‘Never Knowingly Underserved’

‘Never Knowingly Underserved’

Outsourcing real world delivery of your brand values is a recipe for potential disaster. Fortunately, there are some answers when it does go wrong.

The John Lewis Partnership recently and conspicuously rebranded; a Big Push supported by that Even Bigger Film. The whole initiative rests on a statement of rock solid sincerity:

At John Lewis, and at Waitrose, we’re more than employees, we’re Partners. Which means we all have a share in the business, and we all have a shared commitment: to go above and beyond, for every customer. That’s why we’ve added Partners to our names. Because for us, it’s personal.

Another major John Lewis event took place when they published the annual results, causing an equal stir in the non-creative-industries end of the media.  Profits were down 99%, at just £1.2m. They had the backdrop of the current much-vaunted meltdown in High Street retailing as the perfect excuse. Yet while the internet and other discounters are undoubtedly putting pressure on margins, there was perhaps disproportionate blame attributed by the company to external factors.  After all, it’s far easier to look out of the window than stare into the mirror.


A quick look at recent John Lewis customer reviews on Trust Pilot reveals a deeper – and undeniably internal – problem. More than a problem, it’s a malaise that undermines warm words about ‘shared commitment to go above and beyond’. John Lewis used to be famous for its customer service.  This was put down to the partnership structure, with everyone having a stake in the business.  But then they outsourced a critical chunk of their customer service to Capita, a high profile company within a sector that has even more serious problems than retail. No doubt that was a quick win for the procurement department, but its aftermath has seen the online savaging of a precious reputation.

At the time of writing, John Lewis commands a very off-brand 1 star rating from over 5,000 customers.  If you looked up a restaurant on Trip Advisor with a 1 star rating would you book it for a night out?  No, I suspect not.  So why would John Lewis management let this sore openly fester on the internet for the world to see? (Incidentally, Amazon.com has a similar number of reviews on Trust Pilot, but a 3 star rating).

One of the contributing factors to that poor result is very arguably the spreadsheet-fixated decision to outsource the core of the brand: customer service. This realisation now appears to be shared by senior management. In August this year, the decision was announced that John Lewis was taking 400 contact centre jobs back in house and away from Capita1, with whom they were ending their contract. The staff concerned were give six months’ notice, thus ensuring that the height – or depths – of the resulting disruption would hit the crucial pre-Christmas run-up head on.

The move certainly reflects internal concerns about service quality. And it’s tough on the staff affected. Whether it results in a yuletide gift of great service to customers depends on the culture that is applied and encouraged from here on. A successful turnaround is never guaranteed, but here are specific suggestions that could start to see some green instead of red from customer reviews.

Focus on making sure that Customers are Never Knowingly Underserved.

Empower your call centre staffLooking at the responses to people’s complaints, there are too many ‘shoulds’ (should have got it right) and not enough ‘wills’ (will not fail again).  Clearly, the call centre people are not currently connected to the rest of the organisation and cannot offer the complainant a definitive resolution of their issue. As part of the move in house, this must change.

Follow-up on complaint resolutionCustomers who have had a bad experience can become your strongest advocates, if you can fix their problem for them.  You do not get the impression that many of the issues are resolved satisfactorily here. Why not ask customers to re-post after their complaint has been addressed? People are extraordinarily forgiving of problems – but only after the problems are sorted.

Review your complaints dailyRegular reviews and discussions with in-store teams can identify fixes, preventing issues from becoming complaints. Customer feedback is not there to be ignored or looked at through half-closed eyes. It is the raw material of brand value delivery improvement.

Call out the serial complainersSome people make unreasonable or even false claims in the hope that businesses will settle to avoid any reputational issues.  There’s no harm in a business challenging the freeloaders and liars, you just have to get your facts right.  That means having the right processes and procedures in place at the point of sale.

Get out moreTalk to people from outside the business with a different perspective: customers and communicators.  We can help re-energise your customer service and motivate your people to deliver the great customer experience you were once known for.

“Mama. Just Killed a Brand.”

The right quality of goods, delivered at the right time. The right calibre of response, fielded fast to customer complaints and problems. These are the true footprints of a great retail brand in action. Without them, that mega-production-values film is wasted. In fact it’s crying out for a parody version, with apologetic delivery people furtively yet frantically trying to get the items back stage in time to make the show happen.

When film fantasy and doorstep reality are drifting poles part, it is time to focus on what really matters.


  1. Source:Evening Times, Glasgow, August 3rd, 2018: https://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/16395747.400-jobs-at-threat-as-john-lewis-ends-capita-contract-in-glasgow/
No Comments

Post A Comment