In the latest in my series on CX leaders, I caught up with Customer Experience Director at intu, Roger Binks to hear how their focus on customer is driving positive change.

With 400 million customer visits and over 35 million unique customer visits a year, intu’s scale and expertise gives the business a unique insight into today’s consumer and what they’re looking for from their shopping experience.

To understand the value of Customer Experience to intu and how they are redefining the shopping experience for consumer’s, we caught up with Roger to get the insight at intu.

CB: Roger, we’ve probably all experienced an intu shopping destination. Whilst I’m aware now of the positive efforts made to enhance the experience, when did this become a priority for the group?

RB: Really this became a priority for the company back in 2011, an exec level team then spent a year working on a strategy that launched in January 2013 alongside the physical rebrand to intu.  This strategy brought together 15 separate shopping centres under one, consumer facing brand for the first time and was focused on creating and delivering a uniquely intu customer experience. I then joined the company in February 2013 as intu’s first Customer Experience Director. For both the shopping centre and retail industry at the time, this was a bold step but one that has really paid off in terms of clearly differentiating intu and helping to build loyalty within our customers.

CB: So, as we arrive in 2017, how far up the agenda has customer experience climbed?

RB: Customer experience sits at the heart of what we do at intu, every department thinks about the customer when planning and delivering their plans. We introduced NPS in 2014 and it’s now a KPI that is discussed at operational board meetings as well as customer experience and marketing meetings.

CB: Can you share the Customer strategy underpinning your progress?

RB:  It’s quite simple, and to quote our chief executive, our purpose is to put a smile on the face of our customers. We want them to be happier after a visit to our centres than when they walked through the door.

To achieve this we focus on a couple of key areas.

Firstly, there’s insight. We focus on collecting, collating and communicating insight. To do this we use various methodologies from an online customer forum to accompanied shopping trips. The data is then transformed into information by benchmarking, tracking changes and aggregating data from various sources and overlaying external factors and customer behaviours. These rich insights are then shared internally, to ensure that every area of the business has the right insight in order to the changing needs of our customers.

We recognised that a focus on data analytics and research, even of the highest quality is not enough.

To be forward thinking and understand true behavioural changes the insight needs to be made accessible to those who can apply it to business opportunities.

In the customer experience team we then use our insight to create and curate new signature experiences that express our brand proposition of world class service, digital connectivity and events with a difference.

Joy jars, intugrams, the intu app are just some of the ways we provide moments of surprise and delight. We want our centres to provide extraordinary experiences for customers that encourage them to come back more often and stay longer. This in turn helps our retailers flourish.

Finally, and most importantly are our people. We build a culture of success. How we behave is an important part of the intu difference and a big reason behind our success. We encourage and equip all our employees to look at things differently and creatively, to consider carefully and then to act boldly and genuinely.

CB: Can you give me some examples of what you get up to?

RB: You can break this down into a few areas. As I’ve already said, our people are key. We’ve invested heavily in brand engagement and providing world class service training to all our staff, equipping them with the skills they need to deliver exceptional customers service, and empowering them to deliver against our brand promise through their day to day activities.

Then there is the physical environment we provide.  Here, we’re creating spaces where people want to be and retailers need to be. So the focus of our short and medium-term development pipeline is on developing leisure opportunities and tasty places to eat.  We also look at the smaller touches, such as the toilets, seating and car parking to ensure every touch point is a positive one.

And then there’s intu is still the only UK shopping centre landlord to have a multichannel shopping platform that adds even more to the compelling shopping experience we already provide. So from the comfort of your armchair, you can experience the intu brand and all that that means. Already ranked in the top 10 of affiliate websites, gives our customers the choice of nearly 500 retailers, from John Lewis and Marks & Spencer to Topshop and River Island.

CB: That’s a great structure and must be very empowering for those employed to deliver the intu Customer Experience. From a customer’s perspective is it just the big things like size of centre and retailer choices that matter?

RB: No but it is a big part of the picture. We own some of the largest and most popular shopping centres across the UK. That success comes from our asset teams curating a great retail and leisure mix that attracts people from further and for longer. Rather than just popping to the shops, people come to our centres for a full day out experience combing shopping with dinner and a trip to one of our leisure attractions.

We also know a great customer experience starts with the small things and before you even arrive in a shopping centre. From planning your visit with the help of, to how easy it is to get around the car park, to how welcoming our staff are. These issues are at top of our list of priorities.

CB: How much does technology contribute to what is principally a bricks and mortar customer experience?

RB: It’s as important as it is in any sector. Our customers are digitally advanced using their devices to shop and communicate in real time in the centres. And with many of our retailers specialising in this area we need to stay ahead too. We know that today’s digital natives want, in fact expect, to be online wherever they are and at intu it’s no different.  By investing in a new fibre optic network for every centre we’re able to offer high-quality free Wi-Fi in all our malls.

Our in-house digital innovation team has also developed the new intu app. It helps customers find their way around and gives them access to special offers based on their location in centre. It ensures the customer experience is consistent digitally as it is in person.

CB: I’m a regular visitor to some of your shopping malls, I can recall various special activities catching my children’s attention. How are you using the estate to create memorable experience using 3rd party partners?

RB: Creating and curating events with a difference is an important part of the experience at our centres and through our national brand we’re engaging in new partnerships to bring uniquely creative events that will encourage more customers to visit and stay longer. Our size and scale means we can work with the world’s biggest brands to put on events and experiences that really draw in the crowds, from tie-ups with film companies like Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, to promotions with MasterCard, X-box and Coca Cola.

CB: It sounds like there is a philosophy which is underpinned with insight and rigour at intu. What is the perfect customer outcome and how do you achieve it?

RB: The prefect customer outcome is making a customer smile because of a visit to intu. We know through research that happy customers stay longer and visit more often. This in turn helps our retailers flourish. It’s a simple approach, but one that takes focus to get right. By combining insight with our scale and expertise, we’re able to deliver a compelling customer experience that makes our centres the sought after locations they are today, places people and retailers want to be

Link to Intu’s ethnographic study into Understanding Shopping Missions

CB: That’s been externally insightful to hear more about the science and the art of delivering a memorable and commercially positive experience at intu. So, what can we expect in the future?

RB: At Christmas we launched our consumer facing proposition of “Your kind of shopping”, and a new ad campaign introducing people to our six shopper types and their respective ‘bird’ characters, from the bargain hunting Hawk to the ‘Me me me’ shopper represented by the Flamingo.  This approach is helping us to create an emotional connection between our customers and our brand. We’ll continue to develop this proposition and communicate this externally through national and local media.

Insight will continue to be a priority for us, and we’ve got some great initiatives running looking at how we improve and evolve what we do, ensuring that our understanding of the customer continues to grow.

Finally, remains a focus, as we look at how digital innovation can help the customer experience, both in-centre and online.

CB: It’s been a delight and an education Roger. I wish you all the best for the future and look forward to the latest Intu experiences the next time I head to the shopping centre.

Christopher Brooks is a regular contributor to Customer Experience Magazine, Awards judge and Director of t Customer Experience Consultancy , Lexden..

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