Modern Magic Formula

customerserviceI recently had dinner with a small group of leading figures in the UK retail industry.  The broad topic of discussion was the current state of play with particular reference to shoppers changing habits and the rise of mobile and internet shopping.

The findings will form part of a larger report later in the year, so I won’t steal Kantar’s thunder.  However we did keep coming back to the same point.  Whatever the channel, the only real point of difference any retailer has is the way their people interact with customers.  There is nothing that any of us offer that someone else does not, or could not offer.  And they may well be able to do it cheaper, faster, better etc.

I have had the pleasure of working with Martin Butler in the past.  He puts it far more elegantly than I can and in much more detail – for more on this check out his books here.  Martin argues that ‘People don’t buy what you sell‘ and as a consequence retail is ‘The art of being chosen‘.  For all of our focus on new technologies and channels retail still is about being chosen and for me that increasingly comes down to customer service.

So called ‘showrooming’ (where a shopper visits a store to try a product with the full intention to buy online) is often seen as a threat by many retailers.  I have certainly been into stores to look at an item ‘in the flesh’ then walked out and bought it online using my phone before I hit the street.  And yet it is a great opportunity, here they are presented with a potential customer who is ready and willing to buy.  Great customer service can easily trump price and I have definitely been into a store to try with no intention of buying there and found myself handing over my plastic having felt I had just made a new connection.

Arguably any retailer who sees showrooming as a threat and not an opportunity has big issues.  These may not be easy to fix but I’d argue that they are simple to understand.  It is ultimately all about the people, all about their training, all about their leadership and all about their freedom to act.

This all seems very obvious.  Yet retail is typically very controlled and hierarchical, it’s more about monitoring and checking.  Staff clock in and out, there are strict rules to prevent theft and fraud and processes to ensure everyone keeps working.  In this environment there is little room for trust, procedures and policies rather than common sense cover all aspects of the job.

This frequently translates into a disengaged ‘jobsworth’ attitude.  Staff will not be willing to move away from the laid down policy regardless of the circumstances for fear of their job.  I heard a story of a staff member who left to train as a nurse.  On his last day after his shift a few drinks were had and somehow his shoes ended up in a canal – I think we have all been there.  No worries, he went back to his store that was just closing up to buy a pair of cheap sneakers to walk home in.  As the tills were closed he was refused to be served, he offered to leave the cash.  But no, there was no policy to cover this.  It might get the sales assistant in trouble.  So he walked home barefoot.  I forgot to mention – it was snowing.  Does anyone think this was in any way right?

The solution isn’t easy but it is simple.

Trust.

Trust that you have hired the right people (if you haven’t whose fault is that?), trust that they all want to do a good job (I know no one who sets out to do a bad job), trust that they want to learn and grow (we all do if we allow ourselves to admit it).  Build an atmosphere of trust and trust staff to not only do things right but to do the right things. Human beings not human doings.

The rest follows.

You will feel very exposed and yes sometimes your trust will prove to be misplaced. And weighed against the freedom and benefits of not having to act like a secret policeman, the improvements in customer service with the consequent improvements in results it is a risk that might be worth taking.

Of course this does not just apply to retailers, or even to organisations.  As individuals we are all looking to be chosen and trusting in ourselves is a good step on the route to being chosen. After all if you don’t trust yourself why should others trust you?

All we need is a magic formula
A whole new backbone
Is what we’re looking for
So you wanted to change the world
But I didn’t believe you
That’s why we’ll say goodbye to the good old days son
I’m trying the best I can
But there’s a white flag burning in the middle of my hand
I’m tired of being exposed
And I don’t know how much more of this I can stand

Modern Magic Formula – Biffy Clyro

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Point of View

Reading-Festival-2I spent the Bank holiday weekend at Reading Festival. Being well past the age when camping in overcrowded conditions with thousands of insomniac teenagers stopped being fun I now temper my festival experience by staying in a local hotel. Being a true Yorkshireman and appreciating the value of money (or being mean if you want to apply that reframe) I stayed in a basic bed and breakfast with my brother in law. He had booked it about 9 months in advance and called them to confirm all was well and there was on site parking. His text to me was typically cryptic.

Hi just checked B&B all booked in, check in from 1400.
No alcohol
No talking
No having fun
No music
😉

But it did set the scene for my first meeting with our hostess.

On the Thursday my daughter was keen to get going to secure a reasonable place to camp and after grinding through the traffic I arrived at the B&B at 13.30. I parked and leaving my bag in the car, in case , went into the B&B to see if I could check in or at least leave my car in the car park while I went for a stroll to the pub.  The Landlady greeted me with a gruff:

it’s 1.30. Another one who can’t tell the time.

I said I knew I was early and if the room was not ready I was happy to come back in an hour or so. The landlady said that the room was ready and I was welcome to come in.

I’ve had them here at 9.30.  It clearly says 2pm.  And checking out, asking if they can check out later.  It says right here on the key fob 10.00.  This weekend of all times.  You get all sorts, especially this weekend

I took it from the tone that ‘all sorts’ was not seen as a desirable state of affairs. But wanting to help her achieve a higher state of being (OK wanting to wind her up a bit) I said “How lovely, it must be great to meet a different type of guest than the usual business travellers”.

Her expression suggested that it wasn’t great at all.  She showed me to the rather tired room.  Never has the word ‘adequate’ been so apt.

It will soon be getting busy.  The great unwashed arriving.

I said that it was already very busy and when I dropped my daughter off the town centre was at a near standstill.

I don’t call that traffic.  Soon it will be nose to tail all along here.  That’s traffic.  Every day it’s terrible it is.

“That does make getting about awkward but it’s great for you having so many people pass by, no need to advertise!  And great for the town too.  If the town is busy it must be good for your business.”

Apparently not.

Looks like another muddy one.  Last year the mud was terrible.  They walked it in everywhere they did.

“Well” I said, looking at the grubby decor “I am surprised as I was at the festival last year and don’t recall any rain. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage.  I guess a wet festival must be good for business as it makes people more likely to use a B&B ”

Forecast for rain, even snow.  That will be nice for that lot.

“Oh, the forecast I saw is for it to be a bit chilly but mostly dry.  Snow in August.  That would give us all a tale to tell!”

The next morning over breakfast the landlady chatted with various guests about various guests.  Interesting as I wondered what she was saying about me.

I wonder if we’ll see those two girls? I doubt it.  I bet they won’t surface.

“That saves you the trouble of cooking and the cost of the meal.  All extra profit.”

That Indian girl’s dad rang at midnight last night to see if she was in.  He booked her in here and paid for it.

“It’s wonderful to see a father allowing his daughter the freedom and yet keeping a discrete check.”

One guest asked if the doors were locked at any time and was treated to a sarcastic refresh on how one of the keys opened the front  door and the other his room followed by threats of physical harm should anyone lose a key and require letting in late at night, further followed by a critique of the headline acts

Noisy rubbish.  Dreadful thumping all night, no proper tunes.  Hasn’t been an act worth seeing for years.

“The organisers have to move with the times. Most of the people sitting here paid a lot of money to watch these bands, 90,000 people will be watching tonight plus a large TV audience.”

I’d love to report that my repeated reframing changed her in some way.  I doubt it did because she was rarely listening out for anything except a lull in the conversation into which she could inject her opinions.  It wasn’t even annoying her so I gave up.

It did change me though.  I decided not to ask if my daughter could pop in mid morning to use the shower in my room and I decided to hide the fact that I spilled a large glass of red wine all over the bed.  I am sorry – not to the Landlady, the laundry would get it out anyway, but to my daughter who had to go a few days as one of the great unwashed.

At least it didn’t snow.

Two different people, two different places
Through a one way window with two different faces
Agreements are not reached, faces are forgotten
The other person’s shoes, you’ve not got in

Stubborn minded enclosed to your own world
Wake up and see someone else’s morals
What right to you
Might be true

It’s a different point of view to you
You cannot see things that are different to me
And I can’t understand why you cannot see
The things that I cannot see

I see what you don’t see
I see what you don’t see
Turn around and the shadows are all around me

Two different people, two different places
Through a one way window with two different faces
Agreements are not reached, faces are forgotten
The other person’s shoes, you’ve not got in

Point of View – Blink 182