Robert Pearson knows that true competitive advantage occurs through the customer experience, not products or advertising. Pearson is vice president of e-commerce at electronics retailer Future Shop, a subsidiary of Best Buy Canada and Canada's largest retailer of consumer electronics and computers. With both physical stores and an online presence, Pearson's goal is to provide a personal customer experience no matter how a customer interacts with the brand.
"The way the brand represents itself is through product experts," Pearson says. "When you walk into a store, you're greeted by an expert who helps you with any questions or purchase decisions." His mandate is to replicate that personal in-store experience online and ensure that each customer is served by a product expert. Customers visiting Futureshop.com are greeted by a product expert avatar named "Aaron." Customers can ask a question and Aaron will give answers and guidance.
Extending its online reach even more, Pearson oversees the company's online community, a network of 75,000 customers, employees, technology enthusiasts, vendors, and product experts who share insight. People can post questions about products, services, or usage to be answered by anyone in the community. "They can rely on advice around the purchase of an item, before and after," he says.
The online community is one area that Pearson relies on to create a continuous feedback loop to improve the customer experience. "We leverage insight to all areas of the company," he says, including buyers, merchants, marketing, and operations. Combined with customer surveys and feedback from the sales floor, the company gains an understanding of how it can better serve the customers' needs. "The online community is a very rich tool for accomplishing that," he adds. For example, customers posted complaints to the community message board about the user interface on a Future Shop private label television. The product manager took the information back to the engineers in China where it was built, and the engineers acted on the feedback to make the interface easier to use.
"What I'm an advocate of is to look at the business from a customer perspective," Pearson says. "I stop myself continuously, take myself out of my role, and force myself to look at our activities from a customer perspective. And I coach and train my team to do likewise. It really makes you look at things differently."