By David Farquhar, Workplace Systems
It has long been understood that the quality of the customer service retailers provide can have a profound influence over the buying habits of customers. This is an inalienable truth, manifest in all sectors where employees and associates have direct contact with customers: in the retail store, the restaurant, on the train, the plane, the resort, or at the call center.
A well-served customer who enters the store for a shirt and tie will often feel happy walking out with a suit as well. Happy customers spend more in-store; they order more drinks or an extra dish; they will travel by rail rather than air or road; they’ll swap to another service provider.
And it’s viral: the happy customer will tell three people whereas the unhappy customer will tell 20. These days that’s not just about word of mouth: it happens via Facebook, Trip Advisor, WhatsApp, Snapchat and hundreds of other channels which employers have no control over. Consumer opinion has been totally democratized and liberated.
Good customer service is as natural to retail leaders as ensuring the shelves are appropriately stocked or that every dish is served at the correct temperature. But how can we most effectively ensure that the quality of customer service required by HQ is delivered at store level, day in, day out?
Studies have shown a number of factors can positively, or negatively, impact our ability to maintain high standards of customer service, which ultimately impacts sales on the shop-floor. But the key to success is maintaining standards after you’ve set them, and it has become increasingly clear that the greatest sustainable impact lies in creating an engaged and contented workforce.
Employees who feel good about coming to work, who feel a sense of pride in the brand and job satisfaction are far more likely to deliver the quality of customer service consumers and retailers expect. Employee engagement can be impacted by a vast array of factors: sales associates’ pay and rewards package, their terms and conditions, the working environment and kudos of the brand they work for, or the way they are managed or even spoken to — to name just a few factors.
Our employees and associates have had their expectations raised in terms of work-life balance. And actually this makes sense if we believe the motivated colleague is a more productive colleague. We inhabit the age of social media and powerful, ubiquitous computing power enabling instant, spur of the moment communications. Word soon gets around about how people are treated at work, and as employers we have no right to control these private opinions, but we can change them.
In order to recruit and retain the best people, retailers need to be savvy to this new democratisation; its pace is not only rapid but is massively accelerating. Facebook is becoming old hat and soon we’ll all be employing millennials — those people born near or after the turn of the century. So how can we turn this tide of social media change to our advantage? It starts by ensuring employees are engaged with sales objectives and treated well — starting with fair and considerate rota scheduling.
Helping sales associates to achieve the much desired goal of work-life balance is of the best ways to deliver employee engagement in a sustainable way. This can mean many things to many people but to most it’s about choosing when, and in some cases where you work, especially if you work for a chain retail operation.
So how can retailers do this in a way that works for them and their sales associates? Headquarters wants to know that employees and associates are being scheduled in the most effective and efficient way: the right mix of skills in the right place at the right time to maximize customer service, optimize revenues, minimize overtime and manage labour costs. Once headquarters have set these rules, they must empower local managers to apply their local knowledge and judgement to adjust schedules to best match forecast demand based on sales projections, footfall and many other contributory factors. It’s also important to enable associates to bid for the shifts that suit them best, within policy rules; and even swap shifts with suitably qualified colleagues via their preferred medium: be it smartphone or social media.
Retailer leaders should turn the powerful tools at their disposal to their advantage, creating, and an engaged, committed workforce who delivers a high quality of customer service that optimizes revenues and increases market share.
David Farquhar is the Group CEO of Workplace Systems, supplier of workforce management solutions in the cloud. Farquhar is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in the technology sector. Under his leadership, Workplace is helping leisure and retail clients to create competitive advantage through improved productivity, visibility and control of costs, sales growth, more engaged associates and better customer service.