8 March, 2018

Meet Naomi, Head of Insight

As women represent 72% of our employees and 62% of our customers, they are pretty important to our business success. No one knows this more than Naomi, our Head of Insight.

"When I was asked for this interview ‘what makes you tick’, I asked my husband. His reply was ‘difficulty’. And he’s right. I’m a do-er and will get done whatever it is that needs to be done, irrespective of the circumstances that it needs to be done in. So, in my last role, when I needed to speak to a Chinese retailer at their convenience, I did so via Skype in business dress from the waist up and pyjamas from the waist down. From my kitchen. At 4am.

"Before I joined M&S, I’d worked with several major UK and international retailers, as well as brands and telecommunications companies, so the transition to M&S was an obvious next step. Customers are at the heart of everything we do at M&S. It’s an approach I believe in wholeheartedly. I’ve built customercentric capabilities for many companies – and customer data and insight have always been my starting point.

"This wasn’t the only thing that made us a good fit. There was huge appeal for me in the complexity of working for a big retailer and the diversity across food and clothing & home with the multi channel aspect of how we engage our customers both here and in our international business.

"My team and I are here to find out what customers really want and need. We analyse what they tell us, interpreting data from an array of sources such as shopping transactions, online browsing, social & digital engagement, research as well as sourcing market data which helps us understand the context for how people live, where they spend their time and money and how our competitors are executing their strategies. Bringing the picture into focus calls for analysis using multiple analytical disciplines ranging from data science, to data analytics to research but also some judgement and our experience. It’s about providing market and customer insight while also keeping a close eye on the broader strategic projects that deliver competitive advantage.

"We are structured to align each member of my team with a specific Business Unit and function since all this insight is no use to us if we don’t use it to improve our decisions. We’re involved in most big initiatives and in supporting teams day-to-day. The best thing about Customer Insight is that our work is extremely varied and meaningful – we all have a direct impact on customers’ experience of M&S. It’s very rewarding work and I consider it a privilege.

"In Food, for instance, we helped to evaluate the impact of changing decor in stores. The results of our trial told us we could remove decor, and customers and sales were not adversely affected. We also support Food with strategies for specific groups of customers we want to protect from competitor threat.

"A great Customer Insight professional must have a number of strings to their bow. You need to be a commercial thinker who understands what the broader business priorities are and how you can support them by asking the right questions. Once you’ve identified what these are, being a strong capability specialist comes into its own. This means knowing how to analyse data and deploy the most appropriate methods to produce the most useful, informative answers.

"Insight specialists are one of the few teams to benefit from a genuine overview of total business performance. Knowing how to pull all the levers that drive customer loyalty is an invaluable skill, particularly if you make every effort to hone it to perfection.

"My advice to a new joiner would be to keep an open mind. Don’t be so fixated on what you think you want that you miss what you really want. Some of my worst career experiences – horrible locations, terribly dull work, painfully long hours – taught me tenacity and I did end up learning skills that I’m grateful I now have. The more variety of experience you have, the more authentic you’ll be as a leader. You can spot issues, side step risks and be more helpful to everyone if you have personal experiences you can draw on.

"As for what I do in my spare time, in all honesty, I don’t have a great deal of that. But that’s probably more to do with the fact I have three young children and a fairly chaotic household. However, when I do, I love to run and I’m currently training for the London Marathon, which is the first time I’ve attempted 26.2 miles in one go! I also bake. A lot. My children will tell you that I never (ever) buy a cake. That being said, when my children were very little, the M&S café used to be a godsend. It was the only place where I could comfortably feed a baby – whom the other customers loved to entertain whilst I had a coffee and the cake was pretty good too!"

Inside M&S