I caught up today with Julie Bernard in advance of her presentation at tomorrow's Marketing Leadership and Customer Intelligence Forums. Julie's keynote focuses on "Putting The Customer At The Center Of The Business." I had the opportunity to ask her what that means for Macy's. Here's what Julie had to say:

Q: What does it mean for Macy’s when you talk about “putting the customer at the center of the business”? 

A: At Macy’s, this means that the customer has a seat at the table. As all of us in retail know, the customer is queen/king and as such, focusing on delivering against her needs and wants is of paramount importance. When we start a meeting, we ask ourselves “What decision do we have to make today and how will this decision positively impact the customer in terms of relevant product offerings, great value, and fulfilling shopping experiences wherever she chooses to shop with us?” Then, at the close of the meeting, before we all leave that table, we revisit our decisions and action plans to ensure that we have taken the customer’s perspective into account. When we make customer oriented decisions and take action against customer needs, those actions deliver against sales and profit goals. 

 Q: What do you see as the greatest opportunity for retailers as it relates to customer centricity? 

 A: There is no silver bullet so I don’t think of customer centricity in terms of having one single greatest opportunity. When customer centricity has moved beyond rhetoric and has become an innate part of how we run the business, day in and day out, that’s when we really begin to see substantive results. While it’s important to have an overarching customer strategy and vision, ultimately, it’s the cumulative effect of thousands of individual customer-focused business decisions that leads to profitable and sustainable sales growth. Customer centricity needs to evolve beyond the status of brand values and become an essential component of the DNA of the people in an organization. Passion, perseverance, and patience are all critical as retailers embrace customer-centric decision making throughout all areas of the business, not only for strategic decisions, but to inform tactics as well. 

 Q: How much of your time is spent on the daily or practical element of putting customers at the center of the business, versus the big-picture, business-transformation elements? 

 A: Now that we are four years into our journey, we are spending a greater amount of time on the practical execution of decisions that have been informed with customer data and insights. In our early years, it was all about using customer data to inform the customer strategy and vision, and early on, that was taking up the vast majority of the day. Now, the time commitment on strategy has shifted into tactics and execution since we have an informed customer strategy to serve as our beacon. That said, refreshing our strategy will never end, and developing specific strategies for certain categories, brands and business units is an on-going process. We are always analyzing the data for clues to inform the next big idea that will deliver material value for customers, Macy’s and shareholders. 

 Q: With so many new opportunities to interact with customers, how do you evaluate opportunities and think about what is just cool versus truly critical? 

A: It’s all about collaboration and teamwork. When great minds get together and assess the opportunities, the prioritization process is not difficult. Also, we try not to overthink the insight; it’s important to act quickly, measure, refine, and act again. For more significant potential activations, we will conduct more traditional qualitative and quantitative research to get a pulse on the consumer response before we implement the idea under review. Lastly, it’s important to tie all activations to projected sales volume. After all, we are a for-profit organization and these activations need to be relevant to the consumer and drive sales for Macy’s.