In 2019, the UK’s most recommended bed retailer, Dreams, set out on a journey with Netcall to replace its customer engagement platform with a single integrated solution. Implementing the Liberty Platform, their aim was deliver a seamless experience across all service channels and elevate CX even further.
We spoke to Sam Johnson, Head of Customer Services at Dreams, about how Dreams is using technology to drive CX. Sam worked with us to deploy Liberty Converse and Connect, and soon they will implement Liberty Create.
What exactly does delivering great CX on a day-to-day basis mean to you at Dreams?
From my perspective, great CX is something that’s personal and memorable (for the right reasons) and delivering a consistent level of service day in, day out, for all of our customers.
Ultimately, some customers are dealing with our contact centre because they need help – they might need to change their order, or we’ve not met their expectations. We want them to leave that interaction feeling that ‘Dreams put it right’. That is often the reason that they go on to recommend us to friends and family.
I really dislike robotic and scripted customer service. It just doesn’t hit the mark because it’s not genuine. Beds are emotional purchases, you’ll use it for eight hours a day, for many years, for good quality sleep. When it goes wrong, customers can be emotional and distressed – and tired! It’s crucial to us that we offer really personable service, putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes, to find the best solution for them.
It also ought to be effortless. A customer should be able to get the help they need really easily, never arduous to get through to us, whether it’s on chat, the phone or via email.
That resonates with us – it must be personal and personable. The third line of the script just won’t cut it. And your advisers must have the ability to do something about it. You’ve already made great strides at Dreams in dramatically improving the customer journey.
When you started out, what challenges were you trying to overcome?
- Our customer service advisers were using multiple systems, which didn’t talk to one another. None gave us the information we needed easily and it was often impossible to get the right information while on a call. This stopped us from being as efficient as we wanted. We needed to invest in something that brought everything together.
- We also wanted flexibility. Making changes often needed IT support, which may take days if third parties are needed. Changing our opening hours for Christmas or bank holidays was painful. Every year, it was a military operation of excel spreadsheets which took huge administration time.
- We only had one customer service line, which acted as one big funnel. There was no way to change that easily. I’ve been with Dreams for over 10 years, and I started as a customer service adviser, so I appreciate the frustration that the team was dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
- Essentially, we really wanted to update our systems to give us control over adapting our systems and allowing us to improve experience for customers and employees.
You chose Liberty Converse and Connect to overcome these challenges, but just as you were poised to go live, COVID hit the country. How exactly were your plans impacted?
It was a difficult decision to delay go-live, but we didn’t want our team at home with a brand new system which they hadn’t been fully introduced to.
Ironically, it would have been an enormous asset to have had the system up and running. As it turned out, demand rocketed, dragging queue times and supply chain challenges with it. It’s a credit to our teams that we didn’t suffer a complete meltdown.
Converse went live in June 2020, it was a complete breath of fresh air. Suddenly, we could see easily and explain what we’re doing for any customer that contacted us. We could put customers in different, more appropriate queues. We could make changes at the touch of a button. It took a weight off everybody’s shoulders to have the flexibility we needed.
So, did you view this as a digital transformation project, or a more continuous evolution?
It’s definitely an ongoing project. We’ve accomplished some core objectives, but we’re still working towards new CX goals.
It is business-wide, and now we’ve got up-to-date data to tell us why and how our customers are contacting us. It’s a central system so we can report easily to the business and board, and provide specific insights.
Our board appreciate new technology and they’re open to new ideas. We’ve already incorporated chatbots, AI and so on. Anything that helps the customer is of interest. We have confidence that we can see and report on the impact quickly and clearly. That trust and flexibility is crucial, especially in this ever-changing retail landscape. We’re been given the freedom to consider new solutions which improve the customer journey.
This CX focus is why we ended up choosing Netcall. And the technology has been proven. At Dreams, the name Netcall has become synonymous for successful projects. With Liberty Converse, we got everything that we were promised and it has worked so well for us.
We have a team of 70+ advisers, who have used the old system for the past 10 years. Liberty Converse is intuitive, the advisers took to it easily and they genuinely enjoy using it. All of a sudden, they have the visibility and the power to see who’s actually available to speak to the customer, previous interactions, and they can listen to call recordings easily.
They learn more about how to use it just by using it and exploring. Obviously, we have a great training platform, but they don’t need to spend hours sitting on it. It’s really self-explanatory.
What difference has the reporting functionality made in extracting consistent, accurate data? Does it allow a deeper understanding of what’s happening with your customers?
Of course, we still report against KPIs including how long it takes to answer a call, how many calls are answered, and so on. But, it’s just as important for us to establish why customers are contacting us and what we can improve. We couldn’t factor in new reasons for customer contact as the hard-coded system prevented us adding new options easily, so new patterns were hard to see.
Take lockdowns for example. We added a new code on Converse straight away which easily explained peaks of hundreds of additional customers contacting us. That data goes to our Exec Team and the wider business on a daily basis, driven from the Converse data. Our whole business can directly connect to the pulse of what’s happening and focus on how we respond.
Having that information readily available in easy formats has freed time and brain power to focus on improving CX, rather than untangling exported spreadsheets and convoluted lookups. It’s just there. It’s definitely changed how we work and allowed us to be more responsive on a daily basis.
We’ve got the same team of people, but we’ve now got a system that actually supports them in doing a better job. It’s driven change within the business because we’re spotting things that we wouldn’t have spotted previously and we have the ability to report and act more effectively.
Converse has given our advisers greater flexibility and confidence in their roles. The pandemic has changed the retail experience. On average we would handle 5,000 interactions a week, which peaked last year to 15,000.
Without Converse, it would have been a struggle to maintain adviser well-being and the level of CX that we aspire to. Many queries would have been dealt with in our stores, but the contact centre was suddenly, and immediately, the funnel for all customer contact.
Working with Netcall has been a game changer. It’s been a good working partnership since day one. Liberty Converse has really changed the face of our customer services.
Did the added functionality in Converse have a positive impact on adviser performance as well?
I think so. They had the tools to help them. There are still other frustrations, some of which we hope to resolve by utilising Liberty Create over the coming year.
Now they are more aware of peaks and performance, they have a better feel for what’s going on, which is vital when you consider that most of them are still working at home.
- They now know that we’ve got the power to make changes really quickly. I get requests and ideas from advisers to remove anything causing frustration for customers. And I can change it easily and fast.
- The flexibility of Converse and Connect has engaged them in making suggestions to processes and how the chatbot works. We’ve made some really positive changes on the back of things that advisers have flagged.
- They clearly feel more empowered because they can see change straight away.
- They see the importance of data. The activity codes they select are driving decisions, so the team take ownership of accurately feeding data into the system.
That’s really powerful. It requires the technology to fit, but it also requires a relationship between management and the team which is built on trust. Management has to be open to making changes. It’s fascinating that you’re seeing that already.
What, from your point of view, is the ideal infrastructure for a customer-centric contact centre?
Control is key. I need a system that I can control without too much support from the supplier. Implementing Liberty Create has always been part of the original scope and we are about to start. That gives us a fully joined up contact centre system because we can eliminate any remaining siloed working. Ending the silos between processes, technologies, business functions and personal empowerment is absolutely key to creating an agile, enabled CX culture.
With our fully joined up system, our teams have become more effective in every interaction. We can consolidate data into more useful and consistent forms, and that provides a common language across the whole business. It encourages our advisers to use their experience to suggest changes that will directly benefit customers. I expect to gain even greater efficiencies because all contact will be handled through one platform. That will be another game changer.
Also, it needs to be intuitive. Easy to use, sustainable, easy to manage and hassle-free. I spoke before about our aim to make it effortless for the customer; the same applies for our advisers. They don’t need to spend time figuring out how to do something, we want their work to be simple to complete.
I’m interested in customer expectations, arguably the world is very different now and retail is undergoing seismic changes. You’ve talked about advisers beginning to look for areas of friction, so, how do you see the role of advisers changing in the future at Dreams?
We need a team of multi-skilled advisers. In 18-24 months, I think my team will handle a blended work stream including calls, chat and emails. We’ve got the capability to do it now with Converse and Connect, but we mainly have people that take calls and others that handle chat. We’ll reach a point where advisers can switch to both, that’s the dream.
That means we can be more efficient. For advisers, it prevents monotony. Our organisation is expanding. We have two sub-brands as well as the main Dreams brand. Having multi-skilled, multi-channel advisers will allow us to successfully manage extra specialisms in the team. Using skills in Converse, we’ll have different advisers with varying skills to deal with certain interactions.
I think self-service is also vital. Customers really want it. They still want the option to speak to somebody, but there are a lot of things they would just like to be able to do themselves.
Hopefully soon, retail will return to a sense of normality, and then advisers who spot potential friction or inefficiency in the process will increase our efficiency and service levels. It’s hard to predict what customers will expect in the next five years.
At Dreams, we’re given the freedom to consider new solutions to improve the customer journey. For us, it’s always customer-first.