How to drive loyalty with a customer-centric culture

In Featured on App, Loyalty & CRM by Oliver Arscott

Lauri Vela, Richemont, Customer Loyalty, CRM, Customer Centric Culture

The role of Lauri Vela at designer brands giant Richemont is a perfect example of the impact the empowered customer is having on all marketplaces. As digital and CRM lead she is charged with getting the business closer to the real needs of the customer. I caught up with her last week to discuss omni-channel, analytics and the future.

Would you benefit from learning more about how to better engage your customers? You might be interested to know that we’re providing the rare opportunity to register for free to attend the Loyalty World exhibition and seminar. Follow this link to register for your complimentary pass to learn more from the likes of Aimia, Oracle and SAP.

Hi Lauri. let's start off with a little about yourself and the role you're playing at Richemont.

The role I play at Richemont represents the sum of my experience to date. I've been working in marketing, digital and social media for about 24 years now. I started in the US. on the brand architecture and event marketing side initially running PR and Event Marketing. Having a background in PR has driven my interest and curiosity around social as it provides a springboard for two-way conversation and is an important tool in our toolkit for PR, and what it brings in terms of buzz and the intersection with digital.

I moved to London to head up marketing for Harrods, initially in a CRM role. I introduced their initial loyalty initiative, Harrods by invitation, and introduced the initial CRM strategy between 2001 and 2003. I moved back to the U.S with GE to work on their digital strategies and marketing for a number of their portfolios, including building loyalty initiatives, reward programmes with an emphasis on customer engagement. I came back to the UK in 2006 to launch the CRM and digital initiatives for the Body Shop International and helped outline a foundation for the organisation. When I joined Space.NK it was with an emphasis on the customer, launching a loyalty initiative as well as enhancing the digital presence.

Currently I'm with Richemont Fashion and Accessories, where we support six maisons. I lead digital and CRM strategy development and work consultatively within each organization.

The changed nature of the customer over the last five years has been a reoccurring theme. How have you experienced this change?

I'm not sure that the nature of the customer has changed, however I would certainly say that they are more empowered. Customers are fundamentally able to drive brand awareness, and the power of social has placed an increasing shift of power in the hands of customers.

We are all customers and now are empowered to share experiences in a broader arena. We have the ability to applaud when we have great service and complain loudly when we don't. I would also say that the customer expectation is higher, they are aware of what they want and when they want it and because of this, service and relevant communication is very important. Communication has become truly conversational, but at the same time businesses need to avoid being condescending, as many customers are often well researched and knowledgeable about the products and services they require. The challenge for marketers is how to manage the points where customers intersect with the brand.

So would you say that it's about projecting your brand identity into the omni-channel space?

In all honesty I don't think it's about that push. It's more about understanding what the customer's expectations are from us and to respond with relevance. The evolution of multi-channel to omni-channel presents an opportunity for the brand to be available to the customer when and where she requires, however strategically it require a great deal of thought and business process design to deliver consistent and memorable brand expressions.

Do you think that social has become a bit of a buzzword and that brands need to carefully create a thoughtful strategy before rushing headlong in?

Brands do need to think carefully about their engagement models and the social sites they want to sit within. In my opinion, there are a number of social experts who can offer tremendous advice, but when thinking about tone of voice and expression, if that interaction can be managed internally, it really should be. Ultimately it's about putting a personal face on your brand

I've written a series of key questions around community strategy, which I use when I work with business colleagues across the maisons. The customer has to come first, so questions will be along the lines of ‘what does our customer gain from our community?' or ‘What capabilities do we have to create great content?' Our approach is to be service and education enabled, and ultimately to be a listening brand. For me social media is about truly listening, engaging and being thoughtful in our responses as well as sharing relevant information. The tools available in this space are great, but they shouldn't define your strategy, they should enable it.

Does the trend towards massive investment in cutting edge analytic tools make you worry about marketers taking their eye off basic skills like listening to the customer?

For the last 10-15 years I've been fascinated with the empowerment provided by customer and transactional data and I am really struck by how many tools there are that have the power to enable us to make better business decisions.

However, a lot of it goes back to the question: what are we trying to achieve? We've all heard talk of data paralysis, which is something that happens all too easily. Organisations have the ability to manage this variance in data, but they need to keep going back to their strategic objectives and use information to inform.

When I consider business tools, I start with the customer, and with corresponding business questions such as how we measure and improve our customer experiences, the brand impact, and our bottom line. Once we've defined metrics, then and only then, can we understand measurement tracking. Establishing the right KPIs, how the business is going to consume the information, and where that data sits will inform what type of tool set is required. Trying to select a business tool prior to understanding why is risky.

One of the areas of contention at the moment is the friction between certain job functions within businesses, particularly between marketing and IT. Is this something that you have experienced?

It depends completely on the organisational culture and the individuals working within those businesses. When people within both functions, marketing and IT embody "the art of the possible", a phrase coined by a really tremendous CIO who I worked with at The Body Shop, the organization will thrive as a respect and knowledge of both business disciplines is necessary. "The art of the possible" is about aligning goals and recognising that both functions have expertise and can compliment each other, its not about one or another, it's about solving the answer of what's possible for the business and the customer.

If we start with the end goal and a shared vision of what success looks like then we all stand a better chance of creating something incredible. We've probably all been guilty of starting off a project with limitations already in mind. It's so valuable however to sit down with all functions involved and discuss what's possible and what's right for the business, and then figure it out from there. Too often we come in with preconceptions and limitations in our head based on job titles.

How do you think brands are going to be engaging with their customers in 12 months time?

I think it will be driven by the leadership, culture and vision of each organisation. Ensuring the right individuals have the right jobs and are empowered to be able to lead the business through change, whilst ensuring that the brand and the business feel comfortable with each step taken.

Some of the mistakes we have seen have been because people have been trying to fast-follow. They've taken what starts out as very reasonable and often very good vision but have struggled to implement the business strategy and processes to successfully execute.

So for success in customer engagement we're going to see some culture shifts. Before innovation is implemented businesses need to discuss in real depth, examining best practice coupled with their strategic objectives and ensuring the right people and skills are embedded in the organization to support customer empowerment.

One final question Lauri, what are you most looking forward to about speaking at Loyalty World 2012?

I always look forward to learning! I think in our space it's important to be curious, there are some tremendous people attending this year and I look forward to being able to participate as well as being able to listen and learn.

To benefit from further insights follow this link to register for your complimentary pass to attend the Loyalty World exhibition and seminars.