Nicky Claeys

Chief Commercial Officer Europe
Domino’s Pizza
"There is not just one shopping experience. You need to develop for the customers as they are."
Domino's are known worldwide for delivering their pizzas to your doorstep at the speed of light. Nicky Claeys, Chief Commercial Officer Europe at Domino's Pizza Enterprise Ltd, talked to us about the customer experience journey and how the company keeps innovating to stay relevant.
You have a Master's Degree in bioengineering. How did you get from there to marketing?
‘I started in bioengineering because I love knowing things; analytics, data, figuring out how things work. But I never wanted to spend time in a lab, I always wanted to put it in practice. So, I started my career in product development and product research. From there, it's just a small step to market research and marketing. As marketing is increasingly a science, a scientific background really helps you in figuring out what channels to choose, what steps to take, and how to engineer your journeys. Number-crunching is a big part of it, as well as making sure that you put your money in the right places.’
How are Domino's doing these days?
‘We're growing quite fast in terms of stores; we're just coming up to our 1250th store. Despite the pandemic, which was quite disruptive, we've always leaned into delivery. Our backbone is: delivering good quality, hot pizzas, reliably and very quickly. The last couple of years that has just accelerated because all of society has moved more towards home-delivery. And this will continue. So, we're in the right business and we've organized ourselves well to take advantage of that and to provide that service. The growth also means that we're able to employ a lot of people. In our stores, on average, we have 20 to 50 employees. Having added some 100 stores last year in Europe, we've employed upwards of 3000 new people. It feels really nice to offer people opportunities and to see the business grow.’
How much have you grown during the pandemic?
‘We have the pick-up business and we have the delivery business. Depending on the market, that's either a 50/50 or a 40/60 ratio. As for the pick-up business, that just dropped to zero in most markets. But delivery spiked. Overall, it balanced each other out from a sales perspective. It was, of course, a huge shift; suddenly we had to deliver all the orders, instead of half. That's not something that you immediately have ready, you have to scale up. It was quite a challenge, but as a business we've risen to that. NPS is at an all-time high.’
Previously, you were the CMO of Domino's Pizza in Europe. Now you're the Chief Commercial Officer, which combines marketing and sales in one job. Is that a match made in heaven?
‘It is in our company. Because ultimately 80 per cent of our sales go through our own channels: our shops and digital e-shops. Jokingly, we often say that we're an e-commerce company that happens to sell pizza. We market and sell to the same customers. And that's both the end-customers and our internal customers, our franchisees. Having that combined makes total sense from our standpoint.’
Is there a future for the CMO in the boardroom?
‘Definitely. Several of our board members come through marketing and business development. We're a retail company, we're fast and entrepreneurial. Marketing and operations are the two drivers. On a European level we have a Chief Commercial Officer because there the responsibilities include commercial policies, looking at opportunities and partnerships. It's broader than just marketing.’
You once said: ‘When marketing is done well, it's the engine of the company.’ Isn't the engine the people making the pizzas? Or the ovens even? 
‘The engine is in driving growth and looking for opportunities. That comes through improved product, pricing strategy, service, campaigns, etc. And marketing is driving that. And then you have to execute really well; that's operations. So, marketing and operations are the two drivers. The fun of working in marketing in our company, is that you're handling all those levers. In other companies it's more divided in silos. I think it really works well when you can oversee everything and steer that engine very fast.’

Your goal as a CCO is to offer customers a frictionless shopping experience. How hard is it to control every step of that journey?
‘People want an alternative to an everyday hot meal. And they want that in a convenient, controlled and reliable way. That's why we have a truly integrated journey, where we have our own drivers, kitchens, fresh dough, etc. We spend a lot of time digitally enabling the stores so that the pizza is delivered within 20 minutes. And then you finesse it even more. When you do that, you can deliver that frictionless experience.’

What have you come up with to make it even more frictionless? 
‘Customers want convenience but they also want control. Therefore, we developed the GPS Pizza Tracker, which shows you exactly where your pizza is; from the oven to your front door. It doesn't change the product, but the feeling of control and the transparency increases so much. When talking about the customer journey, we also mean our internal customers; our franchise partners. We've developed apps for inventory and rostering, using machine learning to predict the orders and volumes. It’s all about digital enablement and this goes beyond just digitizing the existing purchase journey. It's looking at how we can use today's technology to really enable our business better and optimize.’
You control the complete journey. Do you really need external delivery platforms like UberEats and Deliveroo?
‘You have different customer journeys and we don't believe in forcing consumers to go for one or the other. You need to have different journeys for different people. That's is where our CRM comes in. New customers have different needs than existing ones. If you're a vegan, then I shouldn't be showing you the meat options. Most customers come to us directly, but some prefer not knowing what they're going to have, so they’ll look at an aggregator first.’
You cater pretty much for everyone, you even provide gluten-free and halal pizzas. Is there anyone you're not catering for at the moment?
‘We're really good at dinner and lunchtime. We don't yet cater for breakfast. But we have the infrastructure and the stores, we have the ovens, so who says that we shouldn't be doing croissants, baguettes and breakfast pizzas? Menu expansion beyond pizza - variety - is also part of our journey.’
Millions of people use the Domino's app, giving you a lot of useful customer data. How threatening is the third-party cookie ban?
‘We’re not dependent on those cookies. The biggest part of our customers and traffic comes to us directly. We've invested in that and in building up the customer database. We incentivize people to register, there's a loyalty program. But of course, we do work with external parties. There, the main thing is to be prepared so you can manage change. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the likes of Google and Facebook. We have our own online paid media team. Our centre of excellence has moved away from third-party cookies to conversion API, service tracking, etc.’

Is the marketing director of the future strictly a data analyst?
‘No, you need that balance between the left side and the right side of the brain. You have to understand customer psychology and how to make good content. It's not just about the numbers. You have to also interact with your consumers. Therefore, you need empathy and creativity. The traditional advertiser that makes great ads but doesn't understand numbers, will struggle to become a really good marketeer.’
Why are technology and innovation such key focus areas for Domino's?
‘It’s important to have a mindset of not being happy with where you are, believing you can always be better. In every department, we’re constantly looking at how we can be better, how to push boundaries, where the opportunities are. Innovation is in our DNA and we spend a lot of time, money and projects on that. We have an innovation garage in our Brisbane office for bleeding edge technology. There you’ll find things like robotic delivery.’
Which innovation are you most proud of and why? 
‘When I started, pizza was still seen as a snack or junk food. We removed all the artificial flavours, conservatives and colorants, and our dough is 100 per cent fresh and vegan. I'm very proud of our menu and our customers recognize this. It's no longer fast food, it's fresh food. Ultimately it's about the food that we provide.’

Are there limits to your product innovation? 
‘We're not in supermarkets with frozen products because we believe in fresh products, and in something that you can customize. We definitely wouldn't want to offer something that's frozen or pre-made, that's not our ethos.’

What is the future?
‘Robots. There is a thirst for even greater convenience. We're all time-poor, we're all looking to focus more on experiences that connect us, whilst outsourcing repetitive things. So, we’ll look at how we can deliver more convenience to consumers in whichever way possible. Ultimately, it's about experiences. That is what makes every one of us tick. We’re looking at how we can play a small part in that.’
About Nicky Claeys
Nicky Claeys has been a marketing leader in many different industries and has overseen marketing and sales at Domino's for seven years. Her current role is Chief Commercial Officer for Europe. Nicky is a true globetrotter; she has a Belgian passport, spent ten years in the US, and is currently based The Netherlands. She also has a Master's Degree in Bioengineering.

About Domino's Pizza
Domino's Pizza Enterprises Limited (DPE) is the master franchise from where nine countries are managed; Australia (where its headquarters are) Japan, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Denmark. DPE manages 1250 stores. Worldwide, the Domino's brand has over 18.000 restaurants and it currently holds a 50% share of the global pizza delivery market.
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