In “Pants 2 You is a poor customer message” I told a sad story of appalling customer service at a major high street retailer. As a consultant I spend most of my time helping organisations face the reality of the situation that they are in and work with them to chart a way through it. So, I really could not leave this story without putting my consulting hat on and figuring out how “Pants 2 You” would get itself out of this mess.
My plan would not be difficult, very inexpensive, use little executive time and definitely work. Unfortunately it would take courage and a willingness to face up to the current situation.
Step 1: say what you mean and mean what you say
To be able to work in a retail environment and yet act in such a negligent way towards their customers, employees at Pants 2 You must believe that their behaviour is acceptable to their employer.
If an institution’s culture says one thing but its behaviour exhibits another, then that “corporate cognitive dissonance” is likely to leave employees thinking that they too can say one thing and do another. Surely a toy shop that sells “Grand Theft Auto IV” (BBFC 18: the game is only suitable for adults (persons aged 18 or over). It has an adult theme and contains strong scenes of sex or violence that could be quite graphic. It may also contain some very explicit language. It is an offence for a shop to supply an 18-rated video, DVD or game to anyone below the age of 18) suggests a level of “corporate cognitive dissonance”? It might as well be selling pornography.
So, start saying what you mean and then acting in a way which is compatible with what you have said. You might start by ensuring that you sell products appropriate to a toy shop. You might also review your internal and external communications to dig out those where hyperbola has got in the way of truth.
Step 2: collect personal stories of real customer experiences
Don’t believe my story, go and be a customer!
Form a cross-functional team, with employees from every region and from every level in the hierarchy. Give it a code name and tell the employees not to mention it to other staff. Have the CEO kick the project off, but not to take part. Suddenly this project is going to get really important in the eyes of the employees.
Next have the project team visit stores at random with specific tasks (returning something, finding a particular product, asking whether GTAIV is suitable for a 14 year old, etc). Do it in groups of 2 or 3 and record what happened as soon as you leave the store. Have the project team critique the experiences and to decide which are the most informative (good, bad or just plain ugly).
Have the team work, perhaps with outside help, to be able to tell these stories in a real and poignant manner.
Step 3: make telling customer stories central to your organisation
Next members of the project team could visit individual stores where they could tell the stories in person to the staff and facilitate a discussion about the stories. What do they mean? How would you feel if you had been the customer? Why would an employee have acted like that? What could we do to help ensure a positive customer story for everyone who comes through the door?
Step 4: embedded it in the organisation
Develop new ways to share best practise and experiences. Have staff go and tell positive customer stories at other stores, start a process of visiting each other and telling stories. Help staff to give positive feedback to each other about customer service and customer stories.
Not only will you have sent a very clear message about how customer experience is important, but you will have admitted how bad it has sometimes been, and you will be acting like you mean what you say.
Go on, I dare you!