DSW Evolves Its Customer Strategy


Kelly Cook, vice president of customer strategy and engagement at DSW Shoe Warehouse,has spent 15 years in customer service and marketing. In April she joined DSW Shoe Warehouseto take on a new challenge-to evolve its marketing strategy from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more targeted program. Here she talks about her new role.

At DSW you are responsible for marketing and database analytics, customer operations and service, CRM, loyalty, and experience marketing. You have a lot of responsibilities. Which do you find to be the most challenging and why?
I was brought on to evolve our marketing strategy. We were really strong in mass media-a-one-size-fits-all approach. DSW had a need to evolve that strategy into more of a precision marketing approach to create more relevancy across all touchpoints. We want to elevate our customer experience to an emotional attachment to customers. We have over 10 million customers who are active. Eighty-five percent of company sales come from these customers. We have seen few companies have this kind of penetration.

[Penetration] comes from a couple things: our value proposition in the marketing and we got a great store experience. You don't have to wait for shoes to be brought to youwe have irresistible value. If you want a great clearance items for $15 or $20 we've got that. If you want the latest shoes on the runway we have that as wellthat's DSW's sweet spot. All of those things combined make us a very powerful force with customers. They are already emotional about the shoes and we provide them a way to exercise their passion for our shoes. When you look at Twitter and our focus groups, customers call us "shoe heaven." The challenge is we have to be big and act small. We have to be personal and relevant to each customer. You don't want to paint all customers with the same brush.

You started at DSW earlier this year. Can you describe any customer-related initiatives that you started during your first few months?
The first couple things I did were that I wanted to thoroughly understand what the customers currently love about us and what we could improve. We tap into all the research data available to us. It's important now more than ever to start with that point of view, which is directly from the customers' perspective. In addition, we have to be nimble and open enough to react.

The second thing I did was to understand what the customers wanted by looking internally at the point of view of our employees. It was being in the stores, being close to customers, and mainly listening to the front line.

How do you plan to grow DSW's customer strategy?
We want to beas efficient as possible with our spending, eliminating unnecessary marketing spend. The second thing is we want to get it right if something goes wrong with the customer. We don't want to be promotional; we want to be experiential. It's not about $20 off. "By the way, you waited on hold too long in the call center, here's $5 for your next order." It's very meaningful for customers, as well as valuable, and shows we value them as more than a transaction. The third thing is, we want to make it a consistent experience across channels. We want to treat them as one customer.

Early in your career you worked as a call center manager for Continental Airlines. What from that experience did you bring to this job?
Three things: understanding, patience, and being proactive. One of the things is I worked as a call center rep for a month to understand the duties. We're all consumers and we all buy things and there are things that our customers don't like and we don't like ourselves. As a call center manger it's easy to skip the labor and go right to the baby. It's really important to understand what caused that problem. We really want to understand what's driving the issue and how we can correct that to grow the business. With patience, you want to understand what the real problem isit takes time and resources. All the time you're answering calls every day so you have to live with a patient and deliberate attitude to get the problem solved. And be proactive. If there's a way that you can identify ahead of time before somebody calls the contact center, you get kudos a hundred-fold for doing that.

You recently started "Free Shoes Friday" on Twitter. How is that going and how important is social media to the customer strategy?
We're being slow, deliberate, and cautious. We launched Twitter last month and a week later started "Free Shoes Friday." We find that our customer profitability is multichannel so we want to drive them to our site. Our customers started to ask friends and family to follow. The social media space is an emotional and fun part of what we do, but we want to make sure it's brand appropriate and creates the connection to us that we desire.

What trends do you see coming for 2010 in marketing?
I see three trends. The first is that the days of one-size-fits-all marketing is over. You will clearly see in 2010 an imperative to treat different people differently. The second is that authenticity is the key. When you look at things like social media, it's not formal. It's much more relaxed because people are texting and emailing more. We have to make sure we carry a brand-appropriate voice of the customer across all communications. The third is passion marketing. I see a trend of companies more and more going toward an understanding to find out how many customer evangelists and fans they have. Those guys demonstrate the emotional connection with the brand and stick with you through thick and thin and it's important for us to follow them and keep them engaged. They become the marketing department everywhere. Having a customer recommend you to someone else is the best compliment they can give you.