CX Icon: Brian Dennis

This week, we were fortunate enough to speak to Brian Dennis, known throughout the country as the “the customer service guy”.

An internationally renowned CX innovator and forecaster, Brian has served as a Fortune 150 executive – most recently as VP Customer Experience at Kohl’s – alongside being the best-selling author of his newest book “If the Customer’s the Copilot, You’re in the Wrong Seat”.

Brian is one of the most requested keynote speakers on the topic of customer experience and we wanted to get to know a little more about how Brian got into CX, how the industry has evolved since he started, and where we’re heading next.

Hi Brian – thanks so much for finding the time to speak to us.  To get things started, could you give us the abbreviated version of how you got into CX and ended up where you are today?

My passion for customer experience started at an early age when I was selling seeds in my neighbourhood. There was a man on our block who all of the kids were afraid of by the name of Mr. Groshack – think old man Marley from Home Alone. Anyway, he stopped me to buy a pack of seeds. A few months later he stopped me again and said the seeds never grew.  Without hesitating, I reached into my pocket, took out a dime and gave it to him with the hope I would never run into him ever again. Fast forward to the following summer, I just began selling my seeds when Mr. Groshack stopped me and said he would buy them all.  I never ever forgot his words – “I like the way you do business kid.”

Ever since then I’ve seen the rewards both personally and professionally that come when you treat people fairly and deliver a great service experience. I have continued to capture those learnings and am now happy to be in a position to share with others around the world.

Retail teams sometimes struggle when it comes to proving the immediate ROI of customer experience – do you have any advice for showing value to busy executive teams?

Great question.  One of the biggest challenges I hear from CX professionals is how do I get the C-Suite to buy into my initiatives. They are passionate about their ideas and expected benefits but struggle to identify a hard return value. More simply, they struggle to get a budget approved because the ROI in most instances has not been quantitatively expressed. Soft benefits rarely work anymore.  All the time and effort spent planning and designing a CX program will be for nought without an ROI that meets similar criteria to other areas within the business.

A formula I like to use is CX ROI = 100 X (Benefits – Investments) / Investments.

An example of a commonly used benefit would be revenue. For example, Forrester Customer Experience Index showed that the largest companies in select industries can earn up to hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental revenue for every one point of increase in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™). That’s a powerful metric and a great start. Other benefits such as customer satisfaction, margin improvements, retention, reducing customer service costs (remember – sometimes the best service is no service at all), loyalty increases and many more are now measurable components that allow you to formulate a return on investment.

Now, calculate the investments that are going to help you achieve the desired result e.g technology upgrades and development, training requirements, operating costs such as improving a mobile app… and you’ve got your ROI.

A recent client of mine was a call center who took over 3 million calls annually for a large retailer. They were able to identify almost 20% of their calls could have been avoided if the customer was just simply more aware of the self-help tools that were available to them and expand the offering to multiple platforms. So, the call center estimated they could reduce their calls at a cost of $6 each for a total cost savings of $3,600,000. They brought forward this ROI, got approval and over the course of the following year actually saved close to $4,000,000.

What is your take on the current landscape generally – do you believe in the feted ‘retail apocalypse’ or is that a misunderstanding?

Certainly, if one were to look at the last decade, you would hypothesize that a retail apocalypse is upon us. Heck, if you even looked at the 5800 store closures last year and compared that to the 5846 store closure announcements in just the first quarter of this year alone, one may be running for the hills. Let me give you one more stat – UBS is expecting the number of store closures to reach 75,000 by 2026.

So yes, the current landscape is changing and it’s changing fast. However, I don’t see a retail apocalypse but rather an industry that is navigating how best to compete both off and online. More specifically, how to blend these commerces into a unified customer experience that readily allows a very simple experience – on the customers’ terms.

“I don’t see a retail apocalypse but rather an industry that is navigating how best to compete both off and online.”

Despite the retail apocalypse chatter you read online and hear in the media, these closures are not necessarily bad. As I travel the country speaking on the topic of customer experience, most industry experts are in agreement that the US has too many stores. So, utilizing their stores to be more productive such as Click & Collect, Ship From Store and other revenue generating opportunities will be key in their survival. E-commerce is going to continue to grow at rapid speed. UBS, who I mentioned earlier, forecasts that e-commerce will account for 25% of all US retail sales by 2026 which is up from about 16% today.

It’s an exciting time as you are starting to see online players start to expand their businesses into offline. Look at Wayfair, the Boston based furniture retailer whose net revenue topped $2 billion in the 4th quarter last year, announcing its plans to open its first full-service retail store this fall. These businesses are getting smarter and testing the customer experience in pop-up shops in advance before spending large capital dollars on a physical store presence.

And it’s not just Wayfair pursuing this true omnichannel experience. Amazon, Rent the Runway, Casper, Madison Reed & others are now piloting these into these brick-and-mortar footprints. In fact, where I live in Milwaukee, TripAdvisor is opening up a store in our airport later this year.

I would say it’s one of the most exciting times I have seen to be in retail, but also one that requires an incredible conviction to keep the customer front and centre in the planning of every experience you are trying to deliver.

In your view, how have customer expectations ‘changed’ in recent years – are people harder to please?

Absolutely, customer expectations continue to climb and the ladder to please them is raised every day. You almost have to assume that customers are not going to be satisfied tomorrow by the same offerings as today. Customers now operate in this real-time digital and always-on world. As a result, their expectations continue to rise. In a recent survey released in 2018, nearly two thirds (59%) of survey respondents had higher expectations for customer service than they did just a year ago. That same 59% of respondents have also used 3 or more channels to get their questions answered and that’s why it’s important for businesses to convert multiple touchpoints into a single seamless experience.  But the good news is they continue to value great service and those businesses that can deliver on that will be rewarded.

“Customers now operate in this real-time digital and always-on world. As a result, their expectations continue to rise.”

A trend that I am starting to see growing in importance, is customers are now demanding more than ever before that their issues get resolved in a single interaction. In many surveys, it can be the single most important aspect of them rating an experience as good and themselves as more loyal. With video chat, social, co-browse, AI agents and converging in-store and online technology, customers now have a greater choice of servicing their needs on their terms than at any other time.

Ok, so what’s next in retail?

A leaner, meaner and faster retail is what’s next.  Seriously, you are already seeing major shifts in department superstores with the likes of Kohl’s, Target, Walmart and Nordstrom’s all experimenting with smaller store formats.  Ironic as it sounds, retailers are coming up with smaller footprints to help their growth. 

But perhaps the biggest change to happen in retail will be that (AI) Artificial Intelligence will become real. I am already witnessing prescriptive analytics finally overtaking predictive analytics, eliminating any opening for decisions based on intuition – which can never keep up with the changing speed of technology and customers. A barrage of voice-activated devices shipping to consumers is changing how they choose to shop and which brands they want to engage with.

Think about this, next year, up to 50% of Search is expected to be accomplished through Voice. What’s game-changing about AI, is that Search will be entirely up to the owner of the eco-system to decide the results. Specifically, Voice will turn e-commerce into a very unfair winner advantage for those who dominate the space. Think Amazon – already this year, more than 60% of Alexa’s results were generally found to be biased. Retailers are recognizing these challenges are finally embracing the need to compete with AI at the very front of this strategy.

A huge thank you to Brian for taking the time to speak to us, if you’d like to reach out to him for more information about what he’s up to email him directly or via his website

For more CX thoughts from Brian, why not purchase a copy of “If the Customer’s the Copilot, You’re in the Wrong Seat“.

That’s a wrap from us for the immediate future for the CX Icon series.  It’s been a blast for us and we hope you’ve enjoyed it too.  Fear not, we will be back soon with more from some of the best minds working in retail today, till then, stay Tru! 

Case Study: How New Balance Used TruRating to Reinvent Their Stores

New Balance planned a revamp of their factory outlets throughout Australia. The changes included a refreshed shop layout, removing all older products from the shelves and navigating customers towards new stock using deals and mingling merchandise.

Before rolling out nationally, New Balance needed to understand how customers would react to the revamp and how it would affect their in-store experience. Outlet revamps are costly, time-consuming and disruptive to a retailer’s normal business operations, and can result in a loss in revenue if customers don’t like the changes.

The issue for New Balance was that they didn’t have a real way of measuring the effectiveness of the layout. The retailer lacked confidence in historic measures such as customer exit surveys as they felt they wouldn’t give them insight into the true impact on both customer experience and how it affected the bottom line.

Enter TruRating

Utilizing a “test-and-control” method over a 4-week period, New Balance ran a trial of the refreshed designs while using TruRating to collect feedback and transaction data on the impact of the revamp on customers. We were able to establish a baseline of scores in the weeks prior to the changes being introduced, and how scores performed once the changes were in place.

Using the data collected before and after the trial period, New Balance was able to effectively determine if the revamp was a success and how it would impact the revenue of the wider portfolio were it to be rolled out nationally.

How did the retailer assess the impact of the revamp on customers?

New Balance used one outlet as the test store and the remaining outlets across Australia as their control stores. The test outlet would be compared to the control outlets pre-implementation and for the weeks following the new layout implementation to determine the impact on customer sentiment. With over 25,000 pieces of customer feedback collected during the 4-week trial, the retailer had a significant amount of data to make an informed decision whether to proceed with the new outlet design rollout.

The Results

Over the four-week period, scores in the South Wharf, Melbourne CBD test outlet didn’t seem to improve much, however, when compared to the control group, we uncovered some very interesting results. During the trial period, scores went down across the board in all 13 control outlets, likely due to macro forces reflective of the retail industry as a whole, at that point in time.

TruRating Blog Graph 1


At first glance in the South Wharf outlet, results didn’t seem to make any improvements but since a test-and-control approach was in place, when we delved into individual metrics we found various improvements (refer to graph above) which stood out at the outlet compared to other 13 outlets. Comparing South Wharf against the control outlets, it became more evident the new layout was warmly received by customers and being able to compare the scores during the same time period, in the test and control group, meant we were able to categorically align the score and spend improvements to the new outlet design at South Wharf.

These improvements confirm the revamp enhanced the overall customer experience and more significantly for the company’s bottom line, their Average Transaction Value (ATV). Below, you can see these improvements were isolated to the revamped outlet and were not replicated at any of the retailer’s other 13 outlets during all periods of the trial. What’s very noteworthy is the other outlets experienced a decline in their overall rating, but the revamped outlet offered customers a completely different shopping experience.

There was an issue with ATV falling across the retailer’s entire Australian estate, again, the revamped outlet differed and ATV fell at a slower rate of 2.52% compared to all other outlets at 3.43%. See below:

TruRating Blog Graph 2

How did New Balance use the results?

With thousands of pieces of data from their customers through TruRating there was no doubt the South Wharf test store proved the revamp resulted in a superior experience, service and the dramatic improvement in customers view of New Balances value for money offered.

With a combination of TruRating and internal sales data, the retailer was able to confidently roll out the revamp in March this year across all of their other outlets in Australia, knowing the positive impact the refresh will have on customer experience and their bottom line.

Want to learn more about replicating this for your business?

Contact us today if you want to learn more about how you can replicate this test-and-control approach in your business.  Visit our website or email us at and a member of TeamTru will be in contact with you right away!

 Bronwen Daunt 

City Beach: a TruRating Story

The TruRating crew were recently lucky enough to spend a little time with the team behind one of our fantastic retailers, City Beach.

HQ’d in bustling Brisbane, City Beach has been trading for over 30 years, building up a reputation as a go-to vendor for youth fashion across Australia.  With over 65 stores open across the country, they’re certainly a busy bunch.

It was amazing to see how the City Beach team have embraced TruRating across the breadth of their organization and we left Brisbane with a skip in our step.  One particular quote from COO, Anita Dorwald, had us blushing,

“For us, it is no longer a nice to have, it’s an essential to have… to help us navigate the brave new world of omnichannel retail.”

To get the whole scoop, watch the video below, and thanks Anita, we love you too!

To find out more about how TruRating can help your business, just leave us your details here.

Cara McCullogh


ATL Businesses Team Up to Help Local Retailers Listen to their Customers

TruRating, a customer experience specialists with offices on the Beltline in Atlanta, is piloting a partnership with Cayan, a payment technology company, that is already benefiting local retailers based in Ponce City Market in Atlanta.

Sugarboo & Co. @ Ponce City Market

Sugarboo & Co, a fast-growing retailer specializing in artistic gifts and homeware, and Citizen Supply, a specialist store in artisanal goods with a mission to bring together creators and consumers, began a trial with TruRating’s solution some weeks ago as a way to listen to their customers on a scale not previously possible, by asking one quick question on the payment device which customers answer as they pay with one push of a button.

Citizen Supply
Citizen Supply @ Ponce City Market

“It’s an integral part of our ethos to put our customers first and set out to delight them every time they visit,” Phil Sanders, the owner of Citizen Supply said. “TruRating is going to play a major role in how we do that from now on. Because it’s already installed on our Cayan Genius payment technology, it was a really easy set up and we could immediately start collecting feedback that same day. Since then we’ve already collected over 3,000 ratings and discovered key business insights. For instance, we’ve learned that when staff ask browsers if they need help, those customers on average spend 20% more. These are the kind of questions we can get almost immediate answers to, allowing us to really drill down and understand what makes our customers happy.”

Store Manager Carly June (right) w/ Sugarboo employee

Rebecca Puig, the artist that started Sugarboo along with her husband Rick, is excited to be getting feedback from a large majority of customers. “TruRating has only been up and running for less than a month, but already we’ve had over 2000 ratings. That’s huge.” Sugarboo, ‘Dealer in whimsy’, has quickly grown from one store to ten, having recently opened a new outlet in Las Vegas. However Georgia is home to the majority of their business, with three stores in Atlanta alone, including one based in the Battery as well as the Ponce City Market store.

Sugarboo & Co. @ Ponce City Market

“I’m so happy that we launched our Cayan pilot with such awesome, creative local businesses,” said Georgina Nelson, CEO and Founder of TruRating. “I started this company with the vision that giving all customers a voice would help businesses to adapt and evolve according to what their customers care about most. Atlanta as a city has been such a great home – for the business and for our family – so it’s exciting to know we can help do this for Atlanta businesses quite literally just up the Beltline from us.”

In addition, every time someone rates, TruRating donates to a children’s charity, including a local Atlanta charity, Families First. “That was another part of the solution that really appealed to me,” Rebecca Puig noted. “Sugarboo’s manifesto is all about putting good things into the world. Usually for us that’s about a beautifully-crafted piece to brighten up somebody’s home. But now by using TruRating, we know we’re also helping to make a difference to someone’s life with every customer rating.”

Main image: Carly June, Store Manager at Sugarboo & Co. in Ponce City Market.

Luca Eandi

Case Study: Ping Pong Saw an 8.1% Increase in Spend

Ping Pong is our favorite London-based restaurant chain serving delicious dim sum, inventive cocktails and the finest Chinese teas.

Excellent customer service has always been at the heart of Ping Pong’s success. To make sure that their high standards are maintained across their restaurants, they’ve successfully built a staff performance management structure around the one metric that really matters—customer satisfaction.

They used to measure satisfaction by collecting manual customer feedback cards, but this was expensive, hard to capture in volume and often even hard to read. So, they really needed a more cost-effective, objective alternative to keep track of how their staff were performing.


Enter TruRating. They ran a trial with us for 7 weeks, and it was a game-changer.

Customers loved how quick and easy it was to use, and the response rate reflected this, coming in at over 90%—an impossible figure to achieve with comment cards. Soon, over 4,000 people were feeding back every week. The staff liked having a simple way to keep track of their performance, and management loved the results—rises in service scores and an amazing 8.1% increase in customer spend. Plus, management now had the ability to track customer satisfaction across the whole chain, giving them the means to react quickly to problems and taking advantage of opportunities.

Now TruRating is at the core of Ping Pong’s way of life, alongside its fragrant oolong teas and steamed-to-perfection dumplings.

“We’ve been hugely impressed with the sheer volume of customer ratings we collect daily via TruRating. We regularly take advantage of the powerful pieces of consumer insight it provides to manage and grow our business. Feedback via TruRating is transparent and actionable—it is now our key service metric.”

Mike Pearson
Operations Director, Ping Pong

Luca Eandi

TruRating’s Q&A with JD Sports’ Retail Director, Wayne Davies

We grabbed a cup of coffee with Wayne Davies, Retail Director at JD Sports, to put the world to rights and talk about the importance of customer feedback at the leading sportswear retailer.

TruRating: So, Wayne, let’s start with covering how you managed customer feedback at JD in the past?

Wayne Davies: Historically, we used receipt-based surveys coupled with mystery shopper surveys. These represented such a small sample size with low response rates that the data wasn’t very actionable. We also found that, more often than not, the findings didn’t align with what we observed in stores.

TR: What made you start looking for a new approach or a better tool?

WD: Sample size. Using the mystery shopper program as an example—if a store only collects 5 surveys per quarter, one really bad survey is going to carry a lot of weight and paint the store in a bad light.

TR: How did you come across TruRating and did you have to work to justify the business case internally?

WD: Service is hugely important to us. We wanted to be able to understand customer perception and expectations based on how much they spent. TruRating ticked all the boxes – a tool which linked in-store experience with spend, an easy-to-use dashboard and a customized reporting system. This meant we could easily measure impact of store-level initiatives in order to calculate ROI on our efforts.

TR: Has there been an aspect or feature that really stood out to you? Or a favorite data reveal?

WD: We can finally prove the old adage, “Happy customers spend more.” And we now know exactly how much more, as well as which aspects of our customers’ happiness have the strongest link to spend. We also know exactly where and when this is happening, down to the store-hour level. The heatmap is really powerful. On this chart, colors indicate performance across different times of day. At a glance, we can quickly identify sweet spots and sour points. Store managers find this really useful, as they are now empowered to make quick decisions without waiting for reports based on lapsed experiences.

TR: Have you experienced any unexpected benefits?

WD: Measuring customer experience can sometimes make us feel a bit like big brother. With TruRating’s sample size, we’re getting a fair and much more accurate pulse of our stores, which has been tremendous for staff morale and business confidence.

TR: What’s been your biggest key learning so far?

WD: When you make it simple enough, customers actually like feeding back—and having a say in shaping their experience.

TR: How has TruRating impacted your regional sales teams? Do they find the tool useful for their job?

WD: TruRating tells us what the majority of our customers think and how they feel about their shopping experience. Our regional sales teams are using it to help provide context to their area and store-level strategies, as all managers can see the same data at the same time—meaning they can explore findings on an even footing.

TR: How do you think TruRating will help you differentiate in a very competitive high street?

WD: TruRating has removed the guesswork from customer experience measurement. Nearly six million customers have told us what they think in a matter of months. The flow of data is continuous so we can react to it as it’s on-going. This means we’re not spending resources on initiatives that we only assume will delight the customer—we’re constantly learning and testing, which helps us remain customer-centric and competitive in a fast-paced industry.

Thanks to Wayne for taking the time to speak with us. If you’d like to learn more about TruRating for your business, visit our website and get in touch.