Customer Service? What Customer Service?

Customer ServiceI recently read an article in that stated half of shop workers know less about the products they sell than the customers. It reminded me of an incident some years ago, in a now out of business white goods retailer, where when asked what was the difference between two tumble dryers, the assistant’s response was fifteen quid mate!

These days, this kind of situation is almost certainly compounded by customers having access to incredible amounts of in-depth product information for their planned purchases.  When customers walk into a store with such an in-depth knowledge of the products they want to purchase, it becomes quite difficult for retailers to ensure that all their staff have the necessary depth of training and information to be able to address customer queries intelligently.

In order to retain customers or grow market share retailers must keep customers engaged instore once they are there. To do this they need to give their employees sufficient tools and knowledge to ensure that they can answer queries from customers. If an employee has to lie or pass customers on to their colleagues – there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The obvious solution is to make sure that employee training is sufficient and timely, but it is also crucial that the most knowledgeable employees who have the best skills to engage customers with the appropriate knowledge are scheduled to be available at the busiest times in order to optimise sales. Mobile devices (Tablets such as the ipad) can also be useful; giving access to product information ‘on the go’ that will give staff the same access to information that the customer has, should they need it. A workforce management solution can make scheduling the right employee, with the right skills at the right time simpler for managers and having a mobile-enabled workforce ultimately gives both employees and customers a better in store experience.

What do you think of the levels or customer service in UK retailers today? Could it be improved? If so what measures do you think should be taken?



All is not equal when it comes to workforce management for retail

shopping bagsIn more than 25 years in the workforce management business and having worked with many retailers over the years, I have to say all is not equal when it comes to retail workforce management solutions. I have seen many projects fail over that time and they usually fail for one of two reasons; poor change management or poor choice of technology.

Today I will focus on selecting the right technology and cover change management another day.

Unfortunately, with the tools available today the “barrier to entry” to create an attractive-looking application is pretty low, and means “buyer beware!” Any retailer selecting and deploying an effective workforce management solution must do their due diligence well. It is far too common to be drawn in by the claim that all you need is something simple. “Something simple” often translates to “beauty only being skin deep”

“If it looks too good to be true it probably is” should be the byword when selecting workforce management technology. Whilst of course any such technology should be intuitive and easy to use at the sharp end, i.e. in the stores. It must have the depth and substance behind it to allow for the sophisticated forecasting, labour standards and scheduling algorithms required to be successful in our new Omni-channel world. For instance if all the solution does is forecast and schedule to a simple standard such as labour cost as a percentage of sale, then guess what, that’s exactly what it will do, and continue to do, even as underlying sales fall.

Today’s rapidly changing retail world requires sophisticated forecasting engines capable of accurately forecasting multiple drivers for labour; footfall by store area, sales by article group, queue length, deliveries and more. The application should then be capable of using those drivers and associated granular labour standards and the variety of store operating models to create the ideal staffing plan. Taking that ideal plan through to delivering practical schedules accommodating employee flexibility, availability, preferences, skills, hours worked, legislation, collective bargaining agreements and a host of other attributes is key to quality operational delivery.

The solution must then ensure managers and associates execute against that ideal schedule, guiding store managers so they can deal efficiently with the realities of life, such as sickness, lateness and unexpected events like emergency road works right there on the shop floor in real-time. After all what is the point of the best schedule in the world unless it plays through to reality?

Finally, the solution needs to aggregate all that data, analyse it and suggest areas for improvement, identifying best practice whilst comparing channels against best in class operations.

Workforce management done well has one of the fastest returns on investment of any technology deployment. It creates genuine competitive advantage for retailers; increasing basket size, improving conversion, customer service, product availability, employee engagement, sales and revenue.

All is most definitely not equal when it comes to workforce management, remember “beauty is often only skin deep”.

It’s that time of year again

Well it’s that time of year again, something I am sure many of us look forward to with trepidation. Off to the shops each weekend and despite the economic gloom, it’s still crowded and queues are long.

Christmas always brings to mind an episode my good friend Bill told me about a number of years ago.

It was the Saturday before Christmas and Bill being a great football fan had just settled into his favorite armchair to watch the match. Just as he got comfortable his wife Janet popped her head round the corner and asked, “Bill honey, did you remember to get the cranberry sauce?”.

Bill panicked, quickly jumped to his feet and offered to pop down to the local supermarket, but Janet, sensing his obvious lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand offered to go herself.

Long after the football was finished, in fact about three hours later, Janet returned. Quick to point out that she hadn’t been enjoying a leisurely stroll round the shops she snapped “Before you ask, no, I wasn’t shopping for fun, they couldn’t get the goods out on the shelves fast enough, only half the tills were open and the queues were 5 deep!”

Ever sympathetic and without thinking Bill retorted, “You should have known that this close to Christmas they would be very busy.”

Janet’s immediate response was, “No THEY should have known!”

So, come on all you retailers, the solution is out there, no excuse this year for not deploying the right staff, in the right place, doing the right things at the right time. Remember, you only get just over two chances to upset a customer before they take their business elsewhere.

Wishing everybody good trading at this special time of year.

PS – in case you’re wondering, Bill did enjoy cranberry sauce with his Christmas turkey!