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CIO Interview: Phil Pavitt, global CIO, Specsavers – Online not the only way

Specsavers CIO explains why the personal touch is as important as digital services for customers of health-related products

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Specsavers says it is a traditional organisation focused on delivering quality eyewear and hearing products to customers.

As the business is more “old-fashioned” in format than some, its digital transformation is less focused on an omni-channel approach and more on the linear customer journey it is used to.

Phil Pavitt, CIO of Specsavers, says that often, when dealing with a customer’s health, an online channel just isn’t enough. “For the bulk of our customers, we recognised that they want a conversation – this is about their eye health,” he says.

Pavitt is a firm believer that when dealing with a customer’s health, as with Specsavers’ products, the internet is not always the best place to turn.

“If there is an issue with your eyes, you want to talk to someone about it,” says Pavitt. “I’m sure you can chat online, you can talk to friends, but ultimately, for many of our customers, people want a [face-to-face] conversation.”

Specsavers’ customer journey is broken down into three stages which “complement the bricks-and-mortar journey”, he says – pre-store, in-store and post-store.

Pavitt points out that as a retailer, Specsavers is “atypical” and rather than the usual omni-channel experience where customers can interact on any touchpoint, the journey is more linear, but digitally assisted along the way.

“Like any organisation, we want to make sure the ability to interact with Specsavers is one, easy and frictionless, and two, suits whatever method they want to use,” he says.

“We are undoubtedly a bricks-and-mortar organisation at our retail end.”

Where Pavitt sees e-commerce playing a key part in the brand’s future is in the pre-store experience for registration and appointment booking, and possibly for a follow-up prescription or frame “try on” application.

Human interaction

The rest relies on human interaction, and Pavitt emphasises that the in-store element cannot be replaced. Instead, the firm may look to “increasing the amount of in-store digital experience”.

The company’s stores focus on good customer service, and are very busy. In 2015, Specsavers introduced tablets and smartphones to help staff serve customers in store.

Specsavers has many younger employees, so adopting in-store tech was not much of an issue, and Pavitt believes the young age profile of staff sped up adoption.

“We tend to attract quite a young crowd in our workforce, so they are pretty much transferring their personal social skills into using a business device,” he says.

“All my career, I have discovered that technology is rarely the problem – it is often the human applications of technology that I have found difficult.”

The next step for in-store technology at Specsavers will involve customers downloading an application that can transfer data between a staff device and the customer’s device.

But whether customers interact with the firm in a more traditionally way or opt for a more digital experience is down to personal preference.

“The good news is that you can have either experience,” says Pavitt. “You can’t judge these things by people’s age – it’s what they fancy and what they’re comfortable with.”

Platform for transformation

Specsavers recently signed a deal for services firm Accenture to manage maintenance, development and testing of systems in 10 of the countries in which Specsavers operates in preparation for a wider digital transformation.

As a 30-year-old company that has grown mainly through mergers and acquisitions, Specsavers has accumulated many legacy systems, or “heritage” systems, as Pavitt calls them.

Updating its legacy systems to a more “modern global format” will act as a foundation upon which to build future digital services, he says.

Essential to the success of the new platform will be how the firm transitions data and ways of working from the old system to the new. If a transition is poorly managed, future digital adoption might be unsuccessful, says Pavitt.

“You have to determine what are the core platforms you’re going to operate on,” he points out.

“The Accenture deal is part of us managing our transition. So, although the headline does talk about Accenture and digital, and Accenture not providing a digital platform for us, they are helping us get ready for things like digital.”

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Accenture will take care of Specsavers’ core heritage platforms until the new systems are built, at which point it will assist with actions such as data migration and legacy system decommissioning.

Specsavers’ two-year transformation programme will see it move legacy platforms, including back-office, operating systems, retail, CRM, supply chain and ERP, onto a new single global platform for each function, consolidating the data.

This will make operations more efficient, and make it easier to provide a 24/7 global service, catering to all the countries in which the firm operates.

“You can have much better disaster recovery, you can have much better data management because it’s easier to hold and manage the data you have,” says Pavitt.

“It does mean that wherever you operate in Specsavers, be that in a retail outlet or in a back office, you are broadly going to be using the same system. So movement of departments, movement of skillsets and training is made easier or kept to a minimum cost.”

Once the transformation has been completed, Pavitt says the firm will be able to “play” with digital.  

“There’s a whole pile of stuff you can do once you have one of these more modern global platforms, one of which, of course, is digitalisation,” he says.

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