Imagine this scenario: you have just joined a major retail brand in a brand new role with the goal of leading a digital transformation across the business. The retailer has 950 stores, 771 store visits per minute and 42,000 employees; makes more than 13,600 deliveries per day; and receives 22 website visits per second.

Where do you begin?

This was the challenge that faced Saul Lopes when he joined Dixons Carphone in the newly-created role of Head of Customer Relationship Management and Customer Experience in December 2018.

At Day Two of the Festival of Marketing 2019, he told attendees how the brand shifted its focus from a trading-centric strategy to a customer-centric one; why digital transformation should start with people and not technology; and why it’s impossible to start a major transformation with a major transformation.

From endless discounts to a new brand vision

Prior to its digital transformation, Dixons Carphone was falling into the same trap as a lot of retailers: endless discounts. The brand was mounting money-off campaign after money-off campaign, but they also knew it couldn’t last – it was eroding their margins and wasn’t forming long-term customer relationships.

In May 2018, the brand created a Chief Customer function, headed up by Antreas Athanassopoulo, formerly the Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Dixons Carphone South East Europe. The new function aligned IT, marketing and analytics: “all focusing solely on the customer”, in Lopes’ words.

Dixons Carphone also set about creating a new brand vision, which Lopes summed up as, “We help everyone enjoy amazing technology”.

“Anyone can sell you a cheap TV,” he explained. “But not everyone can tell you that if you buy a steam washer-dryer, you’ll never have to iron clothes again.”

Dixons Carphone realised that all of the appliances and devices that it sells impact the lives of consumers – so the brand re-oriented its strategy around helping people understand exactly how best to use them.

Getting buy-in for digital transformation

Perhaps slightly ironically for a technology company, Lopes deliberately avoided focusing too heavily on technology when it came to Dixons Carphone’s digital transformation.

A focus on technology, he said, inevitably leads to “hours spent in meetings haranguing over tools” – and whatever tool you buy, you’ll end up trying to apply your current business processes to it instead of getting the most out of what it can do. “The way I always start is to focus on people,” he explained.

Lopes knew that he already had the right people with the right skillsets to carry out digital transformation – what he lacked was support from the company. So, how can you go about getting buy-in on digital transformation from the highest levels of an organisation? The key is to start small.

“Never start a major transformation with a major transformation,” said Lopes. In other words, you can’t join an organisation and expect people to invest millions into your initiative right away – you need them to trust you and trust that your department can deliver.

His advice on how to achieve this was to start with ‘quick wins’ that can be implemented without needing to make major changes to the business infrastructure. For Dixons Carphone, these wins came from implementing two new tools: Phrasee, a tool that uses AI to generate the best-performing email subject lines, and Movable Ink, which enabled them to optimise processes and improve personalisation and content automation.

Using Phrasee across the business resulted in a 17% increase in email click-through rates, while Movable Ink saved time and freed up creative resource.

Lopes also carried out “stakeholder quick wins”, implementing new supplier-funded applications with the Chief Commercial Officer, new voucher functionality with the Head of Digital, and a new contact strategy for major sales periods with the Head of Trading. This helped to further prove the value of the team and its initiatives to members of the C-suite.

Saul Lopes stands on the Digital Transformation stage at the Festival of Marketing 2019

Finding a champion for change

As most of our readers will no doubt have experienced, people can be both a hindrance to and a help with digital transformation. The biggest barrier that you face with people, Lopes said, is “I’m too busy”. People are always too busy spending all their time on those “horrible processes” that you want to improve to find time to improve them.

Lopes emphasised the importance of separating BAU (business as usual) from innovating – no matter how difficult that might be. “BAU takes over everything that you want to do, but you have to be strict with it.”

To tackle this, Lopes looked at exactly how his team were spending their time and worked out how to free it up. This involved solutions like introducing a new CMS for email to save the team from coding email from scratch, using Workfront for online briefings instead of sending emails back and forth, and hiring two additional analysts to support the lone analyst in the company.

Change didn’t happen overnight, but within a large workforce, there will always be someone who wants to lead change and is willing to champion it within their own team. Lopes’ advice: to find that champion.

Transform in stages

Lopes admitted that Dixons Carphone still has a long way to go with its digital transformation strategy, but that everything the team had implemented so far was changing the way that people thought about the brand.

“Through these small little steps, we’re changing the culture throughout the business,” he said.

He also acknowledged the importance of the brand’s agencies and technology partners to its success. The brand will celebrate successes with its partners and, in monthly meetings, ask for their help in solving business problems. “People don’t often celebrate success with their agencies, or worry about their employee engagement,” said Lopes. “But for me, they’re an extension of our team.”

He advised attendees to always carry out digital transformation in stages rather than attempting to tackle too much at once. Much like Owain Davies, Lead Product Owner at NHS Digital, who spoke on the digital transformation stage the previous day, his advice was to start with the little things – and ensure you get the basics right before moving on to bigger projects.

He acknowledged that in retail, it can very difficult to fight “trading culture” – i.e. a focus on sales and the bottom line. His advice for companies who want to go from a trading-driven approach to a customer-centric approach is to “work in tiny bits” – rather than trying to change the entire culture of the business overnight.

“Start small, and just get it done,” Lopes advised.

Digital Transformation Monthly