On the perspective of experiential retail: An Interview with Caleb Watson from Spark
Caleb Watson, Omni Operations Specialist at Spark New Zealand, is joining us on our blog today to talk about Spark’s approach to retail, their outstanding flagship store in Auckland's Commercial Bay and the ongoing transition at the company to introduce a truly experiential approach to retail.
Caleb, first off, thank you very much for agreeing to join us for this interview! Spark has been engaged in a long-term retail transformation campaign with the clear goal to create a human-centered retail experience. At NTS Retail, we are absolutely delighted to play a small part in this journey and even more so to be speaking with you today, as you have been a part of our joint project from the very beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Spark and your involvement in the day-to-day at Spark’s network of retail stores?
CW: You’re welcome! Thank you for the opportunity to share what we do.
In our agile world, my title is ‘Omni Operations Specialist’ in the ‘Channel Operations Chapter'. Along with my colleagues and among other things, I manage Spark’s retail store and business hub payment applications along with other IT systems. These systems of course include NTS’s retail suite which enables a smooth checkout process for our customers.
Spark’s concept store in Newmarket has been shortlisted for the World Retail Awards in the category “Best Customer Experience Initiative – Retailer” alongside international top brands like Nike, Samsung or LEGO. Congratulations! It’s a great recognition for the effort Spark invested into creating a uniquely engaging experience for your customers. What makes the Newmarket store experience stand out?
CW: Thank you! It has been very exciting and rewarding to see our efforts recognized not only locally but also internationally. It makes all the effort worthwhile. Yes – our new retail store design (which is now in place in several stores including Newmarket and our flagship Commercial Bay location) merges physical, digital, and experiential design together to create a unique and immersive customer journey. We know our customers don’t just come in store to buy a new broadband plan or phone these days – instead they might be looking for advice on how to navigate their way through a range of technologies and digital choices. Ultimately, they want to touch and feel the options available to them – and then talk to an expert.
The retail locations are just one of the many expressions of the overall strategy at Spark, where you decidedly put the emphasis on the customer experience across all touch points. How did you arrive at the decision to put the customer at the heart of your initiatives?
CW: I think it was a natural and easy decision for Spark. Our purpose is “to help all of New Zealand win big in a digital world”. Our new retail store design helps to achieve this by showcasing the best products and technology available to them. Working with internal and external stakeholders, designers, partners, and suppliers – we came up with the customer-centered designs and experiences we are now seeing come to life in our stores and are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve collaboratively to date.
Traditionally, telcos are often being given a hard time when they face criticism within the public eye. It’s similar to the logic we apply when we are driving on a well-maintained road: We don’t really think about how well it works until we hit a bump. And yet Spark has continuously impressed the public by forming an exception to this rule: By building a name for itself as an innovative brand, which enables and empowers its customers to access cutting-edge technology. What has been the secret behind Spark’s ascend to an internationally acclaimed telco brand?
CW: Yes! I think we have all thought the same when hitting a pothole in the road.
We know our customers, from consumers and small business to corporations and government agencies, rely on our products and services. With this in mind, we strive for the best outcome in everything we do from an accessory sale in a retail store to a product launch with a respected global brand. Our change to an agile operating model has been a major catalyst in this. While we are extremely proud of our brand and our service levels, there is always room for improvement.
There’s no way around addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in any conversation this year. Internationally, New Zealand has served as a role model for the rest of the world, by addressing the pandemic early on and vigorously. What is the situation like at this point in New Zealand and how has Spark been addressing the pandemic?
CW: I don’t think any business has been immune to the impacts of COVID-19. Here at Spark, our number one priority was to help keep our customers connected as they transitioned to working, learning, and connecting predominantly online. We did this through careful network management, and also things like removing overage charges for customers on our capped broadband plans during lockdown periods.
For our customers experiencing hardship because of COVID-19, we waived late fees and halted any termination of services during these periods. We also re-launched our subsidised not-for-profit broadband product, JUMP at a lower price and to a wider range of people who didn’t have access to broadband at home. Other things included repurposing Spark stores to act as emergency hardware distribution centers, made our sport streaming service, Spark Sport free to keep customers entertained while at home, and supported our business customers to get set up to continue working remotely.
With the pandemic entering a second wave here in Europe, amidst rising cases and the prospect of a continued surge in remote working, surely telcos face a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It may very well be the case that their roles change forever. Where do you see telcos taking their role in shaping societies in the post-2020 world?
CW: As a telecommunications and digital services provider, we are an enabler. Our role will be to help enable society to operate in the way they need to with technology and connectivity.
Spark has just announced their three-year plan focusing on IoT, eHealth and sports content as strategic pillars. All of these aspects will certainly contribute towards ingraining the importance of connectivity services even deeper within the customers’ daily routines. In a highly connected, information-driven society, telcos carry a giant responsibility as they contribute to the critical infrastructure and fuel the workforce in the information economy. Where do you see the potential for Spark to contribute towards creating a sustainable future for New Zealanders?
CW: One of our strategic pillars at Spark is to “create a positive digital future for all of New Zealand”. Along with creating a sustainable Spark that invests in the capabilities of our people, reduces its carbon footprint and acts responsibly and transparently, we will help do this by using technology to help transform New Zealand into a high productivity, low carbon economy. We also want to champion digital equity so that all New Zealanders have the opportunity to thrive in a digital future.
Thank you very much, Caleb! We wish you the very best and can’t wait to see which exciting initiatives Spark has lined up for the future.
CW: Thank you for the chat!
You can find out more about Spark and the Commercial Bay flagship store on Spark's website. If you are interested in learning about how Spark makes use of NTS Retail’s software solutions in their digital store transformation, feel free to read the case study.