Post Covid Retail – Are you in a Covid Cave or a Covid Chrysalis ?

Are you in a Covid Cave or a Covid Chrysalis ?

We are aware that retail is going through some changes, for many this looks like a period of forced and occasionally voluntary hibernation. The decision people make going into that period of reduced activity is to decide how they emerge and what the expectations are for what they will look like when they do.

Our team discussions have highlighted a divergent opinion on what people will be doing during hibernation, with similar businesses doing widely different things to survive. One thing as a team we all agreed with was the need to have a plan on what the future business looks like.

Covid Cave (Bear)

There are some retailers who saw the business fall away from their stores, failed to fully connect to an online buying customer to replace enough sales and as the furlough scheme started to evaporate decided on packing it all in. We have seen these in the press and the resultant shock and depression on the faces of those staff and customers as the brands disappear. Sad yet many needed to work harder on future-proofing the business before lockdown, like a bear going into hibernation with too few calories and fatally not emerging.  The real question they need to ask is are they just going to come out of the Covid Cave as a slimmer version of the bear that went in ? Although many, if not the vast majority believe this is the right approach, we feel it is also a missed opportunity for most.

There is another group of retailers who are looking to deliver a step change in the way their business is conducted. In some ways this will manifest itself as a loss of physical space and store closures that have already started and will continue. In others it is the closure of the head offices and the robust tier removal of people structures. All sounds pretty dynamic and a year ago we would have said it is. Now it is less so, you still end up with a skinnier version of the same bear.    

In a few socially distanced coffees recently we have spoken to some Chairmen who are looking to see a step change. I understand the point one of them made with us quite strongly. “If you go through all the pain of the restructuring of your business, debt and people and make changes to the portfolio of stores, you want something at the end which is much more than an incremental change” I think we can say this is a vote against the skinny bear.

Chrysalis (Moth)  

Change will come as many of the competition will have vanished, sad as this is, the industry is going through a Christmas like no others in modern retail and as such those left will have to work hard to attract shoppers. Some, perhaps a brave few, will have taken a much different view and decided that they need to build on what they had with customers before and add something significant.

Much of this will be in B2B collaboration as new partnerships and both physical and online businesses share space to serve what they believe are cross-over customers. Think Lush getting together with River Island or similar as a fantasy example, or Curry’s suggesting to Tesco that they take over their technology departments.

Other change will be about customer acquisition and ownership ( yes I did say ownership) as brands define their customer experience to be complete from the very start of the potential digital journey to the end of the physical transaction and beyond in customer advocacy. Many suggest they do this now, yet in truth we are still seeking examples here.

If your business is going through some navel gazing at present, have a think about whether you will be just a skinnier bear at the end or emerge as a transformed moth. As much as I have always enjoyed caves, and not been too keen on moths, I know which one I would be choosing now.   

Buying Decisions in the Post Covid Landscape

Buying product to sell in a retail environment, whether it be for stores, ecommerce or international multi-channel business, requires a fine tuning of many variables:  What to buy? How much to pay for it? How much to sell it for?  Where to buy it from?  How many units to buy?  Is it on trend?  Is it right for the customer?

Throw in a particularly unstable retail market and this makes each and every one of those decisions even harder to make.

The tendency is to play it safe, to retreat to a place of relative comfort, to hunker down and hope that the cash flow will weather the storm.  At Retail Remedy we believe there is a balance to be struck here. 

Low risk = high risk

Fantastic core product, bought with the key customer in mind, is a retail must-have and is the corner stone of most businesses.  There is not a lot new about this statement, but is your core product the best it can possibly be?  Has it been truly considered with your actual customer in mind?  Is there still an element of real newness within your core offer?  (and that doesn’t just mean a new, seasonal colourway).

This is where creativity becomes your most important resource.  Considered design and creative marketing are your least expendable assets when retail is uncertain.  It is more important than ever to have a unique selling point and to stand out from the crowd.  It is riskier to make too many “safe” choices at the expense of new and unique products, that are not interchangeable with another brands’.  And perhaps it is actually less of a risk, dare we say it, to push the creative boundaries and make a few mistakes?  Buying by committee, or subjecting product to the scrutiny of a hierarchy of sign-off processes often leads to the dumbing-down of a product range.

Under these circumstances the need for agility in retail is even greater.  Taking calculated risks with new and unique product is rendered less of a concern if the business is able to react to trade decisively, quickly and effectively.  Simplification is the key to achieving increased agility:  Simplification of company structure, clarity of offer to the customer and alignment of brand in each and every channel will deliver financial rewards.

The pace of change in retail is exponential and “tried and tested” strategies are usually out of date.  We aren’t just referring to fast fashion here. 

Standing still is moving backwards

This frequently uttered mantra has never been so relevant as it is to current trading.  If you would like help to future-proof your retail business, to simplify it whilst amplifying your uniqueness and increasing your agility, give us a call.

Post Covid Retail – preparing for a Covid Winter

Post Covid Retail – preparing for a Covid Winter

The news has rarely been a source of comfort for retail in recent years and is unlikely to be optimistic in the coming months either. As the UK moved out of lock down and retailers began to see customers return to the ‘local’ high st.  The government’s latest announcements of tighter restrictions will undoubtedly have sent a second wave of trepidation through the majority of retail boardrooms.

Many retailers now fear that the financial strain and customer appetite for physical shopping and the need for online purchases are such that they are questioning their brand viability. These are very troubling times and over a series of interviews from the last few weeks we know that preparation for what happens next is vital.

As a business we spend our lives working with retailers simplifying operating models and ensuring they are setup to operate as lean as possible, and whilst we recognise that long term business survival is never delivered through cost cutting exercises operating a leaner more flexible operating model  allows the business to adapt much quicker.

We came up with some actions that retailers need to take now to ensure that they survive and even thrive. Keeping things as simple as possible this is our top line action plan for preparing for a hard winter.

  • Heads up Objectivity.
    • Refresh where you think the business could or should be in 6 months and start an independent review of what that means in terms of structure, people, cash flow, customer engagement, team engagement, property and systems. Be bold and make sure that there are no vested interests with those engaged to complete the review. Having done this recently we know it is not always best as a HR led project.
    • This is sensitive stuff, if this is a trusted internal colleague, they must be given access all areas, ask any questions access. This includes challenging the senior team. This person(s) must also be fully briefed on where the board thinks the business should be in the 6 months.
    • Too many people take too long doing this, conclusions and evidenced recommendations need to be forthcoming within 3 weeks of start.
  • Business Simplification.
    • From step one you will have an idea of what parts of your business is aligned to the vision and what parts are still operating as they were previously. Identify the quick wins on immediate operations improvement and implement swiftly to gain maximum benefit. Some may be structural; others will be removing duplication. In post Covid times this may have already started by default.   
    • Have a clear plan, concisely communicated on what activity you need for the customer facing business based on your buy and hold people to account on its execution both at product level and in its execution. The part we have found many retailers value most yet achieve least; we tend to assist in implementing completely as role modelling this is a must.
    • Reduce complexity and needless bureaucracy by making critical paths understood and commonly adhered to. A worthwhile challenge for all as this discipline saves money and expedites retail delivery enormously.
  • Rigorous cost challenges
    • Broad challenges to every team member on how we save money every day, chart and make sure there is some competitive edge to it. The ex-Wal-Mart elements of our team are used to this being a way of life and have helped interpretations of it throughout the UK and Globally.
    • Review GNFR suppliers in each department and evaluate ROI in the short term. Explore payment holidays or a more permanent financial arrangement to meet current business costs. Negotiating is iterative not static. Our recent clients have left this too low down the seniority list and we believe it is worthy of a fresh look.
    • Always measure success, cost savings and certainly against any pledges given internally or externally. Savings need to be front-loaded and sustainable.

Nothing ground-breaking, just a little more urgent than ever before. If you have not commenced these actions, ask yourself if you feel fully prepared for the hard Winter ahead. It may be a tough one, yet we know there are ways through to a Spring where, unfortunately, some of the competition will no longer be there.

Post Covid Retail – Team Yes, No and Maybe ?

Post Covid Retail – Team Yes, No and Maybe ?

As part of the series of brief interviews to explore retail practices that are essential for growth in s post Covid landscape we spoke to Phil Dorrell on his long held views on cognitive diversity and why it is the choice of all brave and self-assured leaders.

So Phil first of all what is Cognitive Diversity, it sounds a bit complicated ?

It’s a very simple concept to understand as we are all sub-consciously aware of the people who have the same views and background as we do and those who are different. It’s no surprise that we tend to gravitate to those have similar views and values, it’s human nature. We do it even online in social media where we follow people we feel share the same opinions and ignore (or worse) those who think differently.  In business we do the same, and this is where the problems can occur. Listening to and understanding more diverse views is vital in modern culture and business. Many of society’s ills come back to a lack of listening and understanding.

So in practice what does that mean for business and especially retail ?

Well we have had a very challenging year and many people will have seen colleagues leave or be furloughed and others may have noticed a distillation in the leadership, they have circled the wagons and kept the favoured team in the camp.  As the CEO and HR make hard decisions it is a brave leader who retains the people on the board who have different views, who question the status quo, not out of spite but because their experience and references may be very far away from the leadership teams. Having had this conversation with many retail leaders I know when I ask them about their team the usual response is one of shared experience and togetherness. Very understandable, especially now, yet not likely to push back and offer contrary views. The current post Covid landscape has changed remarkably, and it is now that we need a very broad set of experience and views in navigating through it. Nobody has all the answers, some diverse teams may just have most of them.   

Are you suggesting that people need no men rather than yes men ?

If you boil it down to the core, then yes that is correct, although that is a simplification. I am saying that if CEO’s look around the board room to a team of nodding heads, on strategic decisions and how to execute them, you have to question where are the nay-sayers who would challenge and sharpen decision making. It is much easier to work with people who agree with you all the time, the most productive teams are those that allow real challenge at any level and from that gain from the melting pot of experiences and views.

This sounds a nice to have but how many people really do it ?

The picture I have as a feature of this article is of a small Ford pick up truck, many will recognise. Sam Walton actively encouraged people to swim against the stream, something that meant he had a broad set of views to develop his business. Yes he had really trusted family and team members, yet he was always willing to listen to views outside this small group and accept challenge within it. I know the current Wal-Mart team would like to think this still happens. I have seen this in retail boards from Africa to Australia and of course Europe too. The real added benefit in establishing a cognitive diverse team is that you will rely on fewer outside consultants offering unique perspective that sounds like either genius ideas or re-hashed from a textbook. When the leaders feel they have no say or contribution they often call in consultants to take an “objective” view. I am really proud we have insisted on complete objectivity when working with clients, always interesting, often fun, but inevitably everybody wins when contribution is broad and seasoned judgement applied.      

Post Covid Retail – Marketing costs, or does it ?

Making a fixed cost Impact

As part of a series of interview with the team we have been asking what lessons retail should have learnt or should be learning as we deal with the ongoing pandemic. This interview is with Retail Remedy Associate Jo Staton, a straight talking, cost saving legend.

So Jo, why bother with marketing in these Post Covid times ?

The Marketing Department within any retailer is often the highest cost P&L and the obvious target when the proverbial hits the fan.  It is easy to say cut the Marketing spend in the current climate but are your competitors doing the same?  How is your marketing going to stand up against them to get the customers in your stores rather than theirs?  For me, it is about making it work smarter not harder, if anything now is a time to increase the marketing spend and look to state the case for customers safely selecting you.

What would you be doing now from a cost perspective?

From an operational perspective you look at all of the costs, in these Post Covid times even more so, especially the ones that are supposedly “fixed”.  When I go into businesses to look at Marketing costs specifically, I often get told something similar to “we have to pay that”, Why? “because we always have”… isn’t an answer.  I would look at the following:

  • Identify the true fixed costs, not just what you have always paid and re-evaluate your Marketing spend including what is remaining for 2020 and for 2021 planning.
  • Ask your team to reduce the budget by 10%, 30%, 50% and detail what would be sacrificed accordingly. Doing it this way serves to establish the core of the function and highlights what might be optional.
  • Ensure your plan and therefore your budget are factoring in the latest customer insight, this is your best source of keeping ahead of the curve.
  • Recognise the agencies that have supported you and brought new, innovative ideas throughout this significantly difficult time. Have they been a true partner, or do they just want their invoice paid?
  • Ensure your contracts are fair to both parties but work for you, they can be altered and have detailed KPI’s on both sides.

So, is it just about cutting costs then?

Obviously, it is more often than not about costs, but it is also about ways of working and operational simplicity.  How do you get from A to B in the smartest, most cost efficient way possible.  Where are the baton passes between Marketing and the other areas of the business, is there any duplication? Have you looked for it?  Critical Path management is key but often forgotten as the day job just has to be done. You have to ask yourself if every department is thinking about the broader team and how they deal with these handovers in Post Covid times. Chart the critical path out, eradicate duplication and focus on efficiency.

Post Covid Retail – Customer first buying, nimble supply base

As part of a series of interviews, we have been asking ‘what lessons retail should have learnt or should be learning as we deal with the ongoing pandemic’. This interview is with Retail Remedy Consultant Emma Reed whose years in fashion buying for bricks and clicks has timely advice for those facing the current pandemic challenges.

So Emma, what is your biggest criticism of retail at the moment?

Any business that is not completely and utterly focused on their customer right now, will be feeling the pain.  Boards spend too much time worrying about their shareholders and manipulating their financial reporting to appease them.  They don’t spend enough time anticipating what their customer will want next, in terms of product and experience.  I would challenge leaders to get to know their actual customer, not the one they think they have, and to make it their absolute priority to focus their product, their marketing and their brand experience directly at their actual customer.  In doing so they will look after their shareholders.

How does a focus on the customer translate into business structure?

In answer to this I would like to add to points already made about the importance of simplification:  The more isolated, separate teams there are, the less understanding of the business as a whole, within the culture.  Eliminating “them and us” and facilitating “we” is essential.  It’s a small business approach that needs to be applied to larger businesses in order to truly focus on the customer.  Too many retail businesses are like huge oil tankers:  The course is set way in advance and deviating from this course is to admit a certain amount of failure.  They are too overly complex to change direction effectively.  They often have many disempowered employees, who do not feel responsible for their actions because decisions are made by committee.  Speed, autonomy, agility, flexibility and a one team approach have to be a priority to cope with the pace of change and the fluidity of job roles in retail.

What would you say is important for multi-channel retail?

A flexible structure facilitating the buying of stock for each and every channel is the way forward.  It’s amazing how many retailers run their website, stores and international business as completely separate entities.  I’d go as far as saying that they are competitive in some cases.  Stock shouldn’t be owned by one channel or another and should be directed to where it is most needed, according to demand.  The same messages should be reflected in stores and on the website.  The stores are the physical experience of the brand and the website is the virtual experience.  Both need stock.  Both have a role to play in the brand’s success and to neglect one channel at the expense of the other will lead to diminished sales overall in a multi-channel business.

How does the supply base have to change?

I have been a buyer and I understand that buying the vast majority of stock up front is neat and tidy and easier for stores to manage.  But it is so much more likely to lead to crippling stock levels and high mark-down, if sales do not go to plan.  I’m not advocating fast-fashion or ultra-fast-fashion models either!  A flexible supply base, willing to make smaller quantities, so that businesses can maximise trading opportunities, is more important than extra margin points.  I would be looking for suppliers, who work together with retailers, to switch production according to demand.  A supply base offering smaller minimum quantities, closer to home, which can operate at speed.  I would be looking closely at how the supermarkets work operationally to maximise sales without creating huge excesses of stock and to apply some of those ways of working to other retail categories.

What about the role of physical retail?

Great product is still the most important requirement for building customer loyalty and repeat sales, but experience is increasingly important, especially in physical stores.  The lesson learnt for me before lockdown and confirmed during lockdown is that the role of stores is changing and those lacking in customer experience will ultimately suffer.  Retailers need to be seriously asking themselves what they are offering their customer by way of a unique in-store experience.

Where would you focus attention?

Safe is inevitably boring and boring does not lead to great sales.  Give the creative teams freedom (and the budget) to inject personality and uniqueness into brands.  The race to have the right product, at the right price, at the right time, no longer cuts it.  Too much focus on the competition has led to a diminishing U.S.P.  The customer wants to understand what a brand stands for and why its product is right for them.  He/she wants to see this reflected in the product itself, not just in the marketing.  Average, diluted, without character, like everyone else’s won’t work, except in the very cheapest of cases.

Anything else to add?

Invite an alternative opinion.  Don’t dismiss a challenge.  Explore all the alternatives up front and then make decisive moves.  Empower your employees and let them take full responsibility for the decisions they make.   

Post Covid Retail – Strong decisions need great execution

As part of a series of interviews, we have been asking ‘what lessons retail should have learnt or should be learning as we deal with the ongoing pandemic’. This interview is with Retail Remedy Partner Phil Dorrell who is known for his operational insights as well as a rather uncompromising way of expressing them!

Phil are shops dwindling and likely to become museums?

The High Street is inevitably going to change, with fewer shops and brands in existence as we navigate through the next 18 months.  Whilst retailers cope with an endless barrage of tactical issues, one factor that they must consider is how they breathe life back into their ‘recut’ retail estate and what their customer will now expect from them.  My concern is that retailers will focus on the tactical stuff without an overarching plan.

What’s the difference now and what is there to learn from this?

The tactical issues facing retailers are ‘new’; what will separate success and failure is those retailers who have a plan and execute it well, versus those who let the tactical issues become the plan. Retail operations before, during and hopefully post Covid are all different challenges.  

We have built our business on supporting retailers in turn-around and our approach always starts with visioning what the goal and direction of travel is.  We look to simplify execution, reduce unnecessary activity and ensure clear channels of communication are established throughout the organisation. These steps not only save £m’s but also ensure the business is far more agile, focused and the whole organisation is able to adapt to any change much quicker. 

What tips would you offer a retail CEO now?

  1. War-game the scenarios of your own operation and the make-up of your estate and consider a best, mid and worst case on portfolio / channel incomes for next 3 months, next 12 months and next 3 years. Have an actionable plan for each eventuality. Know where you are heading.
  2. If you look around the board room and the nodding heads of friends greets your every word, then you must be a genius or are likely to fail. Broaden your teams experience or import (perhaps temporarily) a diverse skill set from outside. Cognitive Diversity is king in the land of confusion.
  3. Benchmarking against your traditional competitors is no longer.
  4. Communicate, clearly, concisely but consistently what’s happening, let people know what good looks like and celebrate like mad teams who deliver it, make them role models.
  5. Supply chain and inventory management can make or undo you, have very clear and accurate metrics on where the cost and timelines are, you may be making very bold decisions on this. Keep stock of your stock.
  6. Be consistent without being inflexible, people (team and customers) want to know you will not flip flop around on decisions, but they also want to have some recourse to decision making, make those channels clear and transparent. Incorporate broad team views before seasoned judgement.

Finally Phil, are you hopeful about the future?

Some retailers will go to the wall as they will not learn, yet the opportunity is huge for those who get this right, they can gain market share and customer loyalty like no time before.  Now is not the time to tackle everything ‘in-house’.  Businesses will reap the benefits of using the right partner to support them with activities that are not part of the day job or require complete objectivity. In our experience this speeds the journey up and saves £m’s if not the business!

Post Covid Retail – Simplicity is key

Business Simplification

As part of a series of interviews, we have been asking “what lessons retail should have learnt or should be learning as we deal with the ongoing pandemic?” This interview is with Retail Remedy Partner James McGregor and looks at operational simplification.

Before you discuss business simplification what are your thoughts on ‘the new normal’?

Those retailers fortunate enough to have emerged out of lockdown find themselves in a very different trading environment and have an endless list of tactical issues facing them.  My watch out for business leaders is that the whole leadership team don’t absorb themselves in the ‘here and now’ thinking they have done a great job at the end of each week because they’ve extinguished some fires.

What advice would you give?

Take one of your most detailed transactional leaders (normally the retail director) out of the day job to lead a cross functional working party who are solely responsible for resolving or escalating the tactical issues the business is facing on a daily basis.  Keeping the lights on whilst allowing the rest of the business to recalibrate itself.

What are the key questions you are asking retailers when you talk about business simplification?

“Are you just kicking the can further down the road?” or “Are you really committed to reshaping and simplifying how your business operates?”

 It sounds harsh, but, we have seen so many retailers go through the pain of CVAs, debt write-downs or pre-packs with the intent of making radical changes to how they operate only to be in the same position again a few years later, because they have simply not been bold enough in reshaping the operation.

I am still amazed at the level of complexity and bureaucracy that exists within so many organisations.  Retailers need to become far more agile and simplify how they operate if they are going to compete in the medium/long term.  New entrants who are dominating the market do not have the structural baggage that legacy retailers are shackled to.  Leaders need to be thinking differently, operating differently and challenging their operations differently.

What do you mean by businesses need to simplify their operation?

We have spoken with a number of retailers who have trimmed a little organisational fat, halted rent payments and reduced their immediate cost lines, in truth, this is about staying afloat, not simplification.

What advice would you give?

Of course I would cut all immediately obvious inefficiencies from the business, it’s about staying afloat after all.  Beyond that the focus needs to be on shaping the operation for the future, not simply applying a plaster to a bleeding artery.

  • Build the burning platform, set the direction and over communicate it – Trust me every retailer has a burning platform right now, but I guarantee the majority of leaders will keep it in the boardroom. Major organisational and mind set change cannot be delivered in silo [or through a small group of leaders], once the direction of travel has been agreed everyone within the business needs to be brought in on the journey and play their part in its delivery.
  • Remove Structural complexity – Have you ever sat in a meeting and really questioned what value the other +10 functions are adding? Guaranteed if a leadership team has been in play for more than 12 months they will find it very difficult to challenge their own operating model and cost lines.  If you are unable to see how your business can operate more effectively with 40% less central resource you are probably asking the wrong people the wrong questions. 
  • Challenge all of your cost and margin blocks – This is not simply a justification exercise, it’s about objectively challenging all major cost and margin blocks, start by looking at the end and make sure you scenario some radical propositions;

I would start with some very simple questions;

  • What is the tangible  ROI these functions/cost bring to the business?
  • What measured impact would they have on the bottom line if we removed them?
  • Can it be completed more effectively by a 3rd party partner, therefore reducing fixed cost?
  • If the function is business critical how do we simplify and streamline activities?
  • Will investment into the function achieve any of the above quicker?

Any final comments?

The next 24 months are going to be filled with uncertainty, distraction and major fallout within the industry.  Seek external support on things that are not part of the business’ day job recognising that shared learning and support from your wider partners will be paramount if you are going to mitigate risk and drive opportunity in the future.

Post Covid Retail – The Route Back ?

The Route Back

The retail industry is transitioning through a re-adjustment period and this will continue for the foreseeable future.  As a team we have reflected on the 3 questions that most CEO’s will have been discussing within the boardroom.

  • How do we survive?
  • How do we reposition?
  • How do we stabilise and grow?

Survival

  • Are you being brave, innovative and strategic in your planning?  This is not a time for mediocracy.
  • Protecting cashflow is critical; Turning the tap off to all debtors is the last resort, prioritising who remains critical to the operation and who you need to continue to partner with is paramount.
  • Do you have a trusted brand? Trust is key, do your customers trust you?  Are you keeping customers in mind at every decision point, it’s about their safety now, not just a sale.  Are you getting positive reinforcement through customer insight?
  • Safety first, protecting your people, your customers and the broader public is a mark of our professionalism and builds trust or erodes it.
  • Consistency in execution is vital, no second chances for safety, only if the protocols are fully understood can our people engage with relaxed customers.
  • Over communication – Do we keep talking to the team and are they fully engaged? Good swimmers leave the vessel first, are yours looking to stay or go!
  • Where do we want to be – Have we built a working vision of shops, office requirements, online channels and modelled the outputs?

Repositioning

  • Timing is everything, can you evolve your business model to retain loyal customers and win new ones?
  • Your operation has had an opportunity to improve or deteriorate against competitors, customers are seeing this and re-calibrating who they trust and where they want to spend, this opens up opportunities in market share and potential M & A.
  • Managing availability is critical at this stage; system algorithms will be corrupt and customer geographic shopping preferences will have shifted.
  • As the business world has mostly suffered, opportunities exist for left field collaborations to reduce cost, increase presence and diversify offers, a senior team member should be investigating this for problem resolution and opportunities. Think Aldi and McDonalds would have been together had it not been for Covid?
  • Operating structures need simplifying to make decision making less bureaucratic and swifter, the simpler the structure the less likely to stall. Ensure the cognitive diversity is retained throughout, don’t just keep the yes people.
  • Supply chains will be experiencing significant distraction for years, make sure yours is diverse enough not to stall growth when the inevitable occurs. A focus on shorter lead times and an ability to react fast to spikes and dips is a priority.

Stabilising and Growing

Agility will be key; the only constant over the next 12-18 months is uncertainty, those businesses who are able to adapt quickly are most likely to survive and prosper. Over the coming weeks, we will be releasing a series of 5 minute ‘quick read’ interviews conducted with the team that consider what retailers will need to address to stabilise and grow.  They will focus on;

  • Business simplification – Removing the complexity, bureaucracy and legacy constraints within the business
  • Delivering great execution – How do we drive personality, trust and compassion through our execution
  • Making a fixed cost impact
  • Cognitive Diversity – Making sure you have the right people, not just the yes people
  • Rightsizing the channel mix – Channel growth and retraction
  • Streamlining the supply chain
  • Retendering – tendering with pace
  • Creating a seamless transition between channels
Mobile Phone customer service

Service – do you really know how you are doing? Do you Own It?

Mobile Phone customer service

I will admit to conceiving this blog based on some really bad service where I felt that my personal issues were exactly that – mine. Nobody else was overly bothered beyond a sympathetic sorry. I’d have been appalled if any human had not been sorry for what was negligence. I wanted a little more than sorry, and no, not in the “what can I get out of this situation” way, just in the ownership of the issue, some personal adoption of it from a named person within the company and swift resolution. I wanted to get back on with my life.

Many things we buy do not affect our lives too much and frankly, we could all recant tales of buying milk that was not quite right or a jumper that refused to keep any shape despite manically following care instructions. As a store manager, I was used to dealing with these issues swiftly and with a minimum of fuss. I mean, even if the chicken was off and the suggestion it had ruined grandmas 90th birthday, the damage was usually fairly limited. Most trained service people have it within their gift to resolve swiftly.

A competent leader should be obsessed with customer care

Then we come to Telecoms and the industry where perhaps more than any other (apart from the medical/pharmaceutical industries) if it goes wrong it has an enormous effect. Having worked with MTN, a telecoms provider in Africa, I am well aware that unless competent leadership becomes obsessed with customer care, then it will end in frustration and disgruntled customers jeopardising early adoption of any new players in the market.

If in business you are without the immediate means of communication for a prolonged time you will be telling every person you know of the poor service you are getting. Likewise, if you are a “permanently connected” youth the amount of vitriol likely to be aimed at the provider is huge. It is a harshly judged environment based on the consequences for the customer of non-delivery.

mobile phone shop

I recently suffered 15 days of poor service from my telecom provider with nobody owning the problem (except me). It took someone to feel real and genuine empathy and own the problem personally, to resolve what should have been a simple solution. (Thank you Veronica !).

There is always one customer that talks with their feet

There is no point in mentioning the provider as by the time you read this I will have downloaded all my messages and will have moved my business elsewhere. You see there always is one, and if you think there isn’t, then you are probably already on a slippery slope.

The lesson in all of this is that if you are a senior executive within a company, how much time do you truly dedicate to listening to customers; not just the NOP data or the focus data run by the insight team, but actually looking at the most recent complaints file and phoning a few up? You will gain an insight not only into the original issues your customers face but the attitude your customers feel from within your own team. Priceless.

One thing I know for sure is that usually in any boardroom I have witnessed direct customer feedback is the most powerful influencing tool. It’s just a shame that too many senior execs don’t realise it.