Co-op pushes to make customer care teams more co-operative

The Co-op operates in market segments ranging from funeral care to food, and its customer service strategy was disparate until it adopted Salesforce

As a brand, the Co-op is known for offering many products and services. On the high street, it is best known for its grocery stores and funeral planning services, but it also offers insurance, a prescription management app, and legal advice.

But until the firm adopted Salesforce, a customer calling the organisation’s customer care line was likely to be passed from associate to associate, depending on what issue needed to be resolved.

Claire Carrol, the Co-op’s head of customer services, admits: “Our brand is very strong, particularly with older customers, and there is an expectation that we know them, whichever route they come in, and the reality is that we didn’t.”

Until 2016, the company dealt with customers in two different camps – membership and food retail – which divided up the firm’s data and had it sitting on separate systems.

Calling the previous process for customer service “disparate” and “clunky”, Carrol explains that because of these separate systems, the Co-op not only struggled to gain insights into its five million members, but its customer experience was hindered.

Nikki Lavery, Salesforce support and development manager at the Co-op, says: “Bear in mind that these are two call centres on the same floor, in the same building, whose systems don’t talk to each other. The people talk to each other, but not in the way they should be.”

It is not unusual for older retailers to have legacy systems that can be more of a hindrance than a help, and often such systems will have been implemented to deal with a specific problem in a silo and are unable to communicate or share data with other systems in the business, causing problems down the line.

Because the systems operated separately, there was a team for answering queries about food, and a different team answering queries about other parts of the business, including store complaints.

There was also no way of knowing whether a customer who shopped in a Co-op store for groceries may also have used another Co-op service, such as funeral planning.

Lavery says the Co-op used its initial adoption of the Salesforce Service Cloud to manage its membership customer care processes.

“It was very basic – it was literally the minimum viable product, and they didn’t have anyone to maintain that system,” she says. “There was no manager or product owner within the Co-op at that time.”

“I can see that you regularly buy dog food, I can see that you don’t have pet insurance, so I could maybe talk to you about pet insurance”
Claire Carrol, Co-op

In 2016, the Co-op adopted a new Salesforce Service Cloud console to deal with customer membership processes for its non-food call centre, but food complaints were still being managed on a separate system.

Eventually, the food call centre processes were migrated to the same system, but it wasn’t a “lift and shift” situation, says Lavery.

“When we moved those processes over, it took about five months to completely iron out and streamline all the processes,” she says. “We took each food process and improved it before moving it onto this new system.”

By ditching the separate systems and moving the existing customer care processes onto the Salesforce platform, the Co-op now has a single view of its customers, as well as data to help its customer care teams deal with any query a customer has across the business.

It also now manages to convert 20% of the people who call the food services centre to membership.

Tailored marketing and personalisation are also possible. Now that its processes are streamlined, says Lavery, the Co-op can find out a number of things about its customers, including how often members shop in-store, what stores they shop in, what products they buy, and whether a customer’s basket spend changes once a complaint has been addressed.

Carrol adds: “For example, what we can do now is you could contact us about anything, I can see that you regularly buy dog food, I can see that you don’t have pet insurance, so I could maybe talk to you about pet insurance, and I could tell you that in your local community there is a charity dog walking thing on Sunday, would you like to go?

“Some customers might find it a bit creepy. We know you.”

Now the Co-op is working on implementing an even deeper understanding of its members based on regional activities that may take place in that member’s community.

Carrol says part of the membership programme involves giving 1% of customer spend to local causes chosen by people in that community. The programme is largely run by “pioneer” members who use Co-op stores as a hub for community activities.

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Using Salesforce Community Cloud, which on the back end is connected to the customer relationship management (CRM) platform, “community pioneers” can speak with other Co-op members online, and these customer-facing pages are tailored to each member’s region. Details of these activities can also act as talking points for customer care advisers if a member has a query.

Co-op call centres also use Salesforce Knowledge Management, a tool that enables customer care advisers to type in keywords related to the case they are handling, which then scans for relevant internal information to help deal with queries, such as the firm’s policies on nut allergies.

As for other technologies, the Co-op is running a number of projects, such as an electric delivery bike trial in London, and automated delivery robots in Milton Keynes.

Carrol says of the Milton Keynes robots: “They’re like really heavy fridges, when people order online for delivery. You see these robots literally coming down the street, crossing the road and coming to somebody’s house to deliver.”

More recently, the organisation started trialling pay-in-aisle technology, a popular trend among supermarket retailers in the wake of Amazon’s Go stores.

Carrol says that although theft can be an issue in some cases, the project is going well. “It is something we do want to roll out more,” she says.

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