Meet Simon Maizels, the CIO of Harris Farm Markets, a forty-year old fresh food retailer - reminiscent of Whole Foods - and privately owned and operated by the Harris Family. As a company, their core value and belief is that Australian families should have the freshest and best food available to them. Home to over 1,000 employees, Harris Farm has twenty-five retail locations, a thriving wholesale business, a growing eCommerce channel and services over 11,000,000 customers every year.
Simon’s LinkedIn profile sums up his passions in the first three sentences: “I love food. I love data. And I love retail”. His passion for all three bubbles up to the surface anytime you ask him to talk about the brand. The first time I spoke to Simon he schooled me on the operational implications of operating a fresh food retailer on a continent the size of the United States with roughly 5% of the population. Sparsely populated, with the biggest concentrations on the coast, it’s expensive to set-up a distribution network in Australia. While their online business is growing, offering delivery services has its logistical challenges. And like many retailers, they’re competing against bigger competitors who have the economies of scale that allow them to offer lower prices. But where Harris Farm may not be able to compete on price, they differentiate through their incessant focus on their customer.
What’s top of mind for Simon? Creating a “wow” customer experience
“For us, it’s about putting the customer first and building the best possible customer experience. We’re really focused on understanding more about our customers’ shopping habits and building experiences leveraging all channels (social, mobile, email, in-store) to create a ‘wow’ experience.”
For quick reference here are the list of questions I asked Simon:
- What’s your approach to defining a “wow” experience?
- What do you think it takes to create a culture of innovation?
- Marketers are many times more risk takers, whereas IT fundamentally has to be about reliability, stability and security. It’s really as if the two are at odds. What are your thoughts?
- Where does your master data reside?
- It isn’t about a single customer database but rather integration?
- As the CIO of Harris Farm, what it top of mind today? What are the top initiatives for 2015 and beyond?
- You have your “Friends of the Farm” email marketing program but do you have any type of loyalty card that allows you to keep track of a customer’s in-store purchases?
- Are you developing a mobile app?
- What’s the role of the CMO and CIO at Harris Farm?
- What are core technologies that enable you to create such a customer-centric business?
- What was your evaluation process for AgilOne?
- When it comes to cloud technologies, how much does cloud versus on-premise really play a role?
- How are you using predictive marketing?
- Can you give me some examples of campaigns that you’ve run?
What’s your approach to defining a “wow” experience?
For me, it’s about truly building a unique experience. At Harris Farm, we’re looking for things that aren’t necessarily food but any kind of retail or sensory experience that we can make our own. We want to find something cool that nobody has done before.
What do you think it takes to create a culture of innovation?
Creating a culture of innovation is really about getting the right balance between traditional and new world and actually having the right people, with the right team and the right values to create it.
It’s very difficult to find the right mix of skills to accomplish this, especially in the sort of business we’re in where you need to have a deep understanding of technology but also of business. Retail is one of the toughest businesses there is and I think Harris Farm has done really well with that.
Marketers are many times more risk takers, whereas IT fundamentally has to be about reliability, stability and security. It’s really as if the two are at odds. What are your thoughts?
When asking, how can IT be flexible or take the risks that marketing can, I believe that as long as you have really good control over your master data, you’ve got the flexibility to plug in another cloud-based application that deals with a new piece of your business or adds functionality. As long as it doesn’t destroy a customer relationship or impact the integrity of your brand you can actually try things quite easily now, compared to how it used to be where it would take an awful long time to do a system commissioning and integration and then getting it working. We can actually plug something in and give it a go within a couple of weeks and see if it works. There’s no way you could have done that before. If you have a good API programmer behind you and a bit of vision into how this is actually going to work in real life it’s incredible what you can achieve. I love it.
So you’re saying as long as you’ve got your master data, it doesn’t matter. Where does your master data reside?
It’s not like we have a single system of record for everything. There is a system of record for each particular entity. AgilOne is almost like an end-point where we collect that data, apply predictive analytics and then use it to feed data into other systems.
So it isn’t about a single customer database but rather integration?
That’s right. When we decided to focus on improving our customer engagement programs we moved from an agency hosted platform to Mailchimp then ExactTarget and then added AgilOne for the predictive analytics.
As the CIO of Harris Farms, what is top of mind today? What are the top initiatives for 2015 and beyond?
We want to put a customer advocacy program in place, which historically might have been a loyalty program. We really want to find our customers who are our biggest advocates and grow that relationship. For us, that means understanding them better using analytical tools like AgilOne to really personalize that shopping experience and add value where it’s appropriate. Whether it’s through email marketing or an in-store experience, we want to actually give them some inspiration and education, a way of making them feel like part of the Harris Farm family, so they can share their experience.
If we give them a bit of inspiration to cook a good piece of meat or try a different recipe, hopefully they’re sharing that not only to us but also to a community of people who think similarly. The advocacy program won’t be one thing, it will be a collection of things to make sure it’s personal to the people we want to engage the most and who want to engage with us. The advocacy program covers a lot of what we’re going to do because part of it is building in-store experiences that are “wow” for our customers. It’s taking that engagement from in-store to online or even to home as they cook the food for their families or friends. So the experience we build off the back of that is really gathering data around people’s shopping habits and using all the channels available to us.
You have your “Friends of the Farm” email marketing program but do you have any type of loyalty card that allows you to keep track of a customer’s in-store purchases?
That’s part of what this customer advocacy program will embrace, because currently we have little way of identifying people at any touch-point they have with Harris Farm in-store. I could do a physical card if people really wanted, but really it’s mobile-first. Just making sure people can use their mobile phones as much as they can to interact with us. I’d love to have the ability to have the equivalent of the loyalty card on the phone. It doesn’t have to be a card. It could be NFC and possibly a payment system as well. Imagine if you didn’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket to finish your transaction. It’s just the thing that allows you pay for your shopping and walk out.
Are you developing a mobile app?
We’re toying with the idea, but we’re not committed to it. But we’ve got some ideas on how an app doesn’t have to be something a customer has to serach for on their phone and open, but rather uses location aware technology that can push you more information when you’re shopping. For example, when you walk into the store you might have your recent purchases on your phone and we show you which of them are on special and maybe attach recipes to them.
What’s the role of the CMO and CIO at Harris Farms?
The CMO’s title at Harris Farm is Director of Customer Experience and Marketing and is a position held by Martin Walters. Between Martin and myself, we've got responsibility for our Customer Advocacy Program. When it comes to the creative and promotional side, Martin is king. When it comes to the digital realization of that and trying to get the platforms and some of the innovation in place, then that comes down to myself.
What are core technologies that enable you to create such a customer-centric business?
Number one is really understanding the business need and making sure the business understands their need as well. Take what your perceived business requirement is, and sanity check it against the rest of the world. Make sure you have an understanding of best practices and what could be possible. And really just saying okay, now with that in mind, what's the right technology fit?
The bit that I think a lot of the times people miss is the human aspect, making sure you involve the business people all the way through and also thinking through the process of change management. Ask yourself, how is this decision going to impact this organization? Everything we do has to be holistic and we have to understand the overall impact on the organization.
What was your evaluation process for AgilOne?
Really the number one thing we were looking for was the email platform more than anything else. But going through that email selection process we had a good agency that we started to engage with. They guided us through a selection process for email, but then AgilOne came through as sort of a mover and a shaker in the predictive analytics space.
It gives us a great mix in having a really good email platform with a lot of programmatic capability to be able to run some innovative campaigns, and also having a predictive analytics platform such as AgilOne. The clustering alone is something I've done before with top-tier consulting companies that would've cost millions at the time and is now a lot cheaper…like orders of magnitude cheaper.
And when it comes to the cloud technologies, how much does cloud versus on premise really play a role?
The only thing I've been keen on keeping on premise so far is our ERP system because it runs our warehouse. I want that to have no chance of failure. But everything else, I’d rather go cloud first.
Everything is moving that way and even our next generation of in store Point-of-sale will have a cloud hosted back office. I'm very keen to take the administrative overhead away, so whether that's the service of the upgrades or any kind of provisioning. There are other people that know that better and do that better than us. So why would I think that I could do that better than they can?
How are you using predictive marketing?
We’ve really been able to analyze and understand our customers’ key buying behaviors and product preferences. We’re now able to see how new product lines are performing and which lines should be retired. We can go into a supplier meeting with an informed position and data to back us up to ensure we get the right stock on our shelves for our customers.
We never had a real view of the customer before, but now we can segment and cluster data about our customers by store, by similar browsing behavior, favorite day of the week, basket composition, category penetration, you name it. And we can use AgilOne to not only understand our customer base better but to also deliver timely and relevant communication to strengthen the customer experience.
Can you give me some examples of campaigns that you’ve run?
First, we used AgilOne to cleanse our data and give us a true omni-channel view of customers and staff. What we want to launch next is to track each individual customer and how they shop, and when the frequency of how often or how much they buy drops outside of their normal threshold (let’s say 30%) we’ll send them a communication. It’s not an offer, it’s more of an informational front-of-mind communication – like a product highlight based on what they bought before –to make sure they remember that we're here.