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"I favour collective intelligence and agile methods", Christophe Famechon

Christophe Famechon, Head of Customer Service at Fnac Darty, has been elected Customer Personality of the Year 2021. His achievements include the transformation of management within the customer service department, the opening of new contact channels and the reinvention of the customer relationship through an emphasis on advice.

You have been elected Customer Personality 2021 by the profession, how do you welcome this distinction?

I'm very happy because this award is very valuable on the market. But it's also a good way of communicating externally and motivating internally. I've had a lot of positive feedback and it highlights a profession that is not sufficiently recognised.

You have a rich history in the world of customer relations. You started out in Argentina, working for the France Telecom subsidiary to set up the customer service department there. That was 25 years ago... Can you tell us the highlights of your career?

Like many people who make a career in customer relations, there is no set path. It's often the result of chance encounters. After business school, I went to Argentina to work for a subsidiary of France Telecom on the deployment of a mobile phone network. Then, I organized the customer service department without any knowledge of the subject but with the support of the group to set up a CRM in the 90s. Abroad, you can take on responsibilities from the age of 25. After four years in South America, I came back to Europe at the time of the Internet's infancy and wanted to leave telephony for an Internet service provider. Then, between 1999 and 2006, I worked for AOL and took responsibility for call centres and customer service at European level. At the time, we had three-digit growth rates. I set up the first call center in Morocco in 2001. In 2006, I launched my own company in the service sector. Then ComData in Morocco and I was poached by the Darty group in 2008 to take care of customer service, then the entire Fnac Darty group since 2016. I have been in the industry for 25 years.

Fnac Darty Group key figures.

  • 908 stores worldwide (including 344 franchises)

  • 213 Fnac stores in France.

  • 223 Darty stores.

  • 25,000 employees worldwide, including.

  • 19,000 in France.

  • 254 million store visits.

  • 7.4 billion euros in Group sales (2020) of which approximately 30% on the web.

  • 36 million unique monthly visitors on both sites, including 22 million for and 14.1 million for (at the end of December 2020).

  • Omnichannel sales represent 42% of the Group's web orders (at the end of December 2020) 10 million Fnac members worldwide, including 8 million in France.

  • In France, members account for more than 62% of sales.

You are a long-time service enthusiast, what are your main principles in this area? What do you believe in?

It is above all a human profession that relies on managerial qualities superior to those found in other industries. You have to know how to manage a large number of employees and know how to surround yourself with leaders. The quality of the contact is essential, so you have to make sure that you recruit well and train your employees accordingly. Lastly, I think that to have a successful customer service, you need to have efficient processes, organisation and tools to manage the customer journey.

It's true, consumer habits have changed. Today, the means of access to a brand is the mobile phone to get in touch via web interfaces. All digital strategies are based on the use of the customer, who has become a zapper. This is now part of the customer journey, so chats and messaging interfaces are a priority in customer relations. This makes it possible to provide a more structured response than over the phone. It also makes the advisor more relevant in his answer. Finally, chat allows to limit the emotional interface during a call and the possible mismanagement of stress.

Within Fnac Darty, how is the customer service you manage organised?

I manage the customer service for both brands, each of which retains its identity. The customer service teams are 90% specialized for each of the two brands. However, the support functions (project management, steering, planning, reporting, etc.), which include 15 people, are pooled. I have four in-house operational sites that manage 40% of the volumes and 60% of the activity is outsourced offshore (between 1200 and 1500 people), in Morocco, Madagascar and Mauritius. As soon as the e-commerce activity progresses, which is our case with 30% of the turnover made on the website (second French e-commerce site behind Amazon), it generates more contacts than a sale in store with more seasonality. This is why we decided to outsource part of our customer service.

You recently changed your management practices. Can you tell us about it? What is your feedback?

Today, consumers trust brands that know how to show generosity, proximity and sincerity. For years, I have been trying to give more autonomy to customer advisors with fewer hierarchical levels to handle the customer's request from A to Z. And not only to broaden their capacity to make commercial gestures but to negotiate directly with the delivery platform or store manager without going through an excessively heavy hierarchical chain. I have therefore built organisations with few support functions and few managerial functions. The goal is efficiency. I deploy these agile methods throughout my call centers, relying more on collective intelligence than on traditional hierarchical structures.

Within Fnac Darty, your ambition is to reinvent the way customers are served by 2025. What are the main stages of this project?

The Fnac Darty group's strategic plan, called "Everyday", runs from 2021 to 2025. It is not really a reinvention, but rather an acceleration of trends. Our goal is to be a leader in omnichannel distribution with a human and efficient customer experience. Secondly, we are betting on the digitalisation of sales and customer paths. We believe strongly in the cross-over between physical and digital channels and we are launching new channels on Snapchat, Apple Business Chat, etc. Another pilot, the Group will be experimenting with WhatsApp messaging in stores (in five of them) so that consumers can exchange directly with advisors. Finally, we are committed to sustainability by highlighting dedicated service offerings.

What technologies do you trust to improve the customer experience and its fluidity?

Today, we are working on an "augmented advisor" project based on artificial intelligence to set up knowledge bases with natural language search engines. In the area of technical assistance, we have formed a partnership with the start-up Mayday. In our opinion, this is the model of the future, because consumers all get their information from the Internet before calling us, so we have to provide added value. The second priority within the group is artificial intelligence for customer knowledge. We have an exceptional source of data with no less than 12 million interactions and conversations with our customers per year. We want to use it to better guide business decisions, identify weak signals to detect problems and find solutions before they spill over, especially on social networks. We use data to guide the decisions of the Executive Committee. Finally, the last project is to enrich the self-care knowledge bases to make the customer as autonomous as possible.

You have launched a program in 2019 called "Agile Call Center" in France and Morocco. What is it about?

I've been groping around a lot, as I've been thinking about this since 2014. I discovered the approach of Frédéric Laloux, author of "Reinventing organizations", which describes self-governing organizations and highlights the commonalities of all these structures. The first element is linked to the company's raison d'être. At Darty, it is very simple, it is the "Contract of Trust" with the obligation to satisfy 100% of the customers, written in the employment contract of each employee. The second principle is the absolute transparency of information. Advisors have access to reporting indicators and performance levels. Finally, the last pillar of our organisation is linked to decision making, without referring managers, with arbitration processes. How to handle difficult situations, manage conflicts within the team... We trained them in recruitment techniques in order to build teams with a variety of profiles and skills. I turned the managers into coaches to support the teams.

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