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Quality people still remain at the heart of multi-channel businesses

Deteriorating standards of customer service have played a major part in the demise of the general high street, which is in stark contrast to the luxury industry whose focus on employees delivering exemplary service has ensured it prospers. By Glynn Davis


Quality people still remain at the heart of multi-channel businesses

Deteriorating standards of customer service have played a major part in the demise of the general high street, which is in stark contrast to the luxury industry whose focus on employees delivering exemplary service has ensured it prospers. By Glynn Davis

Speaking at the BRC Retail Symposium 2013 in London this week Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, says the way employees deal with customers is vitally important: “We confront staff who are not performing in order to maintain high standards on the shop floor. The worst thing for us is complacency. When they sell five or six expensive watches then they can become tired, but the fifth person has to be made to feel just like the first.” 

Maintaining customer service standards
This maintenance of the highest standards extends to appearances. “Most look a million dollars but if they don’t then they’ll be turned away. If we allow one deviation then it will become a trend. On the high street I see people who’ve been dragged through a hedge,” he says.

To ensure high standards HR is also tasked with only releasing people onto the shop floor after several days training and then they ‘buddy’ them with an experienced colleague “so they know what a luxury customer expects”.

This involves attaining an in-depth knowledge of the products’ attributes and the story behind their manufacture “to create allure of the products”. To ensure this is delivered to the customer Ward says Harrods undertakes hundreds of guest shops in its own store – as well as some of those of its rivals.

“Any consistently low guest shops then they are exited from the business. If they do not meet the standards then they will not be with us,” he says, adding that the company also celebrates success with “awards after awards” and rewards employees who deliver great service.

There is also recognition at Evans Cycles that employees delivering high levels of personalised service are a great differentiator. But Nick Wilkinson, chief executive of Evans Cycles, has abandoned mystery shops in favour of relying on Net Promoter Scores that he says “are a bit of a religion for us”.

Avoid becoming functional retailers
This is partly because cyclists like asking others where they shop and he believes mystery shops have also become too functional. “We want to be more than just functional. Retailers are getting to grips with multi-channel, which is turning them into functional retailers, but we’re doing things that are more emotional rather than functional as customers want more from brands,” he explains.

With the increasing demands on employees to deliver high levels of service combined with the rise of digital – that is requiring new skills sets – it is vital for the HR industry to recruit the necessary high calibre individuals.

Recruiting the right individuals
Michael Truluck, chief executive of Redcats UK, says: “The people in the business are critical. You need the right people in the business to give the right customer service. But they need to be given the right environment and tools.”

Having the right people is essential if the organisation is to be innovative. But even with the right individuals Geoff Cooper, chief executive of Travis Perkins, argues that larger retailers will only be able to deliver incremental innovations whereas the real innovation is only possible within start-ups.

“Having a megalomaniac [like a Steve Jobs] running the business is the only way a big organisation can innovate. Unfortunately the progress of retail over the last 30 years is to systematically close retail innovation. Everything is now centralised. How many retailers let branch managers do their own buying? If you’ve real ambition to innovate then resign [and join a start-up],” suggests Cooper.

Initiating innovation
Simon Calver, chief executive of Mothercare, does not agree and suggests it is possible if you set up a separate team and have them at arm’s length from the main organisation. “For our digital design we set up a separate team and said act like a start-up. Day-to-day retail is hard enough so to [normally] find space to innovate is hard,” he says.

Calver adds that it is also necessary to ensure innovations actually have a meaningful impact on a business and for this an effective leadership has to decide which innovations to curtail and which to focus a company’s limited resources on.

Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Ocado and Fat Face, says the top team also have to recognise changing trends, while attempting to be half a step ahead of the customer, and to then act upon this to effect change. “If they pick the right ones and articulate it to the rest of the business then it is amazing how quickly an organisation can change,” he suggests.

Make sure you attend the Retail Bulletin's 5th Retail HR Summit, 8th October 2013. This interactive event will cover a range of themes including staff engagement, omnichannel cohesion, internationalisation, retention, recruiting the right people - all driving towards making the retailer more profitable and keeping customers.
Click here for further details.

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