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Tech, CX and leadership insights from NRF 2020: Day 2

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson

If you missed yesterday’s recap of the first day of NRF 2020, check out our article here, including insights from Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass, Crate & Barrel CEO Neela Montgomery, founders of several up-and-coming direct-to-consumer brands and others.

Here are our highlights from Day 2:

How Starbucks is investing in artificial intelligence

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson made a case for combining digital innovation and real-world human connection in his keynote presentation. The tech veteran, who spent 16 years at Microsoft, said both are necessary for success in retail going forward. 

One way this is happening at Starbucks is with “Deep Brew”, an internal program that uses artificial intelligence [AI] to automate certain tasks – such as counting inventory and ordering new stock – to enable employees to spend more time interacting with customers. 

“Over the next decade, we want to be as good at AI as any of the top tech companies,” Johnson said. “AI is about enabling our partners to connect with customers. It’s a human-first digital strategy.” 

How Chloe, Zappos and Gap put their customers first

At first glance, global luxury brand Chloe, online shoe store Zappos and mid-market fashion company Gap Inc don’t have much in common. But in a panel on customer experience, leaders from each of these businesses shared how they are putting the customer first. 

Alexa Geovanos, Chloe’s brand president for North and South America, admitted the luxury retailer benefits from a significant amount of brand equity, which means that clients – how Chloe refers to its customers – are already heavily invested in the experience when they walk into a store. The only way to surpass their expectations, she said, is to be obsessed with clients in reverse.

“We’re not a huge, mega-luxury brand – we’re talking about tens, or hundreds of transactions in-store a day,” she said. This enables Chloe’s sales associates and stylists to be incredibly attentive, and the company is focused on making sure it is able to leverage the experience of its in-store staff.

At Zappos, customer service is run by team members who are objectively “happy people”, according to Alex Genov, manager of research and user experience at Zappos. 

“That’s reflected in the service,” he said. 

The online retailer, which founder Tony Hsieh famously refers to as a customer service company that happens to sell shoes, also empowers its customer service team to solve customer problems. So, there are no time limits on phone calls with customers, and they can make decisions about whether to process a refund or provide a voucher without escalating the issue to their boss. 

“Nowadays, it’s all about big data, but without understanding people on a deeper level, it’s impossible,” Genov said. “I think that’s the big tension we need to solve, between the big data, averages and experiences. You can’t average an experience.”

At Gap Inc, Heidi Isern leads a cross-functional team focused on using technology to improve the customer experience. She believes it’s important to test and learn from new ideas as early as possible to ensure they are having the intended effect. 

“We can use predictive analytics to keep line length at no more than five minutes, that’s something we’re testing out across stores,” she said, along with self-service kiosks.

“Crucial to both is getting feedback all the time [by] monitoring NPS and talking to store managers and employees to make sure whatever we’re doing is impacting customers in a positive way.”

What Hudson’s Bay Company’s CEO Helena Foulkes thinks about leadership

Helena Foulkes led a pharmaceutical company before she was appointed CEO of Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates Saks Fifth Avenue and Hudson’s Bay department stores in North America. But despite the change, she has relied on the same style of leadership for the past 15 years. 

Her approach is called “interactive leadership” and here are some takeaways:

  • Identify what is actually motivating to people. According to Foulkes, retailers too often are focused on shareholder returns, when other factors give people a greater sense of pride and purpose.
  • Embrace emotions. Certain generations were taught to leave their emotions at home, and bring only their rational side to work. But Foulkes believes it’s important to address the issues that people are excited or worried about to reach creative solutions. 
  • Put a solid plan in place. Retailers can have great visions and dreams, but to produce results, you need a process to manage and measure them.

Come back tomorrow for the final day of insights from NRF 2020.

Heather McIlvaine traveled to NRF as a guest of Intel. 

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