QVC’s Main Strategy is to Stay Close to the Customer

Interview with QVC’s Head of Strategic Insight and Reporting about customer-centricity and how insight, data & analytics is helping them achieve this.

Patrick Osborne is the Head of Strategic Insight and Reporting at QVC. He has been working with customer data, insight & analytics since 1993, and has developed his career following the incredible growth of this industry. He started off in direct mail fulfilment, and moved on to higher education working on student statistics and satisfaction indices. He then worked as a market analyst at Mintel International, surveying customers and forecasting market trends.

He worked on the Nectar card programme launch at Sainsbury’s, the UK’s largest loyalty programme. After three years as a management consultant, Patrick moved to the financial services sector, focusing on customer segmentations, monitoring the move to digital banking and customer satisfaction indices. He now works back in the retail industry at QVC, where he manages their customer insights & analysis.

In this interview, Patrick talks about the customer insight, data & analytics strategy of retailer QVC, the impact of the biggest industry challenges, where there is still a gap in the vendor market to fully gauge true customer sentiment, and he shares the biggest insight learning of his career to date.

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Firstly, can you tell us about your journey into customer insight, data & analytics?

I’ve been working in data, analytics and insight for nearly 25 years now, in a variety of industries and sectors. I began in direct mail fulfilment, then moved on to the university sector, looking at students’ behavioural trends and demands for courses. I then worked on market analysis and forecasting with Mintel International and spent some time at Sainsbury’s at the period when the Nectar card was introduced – that certainly gave an amazing insight into customer behavior.

I also worked as a data analytics consultant in the Big 4 and most recently seven years at Lloyds Bank working with its customer data. I’m currently working for QVC UK, one of the world’s largest multi-platform retailers, managing our customer research and analysis programme.

What does the customer insight, data and analytics strategy at QVC entail?

The main, overriding strategy is for us to stay close to our customers. We have amazing levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty (certainly very different for me after seven years in banking), but in today’s highly competitive, global and multi-channel environment it’s really important to not take that for granted.

The way we can maintain our customers’ loyalty is by really understanding what they need, what they’re looking for and what they’re responding to. How do you believe this insight strategy sets you apart from other organisations?

Lots of organisations make a lot of noise about being customer-centric, but at QVC it’s really lived. It’s great to be in meetings with our buying or planning teams – and even our broadcasting team – and to hear them talking about our customer segments and referring back to research my team has done to ensure they come to the right decision that will be best for our customers.

What is the process of gathering customer insight and data at QVC?

We try and do a lot of our research ourselves when we’re speaking to our own customers – we feel it keeps it fresher and also more relevant.

We use online survey packages for quantitative research, and have trained focus group moderators and in-depth interviewers for the qualitative side. We’re making some inroads into using online focus groups, which is really interesting.

Additionally, we maintain a bespoke customer forum – the QVC Lounge – which is an online panel of QVC shoppers representative of the entire customer group. We constantly recruit from our active customer base, and interaction is surveys, discussions and a regular newsletter.

This allows us to collate rapid and comprehensive feedback from our customers. When we’re working with prospective customers we partner with agencies and also use online panels as appropriate.

How have the learnings impacted the strategy?

Customer insight learnings have allowed us to maximise opportunities in online and mobile commerce. We’ve done a lot of work into how customers use their mobiles, in particular to browse and search for deals, which has enabled us to time our emails appropriately and also begin to evaluate the impact of the email communication in the overall buying process.

At QVC we’re always looking at how to stay ahead in retail, therefore evaluating the next wave of consumers is important.

How do you believe retail differentiates from other industries when it comes to insight, data & analytics?

The immediacy. You know straight away, in real time, whether or not a product is successful. This is even more the case with QVC’s retail model incorporating live TV and the instant visibility of real-time sales.

When I worked in financial services, it was much more of a slow burner. It took a long time to launch new products and services, and often customer reaction was fairly muted as there really wasn’t that much differentiation that was obvious to the average financial services customer.

Whereas in retail you have this wonderful, rapid feedback loop which allows you to react quickly and immediately see the impact of your analysis and recommendations.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to insight, data and analytics right now?

Technology and expectations are by far the two biggest issues. We hear so much talk about ‘Big Data’ and in my opinion we are in the second wave of making the most of the data we have (the first being some 15/20 years ago when SAS, SPSS and the like really went mainstream).

What steps are you taking to overcome these challenges?

We work with new tools, such as Python, R and Tableau, but it can often be difficult to make the most of these. Our analyst team work hard to ensure they’re abreast of new tools, ensuring that open source is maximised. QVC is undertaking appropriate investment in data warehousing and analytical capability worldwide.

Are you working on any innovative initiatives that your peers might be able to learn from?

As a retailer we have numerous platforms that our customer can buy from. They may watch a live TV show, visit the app or browse online. Therefore, marketing attribution can be challenging.

We use various models to attribute sales across our viewing platforms (including online and mobile), and we are currently working with a couple of external partners to see if we can really answer this question definitively. If we can do this, it will be a huge step forward in understanding our customers and how they choose to interact with us.

What tools or technology are you currently using to make the most of your customer’s data? And how have they benefitted your insight strategy?

We’re beginning to experiment with both R and Tableau, and are having great results with both; the judgment comes in knowing when to stop, as they’re both such great tools and you can generate so much from them.

Tableau in particular is a huge step forward in data visualisation; we’ve all had that experience of struggling to ‘sell’ analytics results to a non-insight audience and Tableau just makes that whole process so much easier.

Is there a technology you’re looking for to further optimise your insight strategy, but have yet to find? Where is there still a gap in the market?

Bringing qualitative and quantitative analysis together is always a challenge. Tools like Wordle can really help, and I’ve already mentioned Tableau.

Incorporating social media into our analysis is a challenging one as it’s a very polarising medium so gauging real customer sentiment from it is difficult. And we then need to think about the relationship between likes, sharing, etc. and brand loyalty, affinity and ultimately purchase.

What has been your key learning throughout your career within customer insight that you can share with customer experience leaders that are nearer the start of this journey?

The thing that I remember finding so revelatory at the start of my career, and this continues even now, is how small our own social circles are. You get research or analysis back, look at the results, and often your first thought is, ‘Really? But I don’t do that and nor does anyone I know’.

And this is where research and analysis really comes into its own. It shows you how your customer is behaving and facilitates evidence based recommendations and decisions. It really lets you get to know your customers and respond well to their needs, wants and aspirations. Trust the research!

This interview first appeared in The Big Book of Customer Insight, Data & Analytics. Click on the banner below to download your complimentary copy of the full report.