Jo Moran helped transform Marks & Spencer’s fortunes through delivering better service. Here she outlines the 11 steps behind her success.
1 Be clear what you want to be
“The start point, as one of my previous bosses said to me, is ‘you have to decide what you want to be when you grow up’,” says Moran.
She cites Ryanair as an example. “It delivers exactly what it says it’s going to deliver. We might moan about paying for a suitcase but it’s really clear, that’s what you get, that’s what you pay for.”
As for Marks & Spencer: “We were really clear that we wanted to offer friendly, helpful, knowledgeable service to our customers.”
2 Put the right structure in place
In the early 2000s, Marks & Spencer had become “an incredibly task-focused organisation”, according to Moran. “We had forgotten that the reason we were filling the shelves was so that the customer could buy the pie. We had just got focused on filling the shelves. We used to get a bit annoyed when the customer took the pie off the shelf. We’d forgotten the reason we were there.
“So we spent a huge amount of time on the why – right through our hierarchical structure in stores, from our customer assistants who work on the sales floor to their section manager, to their line manager, to our store managers – what’s the reason we’re here? Why do we add value?
“We’ve looked at those roles through the organisation and we’ve been really clear about who is responsible for delivering what to a customer.”
3 Set suppliers up for success
Moran discovered that Marks & Spencer had set its partner City Link a target of every driver delivering 29 flower bouquets an hour.
It created “a Linford Christie type scenario”, she says. “The delivery driver would ring the bell, drop the box and run back to the van.”
Now, City Link is tasked with 12 deliveries an hour, giving the driver time to greet the customer at the door.
Marks & Spencer meets with its key partners three times a year and briefs them on what customers are saying and what the key things are that they need to work on. It also invests in its outsourced contact centre.
“We see them as partners rather than suppliers, investing in them and their teams to deliver service on our behalf,” Moran says.
She checks that suppliers are delivering the type of service she wants through audit visits and a quality programme.
4 Recruit for attitude, not just skill
Marks & Spencer has introduced a personality questionnaire to its online recruitment process to filter the number of applicants it receives. Shortlisted applicants go through to an interview, which takes place in store, and is followed by a trial shift.
“We want to see them interacting with colleagues and customers,” says Moran. “We stole that idea from Pret.”
5 Train people and sustain that training
Training is critical, according to Moran. Back in 2004/05 Marks & Spencer held “massive one-off training events” with 3,000-4,000 colleagues attending each day.
“I would probably never replicate those events because they were hugely expensive and very time-consuming to organise but it absolutely made people sit up and listen, not only in the organisation but in the industry, that we were serious about putting service back on the map,” says Moran.
She believes classroom-based training has a place, particularly for technical training, but Marks & Spencer is increasingly encouraging employees to “self help” through the company’s website and intranet.
“Training has got to be consistent and ongoing and drip-fed in, almost on a daily basis,” she says.
6 Identify your customer service champions
With customers becoming more demanding and comparing customer service across all organisations, not just similar ones, it’s important to have customer service champions within your business and your supplier base, according to Moran.
“I’ve got champions around the organisation who are ‘mini-me’s – people who truly believe if you can deliver a great customer experience it will provide a commercial difference to your organisation.”
7 Look at what’s getting in the way
“Recruiting the right people and training the right people won’t necessarily make it happen,” says Moran. “Look at the red tape.”
Seven years ago, Moran and a colleague discovered that staff at different stores were doing the same task in lots of different ways so they created the ‘one best way’ programme. Within four years, they had 400 ‘one best ways’.
“There was even a ‘one best way’ for writing a ‘one best way’, at which point we thought we’d lost the plot,” says Moran.
“What started out with all the best intentions of a standard operating procedure had created bureaucracy and documents that were pages long.
“We’ve now cut the ‘one best ways’ from 400 to 80 and none of them are longer than three pages.”
8 Improve or remove
“We’ve spent a lot of time, particularly with our section managers who are front-line managers and our middle managers, coaching them how to have tough conversations along the lines of ‘that just wasn’t good enough for that customer’, ‘what happened?’, ‘do you understand that’s not acceptable?’,” says Moran.
“It sounds a bit draconian but we’ve had a real drive on ‘you’ve got to improve and you’ve got to meet our targets or you’ve got to get out’.”
9 Recognise people that do a good job
Marks & Spencer used to focus on long service, now it’s about “great service” and it has a £1million annual budget to recognise those that deliver it.
But it also recognises people simply through encouraging employees to write a note when they think one of their colleagues has delivered great customer service and leave it on their colleague’s desk.
It’s an idea Moran borrowed from a visit to First Direct’s contact centre.
“It’s so powerful and it costs nothing,” she says.
10 Ask customers what they think
Earlier this year Marks & Spencer launched a new website which it worked on with customers, asking for their views on design and layout, for example.
“You can close the gap between customers’ expectations and where you are by getting them to work with you,” says Moran. “Lots of organisations do that, not necessarily face-to-face but through online forums.”
Marks & Spencer also asks customers what they think through a customer satisfaction programme, with one in 10 customers asked to fill in an online customer satisfaction survey. The challenge then is thinking about how to use that feedback to create “a cycle of improvement”, according to Moran.
11 Keep it honest
“Keeping it honest is about using what customers are telling you, not what you ask them,” says Moran. “The problem with research is that it tells us what we want to know.
“Whether it’s our mystery shop programme or our customer satisfaction programme or exit surveys or customer panels, we’re in control. We’ve written the survey, we’re doing the analysis, we’ve invited the customers. What I like to do is to use the thousands of contacts I get every week and feed that into the organisation at board meetings.
“That raw voice of the customer is growing in importance, particularly through social media.”
About Jo Moran
Jo Moran has worked at Marks & Spencer for 25 years, starting on the graduate programme.
She worked her way through store management and operational roles before becoming head of retail service in 2004, when she was tasked with delivering better service after the brand saw its market share decline sharply.
She became head of customer service in 2011.