Regular followers of this blog know that I have quite a history with Tesco. From predicting Philp Clarke’s demise, taking the company to court (and winning), meeting Dave Lewis the group CEO and his executive team, continuing to criticise various initiatives such as fake farms and interviewing Dave Lewis (Group CEO and Matt Davies (UK CEO) in a filmed exclusive last year.
So, not being one to miss an opportunity, when Alessandra Bellini joined Tesco on 1 March 2017 to become their Chief Customer Officer I requested an interview!
Alessandra Bellini is the new Chief Customer Officer at Tesco, reporting to Dave Lewis, and putting the customer at the heart of everything that Tesco does.
Prior to joining Tesco, Alessandra worked at Unilever for over 20 years, latterly as the Vice President for the Food Category in North America and Food General Manager for the USA. She has a track record in growing global and local brands as well as a passion for developing her people. An international executive, Italian-born, Alessandra has held executive-level roles in markets including Italy and Central and Eastern Europe. (Tesco press release).
Alessandra is responsible for everything customer related and believes that it a fantastic opportunity to work for a company with 460,000 employees. She is very pleasant and personable and I’m not sure whether she thought I’d give her a hard grilling or not! To be fair, she’s only been there a little over two months, so I wasn’t too mean!
What does she want to achieve?
I ask her what she wants to achieve in the first, third and fifth years of her role (bearing in mind that her predecessors have never lasted more than a couple of years!) Alessandra says that she’s not letting me know the specific targets for every day, next month or years, but she will be focussing on building the Tesco brand so that it becomes strong again as it used to be. It’s important to her to regain customers’ trust with a sustainable vision for the long term. That’s the headline. She is quite clear that it’s not a finite process to serve customers better. She wants to continue to talk to customers and listen to those who care, like me, she adds! Oh good, I think, another Tesco person to whom I can complain! 🙂
What are her biggest challenges?
She is quite candid explaining that she feels she has two very different ones. Firstly an internal one, a steep learning curve to understand the current issues, while at the same time looking towards the future. Secondly, the biggest external one is regaining customers’ trust. She feels that Tesco has started this process strongly, the recent results presentation shows that the Tesco brand is the most improved in the last year and that quality has improved.
Alessandra talks about how Tesco is simplifying offers and price and continues to do so more and more regularly. She acknowledges that the path is not smooth and that she has a long journey in front of her but that she tries to read comments from customers on a daily basis as part of gaining ideas.
Her main priority is to earn trust. “I would like to earn trust, being honest in activities and communications with customers. The challenge is to do this in an interesting and engaging way with them. It’s super important to listen to new ideas which is a challenge for any company, particularly ours, given its size”.
It is of course Dave Lewis’ mantra, to listen (after all, before he even started he told me to keep complaining as it was the only way they would improve!) and for Tesco to behave its way better, so it comes as no surprise that he has chosen someone for this role who echoes his aspirations for the company.
Are big changes coming too quickly for customers?
It has been reported that Dave Lewis has made, and continues to make, a lot of cuts which affect the customer, such as stacking shelves in the evening rather than overnight, and cuts to some 24 hour stores. Customers have reported to me that they have found some changes annoying, for example one cited changes to home delivery in her area. I asked Alessandra how she thought these changes will affect customers’ perception of Tesco service and convenience?
She starts by saying that Matt Davies, UK CEO is more informed to answer this question! But says that everything they do is with customers in mind to simplify the trip. There are lots of changes to try and simplify things and to be able to focus on customers more, with better support for staff to help everyone through new systems. She tries to assure me that the changes have been shown to make improvements and that they take a view then learn and are always learning. She is excited by a company this size, decisively listening and learning new ways.
There are, of course, cuts in some areas and whether they are all driven by improvements for the customer remains to be seen and perhaps I’ll have to challenge Matt Davies a little more?!
As Alessandra is adamant that she is all about making changes and improvements for the customer, I ask her if there has been anything specific in which she has been involved? She tells me that she worked on the finishing touches of the Tesco health campaign Helpful Little Swaps. This includes the reformulation of their own brand, offering fruit and healthy alternatives, as well as free blood pressure and cholesterol tests. The little steps are apparently coming from observing colleagues and customers. There’s still more to come and more work to be undertaken to make it more visible. (I have already fed back that if Tesco wants to show me healthier alternatives to my usual choices, it needs to be better for online shopping. I want to be able to click on my items and say “show me a better alternative”. Watch this space, particularly as Alessandra insists that Tesco will be ensuring that healthier alternatives will not be more expensive).
She is particularly proud of the basket comparison of products and their healthier alternatives and urges me to go into store and look.
Of particular interest to me though is that she touched upon assisting people with disabilities, improving accessible toilets and recognising that not all disabilities are visible. (Interesting comment on that Tesco post showing there’s a long way to go). I return to disabilities later in the interview.
When I interviewed Dave last autumn I gave him a complaint/question from my Mum! Living on her own she doesn’t want to buy a huge bag of oranges, she wants to buy just a few, so why can’t she? Now, Dave answered that he wanted to work towards customers feeling empowered to do things like open up a bag of oranges and buy one when no single ones available. So! Has this happened I ask?
Alessandra agrees with my Mum. Clearly Alessandra is a sensible woman! She explains that they are working with store managers to accommodate customers. For example in convenience and express stores people are able to buy one apple or a loose banana as they walk to work etc. and that it is less likely in bigger stores because they are more for family shops. But, I argue, the bigger the number of customers overall the more single people will be shopping there too! They still need to do their weekly shop, they just don’t need loads of oranges! She agrees and insists that they are leaving it to local store managers to do what is right for their customers.
It looks like they have moved away from empowering customers to feel comfortable in breaking a bag of fruit when single ones aren’t available and empowering store managers instead. And I have to say my Mum is still complaining that she has to buy a big bag of potatoes for roasting/mashing and that vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli (often pointlessly packaged) are too big. So, more work needed in this area, thank you. Tesco may need to do more to try to get feedback from customers who don’t usually interact with them. That’s always a challenge and I don’t think many companies understand that. I do, a lot.
Improving accessibility for people with disabilities
Having already touched upon this area, I was keen to find out more and ask what Tesco currently does to ensure access to all services for everyone, including those with disabilities and what Tesco is going to do to improve in this area?
Alessandra is keen to tell me that she believes every customer has the right to shop with Tesco. Tesco is working in partnership with a disability organisation and forum in improving aspects of the shopping experience and becoming smarter. For example, it is currently experimenting with special trolleys for disabled children and has already been running the quiet shop times for children with autism and is now developing slow lanes for people with dementia. Visual Impairment Audio Mapping – Tesco is trialling in Reading Extra (in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs) this month, the second phase of audio mapping in stores, where customers who have a severe visual impairment will be able to “listen” their way round the stores. The trial works like google maps on an audio basis where the stores and products are mapped and customers can be guided round the shop by it, allowing for greater independence. An industry first so will be interesting to see who it develops. Stories are coming from colleagues but she is aware that they need to do more and be better with sensitivity in this area.
Those BOGOFs and other “special” offers
I show Alessandra a screenshot:
Whilst a lot of BOGOF items have gone, here’s an example of something that’s still confusing: Which is cheaper? Cathedral City Lighter at £2.00 for 350g (£5.72/kg) or Tesco Lighter at £2.00 for 250g (£8.00/kg) when the “two for £3.00” option is used the price per kg is not given on the shelf. So the maths to work out which is cheaper is to divide price by weight in kg to get price per kg. So, using normal prices:
£2.00/0.350 gives £5.72/kg (Cathedral City) and £2.00/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £8.00/kg. Using the “special offer”: Two for £3.00 means the price for one is £1.50 So: £1.50/0.350 (Cathedral City) gives £4.29/kg or £1.50/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £6.00/kg. That’s what you want to be doing when out shopping, huh?
Alessandra points out that BOGOF offers have been reduced by 24%. But this particular offer is an example of where one has to stand there at the aisle and work out what is the cheapest. Alessandra explains that the Cathedral will be cheaper but I’m not sure if she sees my point. Some people’s maths might not be as good or as speedy as hers and for most of us time is of the essence. She does, however, concur that there is more work to do here to make sure these kind of offers are made more understandable. There are also offers that suppliers make which they have to go with sometimes but I am assured that Tesco continues to work on more honest pricing.
The interview comes to an end as we’ve run over time. It’s a pity as me being me I had more questions and well, I know my Mum would have wanted me to challenge a bit more, if nothing else! Another time, another time!