Fractured to first-class: The digital transformation story of the UK’s leading technology retailer – ClickZ

“Do people first and technology second. If you buy technology with the wrong people on the ground, you’re not going to leverage your investment and the result will be shelfware or technical debt. Technology by itself does nothing. It’s people that drive the change”

UK CRM revenue is up by 167% year-on-year. Cost to serve is down by 25% through budget efficiencies. Conversion of abandoned baskets is up by 9% worth £2.5m. The digital transformation journey of tech giant Currys’ UK e-CRM division has delivered first-class results.
In truth, the process has been as eye-watering as the numbers. Saul Lopes, Head of CRM, Personalization, and Loyalty at Currys, breaks down the three-year digital transformation journey.
Let’s examine each year in turn before turning to Curry’s future plans.
A crucial component of change management is moving fast to secure buy-in from individual business units. It is no surprise that a major overhaul of Currys’ digital marketing strategy would start with securing quick wins that would demonstrate the value of the digital transformation journey to its core stakeholders. The team identified three core areas that could help drive change quickly:
Lopes ran through each of these ambitions in turn.
The CRM function was struggling to frequently create meaningful engagements with its customer base. Improving engagement with messaging and email communications was a straightforward way to demonstrate the benefit of bringing on forward-thinking partners. Lopes describes the partnership between Currys and Phrasee who assisted this ambition.
“We used AI technology to engage our customer base with the correct language and optimize our hero and subject line messaging. There were no major content changes. But by using AI to help define the right language and our desired tone of voice, we were able to boost engagement quickly and simply.”
Although a comparatively straightforward component of the overall digital transformation, the quick boost in conversion rates was proof that this digital transformation would yield impressive results.
Currys was wasting time and resources creating 20 variations of one email to personalize its messaging. Team members would even arrive at work at 7 am to update pricing that had changed overnight. Processes were manual and clunky. Keeping up with the fast pace of retail required automation to optimize the process of personalization.
“We brought in a partner, Movable Ink, to help us act quickly on this journey. It involved a huge build process including building in real-time pricing from the website and identifying which fields we wanted to be personalized. This helped us to double campaign output and the team finally had the bandwidth to start new projects and initiatives.”
It is hard to fight the underlying problem when you’re too busy managing the symptoms. Automating personalization not only improved messaging performance but crucially freed up the team to begin attacking the much larger issues that required serious attention.
Despite bringing on technology partners such as Phrasee and Movable Ink, Lopes emphasizes the role that people play in this process. Currys worked closely with change champions within its organization who would drive technology adoption and digital transformation.
“I’ve always said ‘do people first and technology second.’ If you buy technology with the wrong people on the ground, you’re not going to leverage your investment and the result will be shelfware or technical debt. Technology by itself does nothing. It’s people that drive the change.”
“The team had a perfect balance of creative, technical, and campaign planning skills. We had to equip the change champions with the right technology to drive change from the bottom up and not from the top down.”
The role of change champion was open to all individuals. This allowed those people who valued innovation to learn a new tool, train the team, and in the process develop their careers. There were many cases of change champions moving from executive to senior management. These champions would prove to be vital to the second step of this digital transformation journey.
These quick wins set the Currys team up to tackle a huge issue. At the beginning of this journey, Currys had a CRM of 3.5 million customers in 2019 despite 20 million new households shopping at Currys each year. It was bleeding potential customers through outdated data practices. Addressing this required a thorough review of existing data flows.
“It was top-down and bottom-up. We implemented a review of all our data flows to pinpoint where we were losing any email or any contact information through the various points of entry into our sales funnel. We expanded our CRM to 11.1 million by 2022 by plugging these gaps. It was a huge wake-up call to better educate our retail staff on the importance of collecting data to ensure nothing was being missed.”
From the customer perspective, the desired outcome was understanding the true value of its customers from a network of siloed data sources to deliver a more seamless customer experience. Currys was pulling data from separate brands including a Currys data set and a Carphone Warehouse data set, as well as different product types including an extended warranty data set and a credit data set. Everything was disjointed. Building a 360 view of the customer allowed Currys to identify high-value customers it was previously missing.
From a business perspective, there was a big desire for simplification. As assorted brands moved under the Currys UK umbrella, collating data in one place and putting everything under the same process would allow for far greater simplification.
Lopes elaborates on the top-down and bottom-up approaches required to deliver these outcomes.
“We did a huge amount of workshopping to understand the data fields the business was using. In CRM, it is extremely easy to focus on the quantity of data. It should be the other way round, focusing on a smaller data set that has value.”
“Within the CRM team, we found out that out of 3000 variables of data, we only use between 30 and 35 for weekly campaigns. It was a big wake-up call in realizing what data had value.”
“We could then work up through all our teams, from web to retail. Each team ran a similar initiative to understand what data matters.”
“We then did a top-down approach which looked at the future. We asked, what are our future ambitions for customer experience? What are the future data sets we want to have access to?”
“We created a simplified data model. We didn’t change the data set in the background or launch a huge data project. Instead, we changed the presentation layer, so that we could easily view the data that mattered, making it more actionable.”
“Overall, we were able to transform around 300 tables and 3000 variables to 11 tables and 274 variables, just focusing on those datasets that have value to the customer and can be actionable.”
Having established quick wins and realigned its data flows and presentations, Currys could begin actioning the answers to the question Lopes mentions above: ‘What are our future ambitions for customer experience?’
The past 12 months have seen Currys embark on initiatives designed to improve customer experience:
Improving the welcome journey was designed entirely to improve customer service. The previous approach involved beginning with an up-sell as opposed to addressing the customer’s genuine pain points. Flipping this approach on its head involved providing the customers with upfront advice on how to better use the product the customer was considering purchasing. Lopes describes the importance of engaging customer support in building such a journey:
“We reached out to our call center team and asked for the drivers and themes for customer complaints to understand what tips and support we could give to help customers address future problems before they arose. For example, providing a tip around avoiding using paper towels on your TV to avoid scratching the screen.”
“The team created how-to videos and tip videos for our top ten product categories. It made the welcome journey informative and supportive for our customers.”
Before the revamp, messaging encouraging purchase was limited to “You’ve left this item in your basket, would like to purchase?” The renewed 360-degree view of customer data showed there was no value being offered at this touchpoint. In turn, the AI used to improve customer messaging could be implemented at this point in the customer journey.
“Yes, we could remind the customer of what they left in the basket. But we also were able to create an automated calculator to offer options on terms of the payments. Through propensity models run by our data science team, we could recommend products within the same category type or the best attachment like an HDMI for a TV.”
“AI optimized our language and subject lines in real-time. For each different target customer, we could personalize our messaging based on the amount and type of products they had in their basket and the brand that they were looking at. We brought in around 2.2 million of extra incremental revenue out of this initiative alone.”
Data is king (and queen). However, developments from cookie death to iOS14.5 have raised the question of what the customer is getting in return as a value exchange for their data. Currys was able to begin educating its staff on this value exchange.
“There were three key benefits the team focused on: Access to exclusive deals and products, monthly surprises, and free subscription services such as free Apple TV for three months, or a different type or free experience of Fitbit.”
“By increasing the value exchange and giving our colleagues the tools for a better customer conversation, we improved our retail signups by 10%.”
It has been three busy years on the Currys marketing team. But the omnichannel digital transformation journey is half done. It is now focused on two transformation objectives.
Firstly, it is one year into a three-year plan focused on giving customers an end-to-end personalized experience. This is designed to support its strategic business objectives of both making Currys easy to shop and creating customers for life. From CRM to call centers, channels lacked alignment on personalization. Thinking about personalizing each variation of each customer journey of each department becomes overwhelming. Currys, therefore, created a journey encapsulating the ten moments that matter most to its customers.
“Let’s focus on the ten moments that matter for each journey. Taking one at a time, how can each department play its role in personalizing that moment? This made the process far more digestible and allowed us to create a three-year strategy to ingrain personalization into each moment.”
Secondly, Currys is looking for fresh ways to continue expanding its customer loyalty scheme.
“What comes next once we’ve solved the value exchange problem? How are we going to solve the customer lifetime value problem? How are we going to increase the frequency of purchases of our customers? Answering these questions and completing the personalization initiative are our two core transformation objectives.”
As Lopes remarks: “That should be enough to keep us busy for the next two years.”
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