home Customer Experience, Digital Serving a community in crisis

Serving a community in crisis

Two years ago, the Salvos Stores embarked upon their customer experience journey by deciding to put their customers and the communities they serve at the heart of everything they do. As a result, when COVID struck, they were well prepared to cope and adapt.

Salvos Stores maintain 330 retail outlets across Australia, selling pre-owned clothing, furniture and household goods. The profits from purchases go to support the community and charitable programs managed by the Salvation Army.

The organisation started on its CX journey a couple of years ago. Edwina Morgan, general manager, customer and strategy, highlights, “Over past two  years we have gone  on a journey, putting our customers and the communities we serve at the heart of everything we do. To support this we have put together a team of diverse capabilities that  work to deliver a holistic customer experience.”

“Two years ago we went on quite a journey where we made the decision to put our customers and the communities we serve at the heart of everything we do…”

During a joint presentation held on 6th October 2020 as part of CX Day, Edwina Morgan (General Manager, Customer & Strategy) and Aife O’Loughlin (Customer Experience Manager) gave an overview of the strategies implemented by Salvos Stores to ensure the continued operation of the organisation while safeguarding the well being of its customers, employees and community.

The organisation’s customers not only includes those who come into the stores and purchase something. It also includes the donors that donate the goods and items, the volunteers who devote their time and the internal team members who work for the organisation as well as other teams who work for the Salvation Army.

The team

Morgan comments, “At that point we created a Custoemr & Strategy team which is quite a diverse and unique team. We have included capabilities such as IT, which traditionally sits within operations. We also integrated communications, call centres, merchandising and purchasing. So, it’s a team with quite a broad yet integrated set of capabilities which really gave us the ability to look after the whole customer journey from start to finish.”

Having such a strong team with a broad set of skills, expertise and capabilities also helped the Salvos Stores navigate the issues it faced surrounding COVID. “It’s given us a really strong foundation to ensure that we actually implemented the things that we needed to over the past few months and it really supported both our customers’ experience as well as our team through this time.”

Proactive communication with customers

When lockdown and social distance measures for COVID took place in April one of the immediate effects for the Salvos Stores was the disengagement of around 10,000 volunteers. Critical to their success in coping with the pandemic and helping their customers through it, was having a very proactive communication strategy.

Aife O’Loughlin, customer experience manager for the Salvos Stores, reflects, “We had a challenging couple of months as we had to come to terms with COVID and figure out what we had to do for our team, our customers and our donors to keep them safe through the pandemic. And how do we do this while still supporting the mission of the organisation as stores closed, opening hours were reduced, and with less volunteers available to help.”

Many customers do not shop with the Salvos because they might find a bargain or something unique, they shop there because of the community aspects that they find within the stores. “Our team members know their regular customers. They have great conversations with them on a regular basis. For us it was about how do we keep that team and our community connected. We found it was really important to keep our customers informed and take them on the journey; telling them what we were doing to keep them and our team members safe while they shopped in our retail space.” 

The organisation made extensive us of social media to communicate with customers, building an extensive online community via a Facebook group. O’Loughlin states, “We used that Facebook group to tell our customers, before we told anyone else, what we were doing, what was happening, what we were changing and what we were launching over that time. We also created content directly for that group focused on health and wellbeing. Every Friday we had a regular check in via Facebook live with one of our chaplains, so that our community had somebody to talk to.”

Digitally enabled shopping experiences

Prior to the pandemic, the Salvos had the objective of developing channels that allowed customers to interact and shop without having to come into a physical store. The advent of COVID 19 prompted the Salvos to ramp up their digital investment and develop the online shopping experience of their customers.

The Salvos were able to pivot their operations and logistics from supporting the retail outlets to handling greater volumes of ecommerce transactions. Almost overnight, one hundred retail outlets essentially became fulfillment centres. Morgan comments, “During the COVID pandemic, we’ve built the largest second hand online store in Australia. Over the last couple of months we’ve had over 700,000 unique visitors to our website. It’s been super successful for us and enabled us to provide a great shopping experience for our customers.”

“We’re currently in the stage of upgrading our website so it can be more dynamic, having a faster load time for our customers, giving them an exceptional customer experience.  It’s also about making our products and services accessible to Australians everywhere. Via our website and online presence, we can now reach people who are not located near a physical outlet”.

Looking after everyone’s safety and wellbeing

The number one priority during COVID for the Salvos, has been everybody’s safety. O’Loughlin comments, “We take the safety of our people and our customers really, really seriously. Like other retailers you’ll see stickers and posters in our stores informing customers of what is required when they come in and shop with us. Some of the additional measures we had to take, as a not-for-profit retailer and as a secondhand seller is quarantining our products.”

“When we receive donations into our stores they need to go into quarantine for a period of time before they can go on sale within our store network. That’s had a huge operational impact on us”.

Staying connected with customers and our people

All-in-all, not only have the Salvos stayed connected with their customers and the communities they serve, they have managed to improve the experiences and level of engagement customers and team members have with the organisation. They did this while ensuring the safety, health and well being of everyone who worked, donated, volunteered or shopped at their retail outlets.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.