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Impact - A Blog by INM

How Customer Experience aligns with eBusiness at the SAQ

October 20, 2016 by Vahe Kassardjian
How Customer Experience aligns with eBusiness at the SAQ

Last Friday, Jacques Farcy, VP Marketing and Merchandising at the SAQ, was the guest speaker at APCM. A veteran of B2C marketing, Jacques joined the SAQ in 2015. On Friday, he very eloquently shared his 15-or-so months of tenure through solid ideas and precise vocabulary. His talk was like a breath of fresh air in a world addicted to pseudo-brofound bullshit.

The SAQ is the liquor board in Quebec and thus a state monopoly. It was founded in 1921 during the US Prohibition to ensure the responsible trade of alcoholic beverages within the province of Quebec. It has since become a retail chain. Contrary to what one would expect, the SAQ does not treat its customers in a command-and-control fashion. Instead, it makes every effort to understand them across multiple touch points in order to meet THEIR expectations, not ones based on "a pre-canned strategy".

Advanced technologies are in place for customers and advisors to use in context for relevant interactions in an industry where, by far, advisors have the upper hand on asymmetric information.

At the SAQ, customer experience is defined as a timeline of mutual commitments between customers and advisors, both online and offline. The SAQ understands that its main challenge is NOT to first identify a product and then determine an experience to sell it. Instead, it centers the experience on the customer and subsequently addresses transactional issues. This redefinition of eCommerce as Customer Experience FOLLOWED by Logistics instead of Customer Experience SUBORDINATED to Logistics is crucial to the SAQ's approach. It is also inevitable in the sale of Long Tail products, ones that cannot be efficiently predicted and delivered to target stores in anticipation of a potential need.

In just under one year of adopting this approach (including the launch of its Inspire program), the SAQ was able to open a dialogue with over 2 million households (i.e. 1/3 of the Quebec population aged 18+). Today, over 60% of sales can be traced back to their customers. Every action taken by the SAQ is perceived as more relevant and more responsible by the public. Newsletter open rates have more than doubled to 40%, proving that customers find it useful and relevant. And the trend continues.

My three takeaways from this presentation are:

1) Customers take the time to visit stores to engage with products and advisors, not electronic gadgets (kiosks or iPads). In-store technology is meant as a support to human-human interactions, not as a replacement.

2) Good advisors are often passionate about their products, and thus have personal preferences. Excellent advisors however, provide advice that meet their customers preferences. Therefore, better knowledge of these preferences through data collection is key to improving the customer-advisor relation.

3) A significant challenge at the SAQ is to adopt the new tools and culture rapidly. An organization that suffers difficulties proceeds more naturally to its own creative destruction than a successful one. At the SAQ, change may be perceived as less urgent by some people, thus the added challenges that come with change management. 

I also came out of the presentation energized by the fact that great ideas that we (as an industry) have been promoting in the last many years are actually being implemented in real life in Quebec. It was very invigorating.


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