We hear much about the importance of outstanding customer service, especially in a difficult trading environment. But how do we know if this is really necessary? And if it is, what can you do to ensure your employees are delivering the best possible shopper experience? asks Clive Nicolaou, managing director of TNS Mystery Shopping.
How important is customer service?
TNS research has shown that up to two-thirds of buying decisions are influenced once a shopper steps across the threshold of your store. Whilst one-third of customers will already know what they want and leave with their choice, one-third claim to know what they want but leave the store with something else and one-third have either only a vague idea or none at all about what they want.
We also know that a salesperson can have a significant influence on purchase decision and that despite the increased usage of digital commerce, a significant proportion purchases available online are still made in a bricks-and-mortar retail store.
There are a number of areas, such as speed of service, friendliness and knowledge, where your staff has the opportunity to influence customers. In increasingly complex categories where new brands and formats are coming to market every year, staff play a key role in helping shoppers navigate the difficult buying-decision process, contributing product knowledge and category awareness. But knowledge aside, it is important to remember that shoppers’ perceptions can always be positively influenced if staff are enthusiastic and engaged.
What can be done to ensure that employees are delivering great shopper experiences?
There is ample evidence that employees who are engaged with their jobs generally deliver exceptional service and create the best possible shopper experience. Our research shows that there is a direct and positive relationship between both the level of staff commitment and the level of perceived service quality, and staff commitment with customer retention.
In addition, studies show that those businesses with higher levels of staff engagement benefit from:
1. Lower staff turnover – because people are less inclined to look for alternative employment if they’re committed to their jobs
2. Higher productivity – as people stay in their jobs for longer they become more familiar with their tasks and the jobs’ processes. As a result the customer experience is improved
3. Fewer sick days – happier employees are less inclined to opt for the dreaded ‘duvet day’
It is important to remember that the type of business you run partly determines how much opportunity exists for staff to influence customers and shoppers. In certain sectors, such as hotels, restaurants and home entertainment stores, employees are part of the experience, so they have a significant influence over the decisions made during their experience. At the other end of the spectrum, with the discount retailers for example, there is little staff can add to the shopper experience apart from making sure the shelves are full and the queue at the till flows freely.
However, in between these two extremes lie most grocery retail businesses and there is usually ample opportunity for staff to interact with shoppers and enhance their in-store experience.
With such compelling evidence, why doesn’t every business manage to increase the levels of staff engagement? Because it’s not easy! Gallup’s Q12 annual benchmarking survey which monitors more than 450 companies in 124 countries reported no significant improvement in levels of staff engagement over several years.
So what is the secret to improving the customer experience through higher levels of staff engagement? There are four key drivers:
1. Work environment
This covers more than just the physical surroundings. Clear working rules, fair allocation of jobs and rosters.
Strong local leadership has a significant impact on staff attitude.
Your employees need to be given the freedom to go beyond the boundaries of a script in dealing with customers. They need to have the autonomy to sort out problems without deferring to someone else.
The processes, systems and support that are in place should allow staff to provide service to customers as simply as possible.
One of the key drivers for customers is that they too want it to be easy to do business with you. In this regard they and your staff want the same thing. Should you therefore not design your business from both the customers’ and employees’ viewpoints?
The most significant omission from the list of four above is money. After all, isn’t that what we all work for? Unsurprisingly, money is important and likely always will be, and is generally a poor performing indicator in most employee attitude surveys. However, we have found that staff want to know that they are getting paid the going rate, even in industries that rely heavily on incentivisation. Other important factors are career opportunities, working hours and recognition.
It is clear that there is overwhelming evidence of the benefits of a highly engaged workforce but achieving that goal is challenging. The common characteristics of those companies that are successful are:
At a macro level
- Ensuring that the objectives and goals of the company are clearly communicated throughout the business
- Providing sufficient resources in all areas of the business, including people development; logistics, structures etc
- Organising the business at all levels, including in-store, so that staff can execute their jobs effectively and efficiently and customers can do business easily
At the local level
- Within the stores there should be strong leadership. The style of leadership does not have so much of an impact on how engaged the staff are as long as it provides an environment where cooperation and teamwork can flourish
- People also want to feel that they’re making a contribution to the business and they are progressing in their career
- And finally, there also needs to be a culture in which the ownership lies with the teams and they have the authority to make decisions.