Smith and Morris Retail is a small business with a big heart and proved this by scooping the SME category at the UK Customer Experience Awards 2013.

Over the years there have been many customer centric mantras that have been made popular by various industry professionals, and whilst customer acquisition and retention programmes may be commonplace amongst large PLCs, often for smaller SME businesses the focus is often on customer acquisition with little time or money to enable further thought. However, one award-winning business that has strived to embrace a customer centric approach is Smith and Morris Retail Ltd.

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Smith & Morris, based in the rolling countryside of North Staffordshire, is a multichannel retailer of premium lifestyle apparel. It counts leading brands such as Barbour, Joules, Hunter and Aigle among the many brands offered on its two websites: outdoorandcountry.co.uk and smithandmorris.co.uk, together with its two Barbour partner bricks and mortar retail stores. The company has benefitted from the rise in popularity of brands such as Barbour which have courted favour with celebrities such as Lilly Allen and The Arctic Monkeys whilst staying true to their best of British roots.

With the rising emphasis on online shopping it was essential for Smith & Morris that it began to develop long term customer loyalty, it was recognised that all too often customers would stumble upon a website, make a purchase and then never be seen again. It was important for the company to understand the needs of its customers, to listen to their feedback and most importantly to adapt to the feedback, good or bad. Smith & Morris adopted an initiative to put customers at the heart of their business. They developed a centric process which enabled customer feedback to be monitored throughout the business and for business processes to be adapted to improve service to customers, together with recognising their long term value.

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Cyclical process to listen, review, adapt and implement
The initial process consisted simply of listening, adapting, implementing and then listening again. In this way the company was able to adapt business processes to greater match the needs of the business. One key mechanism was the use of Trustpilot reviews. This feedback and review mechanism enabled customers to comment on the service they had received from the company. In turn the company was able to assess the feedback and put in place improvements or changes to its service.

It’s important to remember that as a business the objective is to make a profit for shareholders, and although in private companies often few in number they still demand an appropriate return. Often there is too much emphasis placed on turnover with little thought given to profitability. The old adage of ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’ is often forgotten by many. One such example can be taken from the subject of free returns. Faced with many competitors offering free returns the Smith & Morris began to analyse customer feedback in relation to its policy of not providing a free return facility. The feedback showed that there was clear demand for and often outrage at the absence of a free returns facility, but the potential significant additional cost gave cause for concern. So instead a half way house option of offering a fixed low cost returns label was trialled. In this trial customers were given the option at the time of order of buying a returns label for £2.50. It was intended to test the facility at different (lower) price points; however the label proved so popular at the introductory price that plans to test lower prices were shelved. Overnight the company had turned negative feedback in to a positive outcome whilst managing customer expectations and preserving profitability.

All companies will receive negative feedback or complaints from time to time; the key is how this feedback is dealt with. For smith & Morris any such feedback is used to improve the business. Their goal is not just for happy customers; ultimately the goal is to build a strong base of loyal customers.

The company recognised that products, such as Barbour jackets, may not be an everyday purchase, so the it undertook customer research, listened to what its customers wanted to see alongside its core Barbour range and as a direct consequence of this research has now expanded its product offering to over 50 complementary brands. Its success has been to adapt gradually, listening to customer feedback at each stage and after every change, then adapting its processes and procedures to further enhance customer experience. Moreover this is just not a marketing or customer services department process, all elements of the business are included, internal interdepartmental focus groups meet regularly to review customer feedback and to agree adaptive processes.

Jonathan Capener
Jonathan Capener, CEO of Smith and Morris

The company has managed its rapid growth with the benefit of efficient internal processes, while headcount has remained largely static, continuous improvement in systems and processes have enabling greater throughput as customer numbers have escalated. The company now eyes its future with optimism, it plans further online and retail growth, but recognises that it must maintain its 360° listen, review, adapt, implement and listen again process. For Smith & Morris putting customers are at the heart of their business has borne fruit, the company has scooped many awards, including the SME Customer Experience award 2013.

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