and not enough data analysis. Part of the problem is that retailers find themselves with too much data: “They do not know what to do with it all – and what bits to analyse. We’ve rich information in the industry but it is not being used.”

Although change is required he warns against companies being too radical and “too out there” to the extent that their actions do not make sense. He cites Café Rouge and its decision to overhaul its menu and include the likes of Portobello mushroom croque. Williams says this takes it too far from its core of being a quintessentially French restaurant.

Sometimes the changes needed are not too complicated but they contribute to a business becoming much more customer-centric. Williams points to Tesco as being a good example of a business that has undertaken a turnaround based on better delivery of service to its customers. It previously talked about its customers but it did not act upon it whereas today it is investing in its shops (and the employees who serve customers) and less in its management.

Part of the remit of Williams as founder of DW Exec is to help retailers deliver better customer experiences as well as undertaking location strategy and brand health checks. “I’m excited to be working alongside Konditor & Cook, Kabab and other companies as well as with Vini Italiani to help shape its future and get it ready for growth,” he says.

The TRB Customer Engagement Summit will be held on 5 June in London.

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