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HOME  |  HR
HR Summit 2012 – HR driving delivery of superior customer service over multiple channels

Multi-channel developments and consumer adoption of mobile technologies are prompting fundamental changes to HR strategies and recruitment practices within many retail organisations. By Glynn Davis

HR

HR Summit 2012 – HR driving delivery of superior customer service over multiple channels

Speaking at last week’s Retail Bulletin HR Summit 2012 in London Lynne Weedall, group HR and strategy director at The Carphone Warehouse, suggested that there have been earlier revolutionary changes in retail such as self service and out-of-town shopping, but that multi-channel was “arguably even more disruptive, with big implications for HR”.

While she believes the changes are proving “brilliant news” for customers – in terms of price transparency, information, and convenience – Weedall says it could be a “nightmare” for retailers who have largely been focused on like-for-likes and cost control: “It requires different profiles of people you hire, different rewards, and different management [methods].”

Multi-channel skill sets wanted
She says there is a need to recognise the business in a multi-channel sense whereby “you don’t just hire certain people for the web [jobs], who are tech-savvy, and then have customer-focused people for the stores”. There is instead a requirement to recruit employees who can work across all channels.

But there will inevitably be specialists employed for the different channels and the challenge therefore, according to Weedall, is to ensure that the skills of these people are protected from the rest of the organisation while also avoiding “them being lost and going off on their own”.

For these specialists she is an advocate of recruiting in-experienced rising stars rather than weak e-commerce veterans: “Great people will do great stuff. You just need to bring them alive in your organisation.”

Sharing rewards across channels
What can help is a reward strategy that ensures multi-channel sales are recognised across different channels. This has been acknowledges by Sarah Chitty, senior HR business partner at Republic (Retail), who says there was initially a divide between store and online employees – especially when internet orders were returned into stores.

“We had to show them that this was an opportunity for them to up-sell. We went through an education piece on how to reward them - how you incentivise store managers, and the people in online,” she says, adding that the over-riding key objective for all employees in-store is to give a great customer experience and that this has to be rewarded in some way.

Engaging the candidate
Retailers need to engage with potential recruits from the moment they look for vacancies on the company’s website. Paul McNulty, Head Office Recruitment Manager, The Talent Team, Matalan, talked about how their candidate’s journey had changed over the past two years.

He said that Matalan’s previous application system was difficult to search, resulting in the loss of some good applicants. They have since implemented a much more user-friendly system developed by eploy which Paul says has ‘really opened up the communication’ with candidates. “This gives a much better impression to candidates and gives Matalan’s recruitment process and the company credibility”.

Christopher Bogh, Technical Director at eploy explained that a ‘fancy design’ should never compromise the functionality of the career portal. He said that candidates are used to using sophisticated jobs boards and expect ease of use and relevant search results.
 
Paul added that many of the candidate communication tasks are fully automated resulting in a much better candidate experience and improved company image. As a result, Matalan have been able to reduce expenditure on agency fees, reduce time to hire and greatly improve acceptance rate.

Identify the ‘right hires’
Matthew Armstrong, Head of Business Development for the event’s Headline Sponsor, General Dynamics Information Technology, presented a product that has been recently launched in the UK. The validated retail assessments are designed to evaluate a candidate’s attitude to aspects such as customer service and is particularly useful for volume recruitment.
 
Graeme Paxton, Head of Resourcing at Ladbrokes, has been using the General Dynamics system to get a better ROI from recruitment, eliminating some of the costs of ‘bad recruitment’.   He said that Ladbrokes has to show that it has moved away from its ‘flat cap and whippet’ image and is now a multi-channel business which needs to attract candidates with new skill sets - creating new demands on the recruitment process.
“If we can recruit candidates with the right attitudes, we can then train them in the required skills”

Ladbrokes gets around 250,000 applicants a year and takes on 2,000 new recruits. By scientifically  measuring the suitability of every applicant at the entry stage, Graeme explained that they have managed to reduce staff turnover, reduce theft and increase sales performance.

Driving employee engagement
To this end Republic trains its teams by running through scenarios around the various ‘moments of truth’ in the customer journey, which everybody contributes to and this helps improves engagement: “We find it enables flexible training and the teams come up with their own ideas. We find our people have the answers so it works well.”

Republic also engages in listening exercises including a weekly conference call with a changing mix of store managers along with the heads of departments at head office: “We take feedback and send actions down to stores ready for the weekend [trading].”

‘Listening’ is one of the four key elements that Ryan Cheyne, people director at Pets at Home, has employed to create an engaged team of employees, which he says drives customer loyalty and ultimately delivers growth in both sales and profits.

He runs listening groups and also undertakes two major surveys each year. And he says, most vital is that the company responds to the findings. The other three elements are: recruiting the right people, which unlike many companies Pets at Home uses group recruitment that involves an audition process followed by an individual interview. “This is the foundation stone of our culture and it reduces staff turnover, says Cheyne.

The next key aspect is training, which involves a nine-month programme that must be passed by all employees, and the final element in creating engagement at Pets at Home is recognition and rewards, which ensures employees are regularly recognised for their achievements.

“We’ve worked hard to create a culture of recognising people even for small things. A thank-you note costs nothing but if there is a secret to recognising people then the hand-written note is it. They are pinned up around the office and we do a lot of them,” he explains.

Reducing staff turnover
The results of this focus on “putting people at the heart of the business” is that the service levels now delivered are a unique selling point of Pets at Home.  It has also helped staff turnover fall from 75%, which he says was “criminal for a specialist retailer”, to a current modest 16.5%.

Proof that this engagement of employees translates into sales growth can be seen from the company’s research that showed highly satisfied customers spent 4% more than satisfied customers.

Employee engagement is also a key element at John Lewis, according to Simon Russell, director of retail operations development at John Lewis, who says the managers at the group have employee engagement as a KPI. This has been vitally important over recent years as the group has sought to merge its online and store channels.

“We’ve been transparent and shown employees that the two channels merging and we’ve taken the staff with us. They are ambassadors for all channels and we’ve also allocated online sales to the stores. At the heart of this has been the store managers having a KPI for engagement,” he explains.

Bankers learning from retailers

At Tesco Bank there has been an even tougher HR challenge than a merging of channels. The company is working hard at imbuing the customer-focused approach of its store staff within its banking teams, many of which have previously been employees of some of the large high street banks.

 Dave Buglass, head of learning and development at Tesco Bank, says: “We provide the opportunities for key bank personnel to go back into our stores so they understand that at the heart of the business is a customer. It sounded very simple to me when I first saw this in action, but it really does give our people the chance to put themselves in the shoes our customers and more importantly our stores staff.”

This has impacted on the recruitment of new people into the bank, with Buglass revealing that in some areas such as the call centres the company has “gone for non-bankers” who are more likely to be more customer-centric.

A key element of bringing in this new way of operating the banking division has also been the position on incentivisation of its staff.

 “In short, we don't incentivise any of our customer facing teams with our focus purely on customer service and loyalty. It sounds easy to do this but this represents a very different culture [to before],” he says, adding that helping this switch to rewarding on delivering customer service rather than sales is the modest growth targets that the bank has set.

 

 

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