In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Peter Cross.

Eight years in charge of the customer experience at John Lewis and Waitrose, ten more as Mary Portas’ business partner as well as time at L’Oreal and the Cartier group mean there are few who can match Peter Cross’ unique blend of consulting and practical experience and step so confidently into the future of shopping, helping brands and organisations remain irresistible to their target consumers.

Known for his charismatic, inspiring and straight-talking style, he shares trusted techniques of deepening relationships with both consumers and employees through brand purpose and authentic human connection.

Episode #226

What Customers buy is not what you are Selling with

Maria Franzoni

00:00:17 – 00:01:28

Hello. And welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host, Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we will be talking about the future of commerce. The Speaker show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global Speaker Bureau for the world’s most successful organisations providing keynote speakers for events, conferences and summits. Eight years in charge of the customer experience that John Lewis and Waitrose, 10 more as Mary Portas’, business partner, as well as time at Loreal and the Carter Group mean that there are few who can match my guests unique blend of consulting and practical experience and steps so comfortably into the future of shopping. Helping brands and organisations remain irresistible to their target consumers. Known for his charismatic, inspiring and straight talking style, he shares trusted techniques of deepening relationships with both consumers and employees through brand purpose and authentic human connection. He ensures his audiences leave with a clear sense of what the future of commerce might have in store actionable insights and a passion and determination to stand out. Please welcome my guest today. I am thrilled to have with me Peter Cross. Peter, thank you so much for joining me. How are you today?

Peter Cross

00:01:28 – 00:01:42

Maria? I’m good. My voice is a little bit croaky, as you may have heard. So it’s good that we are working from home. I don’t think I’ve got the lurky, but I’ve certainly got something a bit A bit wintry, man. Flu ish?

Maria Franzoni

00:01:42 – 00:02:04

Yeah, it’s very deep, Very deep voice today. And I have to say to you, Peter, welcome back to the speaker circuit, as I love to call it, because I loved working with you for years and years and years. And then you went off and got a job and you couldn’t speak for me anymore because you ended up working with John Lewis, didn’t you? At a very senior level. Eight years, you were off my speaker circuit. How’s it to be back?

Peter Cross

00:02:04 – 00:02:55

Um well, the feeling is mutual, Maria. I mean, you’re one of their your speaker royalty, aren’t you? In my mind, uh, but it feels it feels both exhilarating and scary in equal measures, because it’s it’s really exciting. I love the adrenaline of performance, whichever channel you’re performing on. But it’s also scary because retail moves like on the on the turn of a coin And you think, My God, it is. I must be totally redundant and irrelevant. But then you dig deep into yourself, and my work has always been around human needs and what drives people. And you realise that those needs are actually not. In fact, uh, don’t move as quickly as markets or technology, and all the stuff that drives us as human beings actually remains fairly constant.

Maria Franzoni

00:02:55 – 00:03:22

You’re absolutely right. And it’s so good that you’re not redundant or irrelevant, and you’ll never No one is ever redundant when they’re actually out in the field doing what they know and, you know, doing what their expert in. But would you say that now that you are back and speaking to clients, has anything changed? You said, obviously, the human part hasn’t changed. How do you can change in terms of sort of understanding of of customer experience and that whole area of your expertise?

Peter Cross

00:03:22 – 00:04:28

I mean, everything has changed, and nothing has changed both at the same time, which is often the way with these things as customers, we are all bathing in these invaluable epiphanies about how we want to live our lives today, Um, and We’re probably still in that sort of motion, really clear. There’s been a massive pivot into into shopping digitally, which has been accelerated by the pandemic and so on. Um, but during this period, loyalties, lifelong loyalties to brands have been tested to the limits. The role of the physical shop remains under scrutiny. It’s been under scrutiny, being honest for the last 15 years. But it is now a serious under scrutiny, and we are in equal measures, deeply dependent and deeply distrustful of digital technologies. There’s a lot going on in terms of the the real time space that brands are grappling with, let alone just making money when everything is just much, much more difficult and much, much more expensive.

Maria Franzoni

00:04:28 – 00:04:59

Well, yeah, so many good points there. The whole loyalty thing. Our loyalty has been tested absolutely, completely agree with you. Uh, and that physical shop. I mean, I remember back when you were working with Mary Portas, that Mary queen of shops and the whole you know, you’re looking at the future of the High Street and was the High Street. I mean, I imagine the High Street has got still some change to go through but that point you make that were dependent on digital and distrustful digital. I haven’t thought about it like that. But you’re so right. That’s a big problem, isn’t it? For organisations for commerce?

Peter Cross

00:04:59 – 00:06:11

It is. I mean, I think what’s what fascinates me about about customers? Is that we when brands trying to segment customers, they put us into little boxes and say, Okay, this is Maria is this time of customer and she does that. She likes shopping, that she’s got this kind of family. She lives here and so on. The truth is, as customers, we flit about 17 down today between being this kind of customer and this kind of depending on what we’re buying, whether it’s driven by value, by convenience, by consistency, by experience, how we’re feeling what it is and so on. So we move around a lot, and there’s this enormous polarisation in customers between. I want something that’s seamless and transactional, and subscription subscription base is super easy to a really deep emotional partnership with the brand. Um, and I might want different things from different brands at different times of the day, so I mean all that to say it is really complicated, But if your starting point is people and their needs as opposed to what you’re selling, because I’ve always said Maria, what you’re selling isn’t necessarily what people are buying. Then at least you serve your you’re in the game.

Maria Franzoni

00:06:11 – 00:06:43

Okay, so it’s the people we’ve got to focus more. And by the way you described me exactly, I flipped through 17 personalities every hour. So and I am different with different things and different products that I’m buying. I am also incredibly influenced, I have to say by that relationship. I mean, I spent a fortune last week. I’m not going to share what I bought because I was treated so incredibly well. I spent more than twice what I intended to spend. So that customer service thing is really important. Isn’t that customer experience part?

Peter Cross

00:06:43 – 00:08:08

It is. It’s when I, when I talk about service, is a little bit of me that suddenly feels a bit that all God, it’s not just a really old fashioned term, a bit like shop. You know, these words that we’ve sort of grown up with, but fundamentally, whether you’re eight or you’re 80 it is my belief the customer service is a is an eternal and essential differentiator in business. Um, and we were all you me Maria. All of us were very tolerant at the beginning of the pandemic around. Please bear with us. Um, we’re really sorry. In these difficult times, we’re struggling to sort of, you know, and we were very patient for 12 months. Well, actually, we’re fine to be served really badly by a lot of businesses. Um, but to be honest with you, that isn’t good enough, you know? I mean, customers serve customer complaints at their highest level since 2009. Um, and there is now a real sense of division between those companies who are just transacting with me and those companies that understand the importance of truly true service. And the likelihood is the customer experience that you had Maria was probably something really small. You know, the difference between good and bad is often just a tiny little turn of the crank. But it was a little thing that probably marked you and made you feel valued and you had listened to, and it was empathy. And you were trusted and whatever that thing was. Uh, it probably wasn’t a lot.

Maria Franzoni

00:08:09 – 00:08:25

You know. I was treated like I was the only person in the building. That’s what it was. I was given a champagne that’s now showing you exactly how much I’ve spent.

Maria Franzoni

00:08:25 – 00:08:36

I’m shocked that you say that complaints are up higher than they’ve been since 2009. I am totally shocked by that.

Peter Cross

00:08:36 – 00:10:13

Well, I think it’s I don’t know if that’s been your experience, but right. I mean, I think it’s actually there’s a whole back story of this is the customer service was almost reduced to a sort of a touch point in a CX methodology, so it became quite sort of commoditised. Um, as opposed service fundamentally comes down to people and feelings and really understanding that dynamic, whether it’s digital or or in a real shop. And I think it’s been a whole compounding of the of the pandemic, plus interminable waiting times, exasperating automated messages, chat bots that are just totally inefficient and just don’t work at all, and just send you in circles. Inability to speak to a real person. Then when you do, they’re not in power to actually fix anything being stuck in the cycle of of what I call start again, which is your starting again, and then you’re starting. Okay, uh, and there’s all of this stuff compounds, particularly in certain sectors. I mean, the, you know, the poor old GPS have gotten stuck in a lot of financial institutions. Uh, you know, there are various parts of the economy that’s just really dropped the ball, Um, and the daily of good old daily mail. Actually, they just brought back there. I think they call their wooden wooden spoon awards. They called, um, and there for a few months there for a few years. They’ve they’ve they’ve not been progressing this, but they’re basically saying we’re getting so many complaints from customers, saying I just don’t feel like the only person in the room, you know, I don’t feel anything like I don’t feel, I mean here in the room. Um, there is a sense that we need to go on top of this. So I get quite hot under the collar about service

Maria Franzoni

00:10:13 – 00:10:27

You’ve described some of my worst experiences and you also highlighted the particular industries that are getting it wrong. So basically, if you’re in that industry in that sector and you do a better job, you’re going to clean up, aren’t you?

Peter Cross

00:10:27 – 00:10:28

I think so.

Maria Franzoni

00:10:28 – 00:10:31

So why are they not doing this? Why are they not changing?

Peter Cross

00:10:31 – 00:11:39

I think it’s I think it’s a number of things. I think the in the defence of many of these sectors, the last two years have been so overwhelmingly difficult. You know, the reasons of the pandemic of resourcing, of cost of channel switch, a political reason. There’s a hell of a lot going on that makes life hard, very often barrier, which is surprising. You’ll find that in businesses is the customer is own by everybody, which often means the customer isn’t owned by anybody. So you’ve got the retail teams who are in the customer and then the customer marketing teams and the customer and the ITs. You get a load of people that feel like they are the customer, but very often no, there isn’t a single team that really can make the shots and is the voice of the customer in the business, which means the customer voice often isn’t heard. And my least favourite term is that we are a customer centric business because in reality, very few businesses actually are. Despite many most wanting to be.

Maria Franzoni

00:11:39 – 00:11:56

I love what you said there that if the customer is owned by everybody, the customer is owned by nobody. That makes absolute sense to me that really that’s a bit of an aha moment for me because I’m thinking I get that that’s so important. So who should own that customer relationship?

Peter Cross

00:11:56 – 00:13:17

I think the people that should own the customer relations with the people that are passionate about customers, uh, and they can sit where they can sit in the, you know, in the in the on the reception, if you like. But if you’re passionate about customers and genuinely care, I mean, I used to responding John Lewis to so many letters. Uh, and I used to get in trouble if there was a team that was brilliant, actually at responding to all of this, but I was just like, I’ve got so personally, you know, uh, not not a sort of fronted and worried about people thinking, My God, the service hasn’t arrived and they’re they’re stuck without their you know, their dining table for Christmas, you know, And I would just leap on it and just throw all my empathy and love into these custom things because genuinely I don’t know what it says about my psychology, but I genuinely cared. So wherever they sit in the organisation, uh, and they should be with customers, that’s the one real red line for me. So just sitting in an office and never been with customers, you know, the delightful thing about well, we move through the pandemic about this pivot in how we work Maria should mean that working flexibly should mean I’m working at home. I’m working in the office and I’m working with customers rather than I’m just now working at home the whole time. And I think if that doesn’t happen in our industry, it will be a real tragedy.

Maria Franzoni

00:13:17 – 00:13:34

Okay, that’s interesting. So one of the things that you’ve said it already, you’re passionate about humans about people, and we focus on the customer. But you relate that whole customer experience to also the employee experience. Can you explain that to me, please. How how those two interlink?

Peter Cross

00:13:34 – 00:15:32

I do. You have heard the term CX, which is the sort of modern definition of sort of customer experience we used to call it customer service. The customer experience. The flip of the coin is X, which is employee experience. Um, and it’s not surprising because these guys are the face of the business, whether it’s a service business or shop or whatever kind of business. For many customers like you, Maria, they are the business. So you expect that these frontline staff have been infused, imbued with the very essence of this brand, You must have spent years training them. The truth is, of course, that’s not not necessarily the case. Uh, there’s there’s a startling statistic is that when you’re doing your I don’t know about you Maria because you’re obviously very champagne shopper. But when the average shopper is going shopping, 65% of the transaction has happened before you entered the shop, so you’ve already done your research and you appear to fear research and you trawl the informational network for information. You picked up a sample and you know you’ve done some Google reviews, whatever it is you’ve really done all that work for. So for me as an employee to be at your level when you enter my premises, I could I could be at least about 65%. But what you want from me, your expectation of me is that I can do more than that. Otherwise you’re gonna go back onto Google. So the expectation that we live in an expectation and economy of you as a shopper of me as a front line in place is enormous. And the other reason I’m passionate about it is that if you make me as a frontline worker, as a retail employee, a true ambassador and make me complicit in business outcomes. So I truly feel I’ve had my say and I’ve been listened to in the building of customer propositions. Whatever they are, the the chances are I’m going to care about it a little bit more. And that doesn’t happen enough at the moment either.

Maria Franzoni

00:15:32 – 00:15:48

That makes perfect sense to me. In the introduction, we said that you’re a bit of a straight talker. Um so when you go to speak to organisations and companies do you tell them as it is? Do you actually do a bit of secret shopping yourself and give them feedback?

Peter Cross

00:15:48 – 00:17:16

I do. I do, I do. You’ve got to be very careful with that because they they all know 20 times more than you about their own business. And I think they start with, Well, this this bloke’s just been paid to do 45 minutes and he doesn’t. He’s going to trawl out the sort of, you know, the sort of standard speech. And largely I think they can tell because there’s often there’s a culture and there’s a sector speciality. And the language in all of these businesses and all these industry sectors that you’ve got to be up to speed with a little bit. So I get a bit obsessive about research and relevance, that word again, so that I do sound vaguely as if I you know, I understand. Uh, and I’d like to feel as if in that moment I worked for this organisation just as much as you do, and I think once I’ve got the confidence in that and you can get the Nazis going and people are going yet he’s not just turning out the random all speech that he did. You know, whichever company last week, uh, then that gives you the authority to then be able to sort of dig deep and go. You know what? I’ve noticed this, and, uh and there are certain sectors that are more responsive to that, I think, and certainly some that are less. But I think it’s when you have a bit of fun isn’t it when you can poke around and largely people go. He’s right. I’ve said that. I’ve said that’s when time no one listens to me. How come somebody comes in and, you know, from the external but largely you just waken the inner inner giants within the audience.

Maria Franzoni

00:17:16 – 00:17:28

Is that what people bring you in to do then to cut to clients, bring you in to awaken that, or do they bring you in to give a different perspective? What can they expect in 45 minutes? I suppose, is what I’m really asking you because it’s a short time.

Peter Cross

00:17:28 – 00:18:44

I think I mean, I think because a bit of fun, you’ve just got to have fun. We’re not, You know, we’re not putting that on the moon and we’re not saving lives. You know, we’re selling stuff, so a bit of experience, because I’ve done this job from all angles. Most people have done it from one or two, but I’ve been, you know, I’ve been, I’ve written. I’ve been the sort of the journalistic side of customer. I’ve been a consultant for 10 years, and I’ve been in the shoes of the customer director, where I’ve been placating and pleasing and delighting blah, blah, blah customers all that time. So I think they get the sort of legitimacy of somebody who’s done it for more shoes. And I try to, um, I try to do it from the perspective is that it’s let’s just not make this about a talk. Let’s make this far more immersive, uh, and enduring a relationship. So let’s just let me be the voice of the customer in your room, or let me sit with your leadership team and let me poke around around what you’re doing. So I prefer a partnership than and whatever that means, um, and then and then hopefully a few, just a couple well-honed home truths based on hours of research, just trying to make myself feel convincing.

Maria Franzoni

00:18:44 – 00:19:05

I love it. I love that I love that you said partnership. Because of course, you’ve just come out from the John Lewis partnership, so that’s really appropriate. And I’d love to actually from that role where you were in the hot seat, so to speak. You know that that facing the customer what were the lessons you learned from there that are different from the other roles that you’ve had? What does John Lewis teach you?

Peter Cross

00:19:05 – 00:20:34

Well, I am a deeply curious slash nosy person, so I’m I’m always learning, you know, and I’ll still be. I’ll still be sort of half croaking and I’ll still be trying to learn something new. I think I think that’s within me. So wherever I go, you always pick up something, even if it’s bad stuff. I was in the luxury industry for quite a long time, and there was a lot of there’s a lot of lovely stuff in luxury. There’s also quite a lot of bad stuff in the luxury industry and bad behaviours and so on. And I think the John Lewis partnership is quite it’s a funny help business. It’s a lot of people who’ve been there for a very long time. Um and I was, I think I think I just brought some fresh thinking in their, uh and then they’re they’re wonderful brands, John Lewis and Waitrose. But the model is what makes it unique. It is a partnership. Its employee owned people have a voice that brings a lot of complexity and difficulty. If you’re if you’re moving through some a democracy, you know, uh, industrial democracy that happens. Complications. But the passion and love and the deep seated understanding of customers that was passed almost by osmosis throughout the businesses, why you could always feel good service in John Lewis. It was because it was passed down almost through generations of storage systems and that and that knowledge. So I think just deep respect, really, for a passion to play my part into national icons.

Maria Franzoni

00:20:34 – 00:20:55

Love it, love it. Really good. Really good. I think you’ve probably answered this already, but I’ll put you on the spot a bit further. But what makes you different as a speaker? I mean, you’ve said that you’d do the research, and that is relevant. You say that you make it enjoyable and you want it to be a partnership. I suppose those are the things that make you different from other speakers in this place because this is quite a crowded space, really, isn’t it?

Peter Cross

00:20:55 – 00:22:42

It is. It’s, um I mean, I don’t know. I think the fact that I’ve that I’ve done the job in all aspects just give me a a little point of difference, because whichever way they’re coming from Oh, you’re just a consultant or, you know, you’re you’re you’re not a consultant. I can I’ve kind of got an answer for it. So when I’m in the hot seat and that’s the best bit is the whole seat in all these things, it’s the adrenaline and the Russian. My God, what they’re gonna ask me. So I think that just gives me a point of difference. I mean, the way where I started in public speaking was really quite random. Maria, I was working for Loreal um and we ran these things called the colour trophy, which were hairdressing competitions. And we have 45 hairdresser at 45 minutes to do a look to the hair, the clothes, the makeup on the floor in some pretty rubbish regional hotel and I started comparing them and going around the country. So you do like to a night. I just got the thrillers about starting buttons, I don’t know, but I got the thrill of performance and understanding audiences and just absolutely loved it. And they ended up at the Grove in the house with a you know, with a celebrity of the day. And I was kind of learning from them. So it’s a bit of a, I don’t know, a bit of a circuitous route. And then, as you know, Mary and I were business partners for 10 years, and I sat next to him, and when she went on telly, the calls came in to me and, uh you know, let’s just say that you know, that I offered up my services as well. Probably they couldn’t afford her, actually, Um, so it was. It was, you know, it was a spirit circuitous route round. But I think I’m pretty unconventional. But all of that really weird experience possibly means I’ve got something a little bit different too offer.

Maria Franzoni

00:22:42 – 00:23:01

No, absolutely, absolutely. I used to love coming visiting you and Mary Portas in your office is fabulous offices and you did literally sit side by side, which was so lovely. We just really remember that. Well, so tell me, Peter, here’s a really big question for you. What’s the future for customer service and customer experience?

Peter Cross

00:23:01 – 00:24:58

Um, well, I think, as I said, you know, an enormous amount has changed and nothing has changed. Um, what? There are a number of quite sort of pivotal notions that I’m washing around at the moment that we’ve got to be aware of the first is that we have survived and to some extent thrived with less in recent times. And there’s been a joy in less, you know, this whole Christmas is a Christmas of, of, of, of shopping and buying and giving less, there’s no doubt about it. And that’s just not an economic thing. Um, so I think that’s the impact of on sustainability circuit economy and all that kind of stuff is all still to play for a moving away from the company, E s G and CSR reports and really putting that into the heart of business and how people behave. Um, there is general agreement that standing for something more than the stuff you sell is going to be really important. That’s generally purpose. Purpose has become the buzzword in the last 18 months, two years, but customers, working brands, working out what that is is incredible. They’re finding that incredibly difficult. So what is our actual purpose? And everyone’s still just play Simon Sinek sort of, you know, 200 times, you know, still matter how long has that video has been going? But people are still using that, you know, 20 years later, Um, and as I said, all of these channels, the role of these channels in our lives, the redefinition of the physical space, the redefinition of the high Street is incredibly exciting. I’m still as passionate by the high street when it works. My God, it works. It really is an absolute magnet for humans as social creatures. Um, overall, it’s just avoiding you. Just don’t get stuck in the middle of the road and try and do all of these things at once because you will get run over.

Maria Franzoni

00:24:58 – 00:25:12

Okay, that’s really good advice. Don’t get stuck in the middle of the road because you’ll get run over. That’s really good. I’m going to quote you on that I like that. That place for other things, too. Doesn’t it works. Peter it’s been an absolute pleasure. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve made you work hard, Haven’t I?

Peter Cross

00:25:12 – 00:25:16

Put me through my places. But I wouldn’t expect anything less Maria.

Maria Franzoni

00:25:16 – 00:25:45

Fantastic. And I want to thank everybody for listening to the speakers show. If you have enjoyed this episode, please do not hesitate to rate it on apple podcasts. And you can keep up with future episodes at the Speakers Associates website, which is speakersassociates.com or your favourite podcast app. And of course, if you want to invite Peter Cross to speak at your next conference or event, get in touch with Speakers associates in plenty of time so that you won’t be disappointed. I will see you all next week. Thank you very much for listening. Bye bye.

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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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