For many businesses, it might be tempting to ask, "What can we do with all this data we've got?" For Founder and CEO John Roberts, that's the wrong place to start. "Everything should start with the customer, so the place to begin is by asking the question, 'What does the customer want, and how can data help us to do that?'"

July 2015
Topics has gone from strength to strength by putting consumers first. "Exceptional service is the most profitable service," explains Founder and CEO John Roberts. "We want customers to go 'Wow!' And we want our cost to deliver that to be as low as possible." The company's thoughtful use of data signals has been fundamental in successfully meeting these ends.

For, putting customers first means understanding what they want and then making sure they get it. John reveals that one of the main reasons for inbound calls is that customers like to discover when their deliveries will be made. Calls to the call centre require trained resource and cost money, so made investments to both give customers the information they were seeking and reduce the burden on resources.

"When customers ring us, they give us a piece of data — their phone number," John says. "Through that phone number, we can find their order. The system looks at their order and understands that they're expecting a delivery today. It then looks at the vehicle that's got the order on it — refreshing every two minutes — so it can deliver information back in real time. The customer gets a recorded message about the delivery slot that is dynamic and personal." Customers receive exactly the information they want without having to interact with call centre staff; not only is the service quick and easy for the user, but the burden on the call centre is reduced, driving cost-effectiveness for

Despite the initial expense to the company, John maintains this approach underpins long-term success. "Yes we have had a big investment up front, but the scalability that we get is enormous." As expands into new territories — such as it recently did in Germany — the brand can launch with exceptional functionality and service from day one.

Another example of's use of data signals appears in its practices around contacting customers about impending deliveries. According to John, this is a huge theme that emerges in reviews. "People like the fact that our drivers call them 60 to 30 minutes before a delivery. We've got hundreds and hundreds of vehicles out there every day doing deliveries. Some drivers will do it and some won't; how do you make sure they all do it?"

John claims the answer is simple: "You take the data you've already got." already has systems in place that reroute all the vehicles in the fleet, so it's possible to see when any given vehicle is within the 60-to-30-minute window and to send a reminder to the driver's handheld terminal. But what about when a driver and his assistant both have their hands full carrying another customers' washing machine? Software on each vehicle shows how fast they're travelling, so the task only appears on the terminal when a vehicle reaches a speed of more than 10 miles per hour. The driver's assistant can then receive and action the task.

It's this ability to absorb and act upon signals that gives an advantage as an online-only retailer. Would the company ever consider opening physical locations? "We never say never," John asnwers, "because never is a very long time. But I believe that we can create a better experience online. Data for us as a business allows us to do so much more than a physical in-store environment can do. You can personalise and create information based on customers' shopping habits and intent. Look at what the they are telling you; what people type into a search bar gives you their intent." The task for retailers is then to simply match what is returned exactly to the user's intent.

"Fundamentally you must start with the customer and work back from there," John observes. "If you start to build from the data up, you'll end up in a very strange place, because it's of no use to the user. We stick together five or six pieces of data to deliver amazing consistency. It might sound like a very small thing — but it's what customers are telling us is important to them."

Watch the presentation below to hear more: