The Walmart of Europe. We're just a grocery retailer. We sell anything from a carton of milk to a TV.
That’s’ how Stijn Stabel, CTO at Carrefour, pitches the organization he works for. It’s a descriptor that perhaps doesn’t fully reflect the scale of the business. Now over 60 years old, Carrefour Group boasts over 321,000 employees, 12,225 stores in over 30 countries and an online presence clocking up over 1.3 million visits per day. In total, the firm reckons it reaches 104 million households a year.
Stabel joined the company in 2019 just as it was embarking on a major and highly complex digital transformation program, part of the wider Carrefour 2022 Strategic Plan. In fact, it was too complex, he recalls:
When I joined we had within IT itself about eight or nine help desks, different help desks, some of them outsourced, some of them in-sourced. We moved them all together and we were looking for a tool that could support it. My predecessors were already looking at some tools and they had a study done. When I arrived, I got like two binders full of processes [that were] the ones we were going to implement. And I'm like, 'Guys, this is never gonna work. We're all going to retire before we implement this!’.
What was needed was a rethink to make things nimbler and simpler, he explains:
We'd just got to make it easy for our users, but also for our service desk agents, because we were about to in-source and build our own team. So we were starting from scratch, which is good, it's greenfield. But implementing two binders of processes and putting it up onto your teams, in my opinion it was never going to work.
The firm went back out to tender and ended up selecting Freshworks Freshservice offering. This was implemented at what Stabel calls “warp speed”:
It was really a success story. The team has now been using it for a little less than two years. We've a bunch of integrations to our service partners, since we still work with with the ‘usual suspects’ that provide certain services. But we've managed to put them all on the same platform, the same process of one single user experience, which is a good thing these days.
Keeping things simple has been a driver throughout, he says:
We were never going to implement all the processes. We had to basically start from the beginning and build it up from there. And if we need more, we will build on more. If we say, 'We can automate this process, it's going to be easier if you automate it', we'll do it, but as we go along. It's not like building a rocket ship. Our engineers are not working for SpaceX or Tesla or whatever. We're just doing groceries.
So we wanted to start simple and whenever we come up with a process where we say, 'Oh, we can automate this', it's really simple with workflows. It's so straightforward. At our end, we don't have a lot of resources basically managing it and that's great because there's low overhead so that we can focus on what we should be focusing on, which is making our customers happy.
Following these initial successes, the next step for Carrefour involves aggregating and integrating more data and more help desks, including customer-facing ones and internal-facing ones that are not related to IT. Importing and integrating data that comes out of all those different systems will have significant benefits, reckons Stabel:
That way, for example, we will be able to proactively react to calls that will be coming in. If we know that the website is down or even just reacting slowly, we want to put that up already on our trust page. We want to put it into the phone system saying, 'We've noticed problems' and thereby prevent an overflow of calls coming in. But also [we can be] reaching out to people, calling a store director saying, 'We know your store's down, we're on it'.
If you can do that, before they call you, that's an amazing user experience and that's what we're really after by aggregating all the data, the monitoring data, our product information data. For example, if you can monitor and measure that certain products perish faster than what's written on the package and you always have people complaining about it, then you can react and you can work with your vendors to basically do that proactively and make sure that those calls no longer have to come in. And [do this] in a very transparent way. People shouldn't know it's there. It just works.
As for other organizations considering similar transformation initiatives, Stabel offers some key learnings based on Carrefour’s experience:
Keep it simple and fast and try to prove added value from the very beginning. If you set out on a years long project, you're losing a lot of value there. The [Freshworks] tool is made to start very quick and swiftly and transparently, so just do that - start to create value. And also teach your people how to use the tool, how to create their own workflows, and give them all their own personal bots to automate part of their work and make it easy for them.
The other learning reflects the macro-environment of the COVID crisis of the past two years and the disruption and uncertainties in the retail sector that have resulted. This has an obvious impact on strategic planning for all retailers, making it difficult to base thinking on long term certainties and unwise to embark on IT programs that will take years and years to implement and deliver results. Or as Stabel puts it:
With all the changes going on in today's world, I don't believe we need something that can hold up for the next 20 years. If we can create something that does perfectly well for the next three, we're already a huge step ahead because who knows what the world will bring in three years?