Tag Archive: Customer Service


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By Shane Horn, AdMore Recruitment – Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I’m a retailer, first and foremost. You only have to ask my wife how annoying I can be re-merchandising a store I have followed her into! I now just so happen to recruit people into the industry I love. Yes, it is tough going, but retail businesses are still looking for great people, that is something that hasn’t changed over the years!

What has changed however is the lay of the retail land. Omni-channel, Click and Collect and the newest buzzword ‘showrooming’ weren’t around 3 years ago, let alone 19 years ago when I started my retail career with Next! But what hasn’t changed is the key focus for all retailers great and small – the focus on the customer and service.

What prompted me to think about this was a pretty poor experience over the weekend where multi-channel retailing resulted in both a loss of sale (and a grumpy wife!)

We were looking to buy a shelving unit in a well known department store. We saw one we liked but were informed that the product was only available to buy online. Not a problem I thought, when I get home I will log in to their website and purchase, select my delivery date – happy days! However, the product wasn’t on the website. It was nowhere to be seen! No mention of it, and no idea if it was out of stock or just old season. So, how can it go so wrong?

Purchasing a product has never been easier. We can do it sitting on a train, over the phone, heck, we can even walk into a store and buy it on our lunch break!  Regardless of the method of purchase this experience falls down with bad service. How often have we heard a friend mention they have ordered a product for it to then mysteriously be sold out? Or received poor, ill informed product knowledge on the high street?

Consumers are an intelligent bunch. There is a lot of talk of the rise of the Mamil, (Middle Age Men In Lycra). Although not quite middle aged, I am one of a growing band of men happy to spend a fair bit of cash on my bike. Halfords have been very clear they are looking to take a large chunk of the market, and have recently launched a huge customer service program costing hundreds of millions on pounds. There is talk of recruiting specialists into each store that ‘know their stuff’ (although Jessops may testify this is not always a great commercial move). Anyone that has recently visited an independent bike retailer will tell you that making you feel like an idiot for not knowing your groupset from your chainset is as just as bad as the sales assistant knowing next to nothing! Consumers want choice, and great service, and the Mamil is tech savvy. They will spend hours reading through magazines, forums and reviews looking for the next product that will shave a few seconds off their PB, or save them a few grams. This, I think, is why the likes of Wiggle, Chain Reaction and Evans Cycles have got it right online. There is choice, they have knowledgeable staff, (you can hide behind an email and not look stupid!) and items are delivered on time or even to store in the case of Evans Cycles.

The Mamil is not just a new breed of male, ahem, ‘athlete’ but a new brand of consumer who wants to be treated well and maturely. It is too simple to expect the customer to come into a store without an expectation of service.

Mothercare have recently commissioned a survey to assess how consumers respond to a smile. Funnily enough they spend more – is this really surprising? It shouldn’t be! If staff need to be taught to smile, then frankly they are in the wrong industry.  It doesn’t matter how much you spend on websites, logistics or stores, if the consumer doesn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling then they will go elsewhere.  The choice is huge for the consumer, it’s competitive and with the help of social media, it is now transparent. If you don’t get it right, your customer will let you know about it!

Customer service is expensive. To have the right people  properly trained is not an easy task but the opportunity cost of not getting this right is huge (the old retail saying  – you’re only as good as your worst member of staff still rings true!).

Retail is, in its simplest form, straightforward. There are a large number of retailers getting it right, and those looking to change focus should be applauded. Getting people to part with their hard earned cash is tough, and as the consumer changes so does the world of retail. But, at its core, Service is key, and that hasn’t changed since I started my retail career all those years ago!

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By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

In a market where organisations are increasing their proportion of direct hires, do you still need to be talking to recruiters and what are they actually doing for you?  Are they really adding any value and what are they doing that you couldn’t do yourself? Indeed with LinkedIn it is now easier than ever before to be found by organisations looking to hire. So are recruiters really adding any value? The answer to that question will definitely depend on who you are talking to. Sadly the industry is lightly regulated and with no formal qualifications it is very easy for poorly trained individuals to operate without much scrutiny or redress. As we are all aware, the market is still tight. With strong competition for most roles it is likely that you will need to engage the services of recruiters in order to try and access the best opportunities in the market.

So what should a good recruiter be doing for you?

Career Advice

A specialist recruiter should be able to give expert career advice and both challenge and assist you in your career goals and objectives. They should be highly knowledgeable in your field and very well connected.  Your recruiter should be a career partner and not just an agent that will place you in a role.

Recruiters can and should provide impartial career advice. When paid commission you need to appreciate that some may have a short term attitude and advise what is best for them and not for you as the candidate. However, the best recruiters will take a look term approach, appreciate that people will remember great advice and certainly never forget bad advice. Although in the short term they may lose out on a fee, longer term if they do the right thing then you are much more likely to engage them when you are looking to recruit. So look out for the signs that they are thinking long term.

Recruiters can if they are willing provide advice across a range of areas including advice on CV’s and Interviewing. They typically do not change for these services but do it as a way of adding more value to the candidates. Again they are likely to only provide in depth advice to those individuals who they have built a relationship with.

Job Search

In addition to some of the added value areas, fundamentally you want your recruiter to give you access to the best jobs in the market. So, do plenty of research and ask plenty of questions; what roles are they recruiting? Who are their key clients? Are they recruiting the types of roles you are interested in? The competition out there is fierce and through building a strong relationship with key recruiters in your sector you can try and ensure you gain access to these roles. A good recruiter should always call you back. In the current market, recruiters are incredibly busy, there are large number of candidates on the market chasing relatively fewer roles, however if you agree up front how to communicate and how frequently then you should be able to find a way that works for both parties.

 Process Management

A good recruiter should “coach” you through the recruitment process.  They should be using their in depth knowledge of the client and the individuals within it to guide and advise you on how to position yourself. They should be able to give you a strong insight into the culture and how you will fit.  The are also likely to get in depth feedback from the client after each stage so make sure they are sharing this information with you, so you can understand what you may need to do more or less of.  In fact a really good recruiter will always think long term. The better ones will coach you through a process even when they aren’t representing you but it is with a client they know. They will appreciate the long term benefits of doing this and the potential for the future.

 Offer Negotiation

Whilst there are a multitude of reasons for moving jobs, increasing your salary and benefits is often an important aspect.  Your recruiter should be instrumental in negotiating the right salary for you.  They should know the client well and will have a real feel for what the client may be willing to pay for someone with your skill set.  But make sure they are clear about your parameters because as much as you want to receive the best offer you also don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you are jeopardising a potential offer because the recruiter is demanding an unachievable  salary on your behalf. Also make sure you understand the full package. The benefits on offer may vary considerably from your current role and other roles you are considering and it is wise to look at the package as a whole. This will both influence your thoughts around basic salary but also may give you some leverage. Make sure you have this information early in the process. Like any negotiation the Recruiter will be aiming to find middle ground that is acceptable to both you and the client. It is ok to push but get a feel for where those boundaries lie.

Post Placement

A good recruiter won’t just place you and collect their fee, they will support you through your notice period and then though your induction into the business. They should provide you with an insight into the key players in the business you are joining, the culture and advice on how to integrate into the business. They should keep in touch and ensure that your induction runs smoothly, feeding back to the client where appropriate.

Conclusion 

Identifying and then building a relationship with the right recruiters will be critical if you are determined to make the best career move possible.

So how can you ensure your recruiter is doing all these things for you? Firstly please choose wisely. It is best to get recommendations and check their credentials.

Secondly to gain this level of advice, support and opportunity you need to invest time in building a relationship with the recruiter. This is easier said than done when working in a demanding and consuming role, so select a small number of well connected recruiters. For some additional advice on job hunting please read our recent blogs Looking for a job in 2013and How to avoid joining the wrong business.

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Why HMV must survive

Do you remember the first cold remedy you ever bought?

Do you remember the first pencil case you ever bought?

Do you remember the first blouse you ever bought?

No?

I bet you can remember the first album you ever bought…

In the 1990s, Boots, WH Smith and M&S all endured tough times and, although customers questioned why they had lost direction, there was a general feeling amongst the British public that we needed to rally around our legacy retailers. Why is it then, that in recent years we have turned our backs on the staples of our High Street? Why has history and culture become so much less important than price or convenience? Why do we value the physical product so much less than the digital? As consumers have we lost sight of what really matters?

I began my own career with HMV in 1998. I started as a Christmas temp, like many people, lacking direction in my career and somewhat unsure what to do next. The next ten years were incredibly rewarding and exciting. I struggle to articulate to my peers who have worked for other retailers just what an exciting a place it was to work. It wasn’t just exciting for the people who worked for HMV, there was a palpable sense of excitement for our customers too.

As a Manager at HMV you really lived a great, albeit challenging, life. Summer conferences in Marbella, Dublin, Aviemore; Winter conferences at the Grand in Brighton (one that stands out was themed around a Scarface Anniversary re-release – outstanding work Trish!). There we witnessed performances from bands that genuinely needed the support from HMV to break their first album. We genuinely felt that we had an obligation to support new acts and to bring them to the public’s attention. It wasn’t retail, it was ROCK & ROLL! (to quote an ex MD, Dave Pride, at a new store opening). The conferences were also educational. We learnt about the company’s history and were reminded of our obligation to honour both the heritage and the future (Brian McLaughlin, Ex CEO, was a great story teller). You felt part of something bigger than your own experience. The business was full of egos, like any company, however somehow the sum never became greater than the whole.

We were at the forefront of youth culture however at the same time, we knew how to merchandise and sell the latest Midsomer Murders DVD. Every Monday there was a new set of singles, albums, films and games (which had a Friday release date, just to complicate things). Saturday, as for most retailers, was the most thrilling day of the week, not just because of the sales lift but also because that was the day we received the deliveries of new releases. The stock room would be buzzing with anticipation as you discovered what the album of your favourite artist actually looked and felt like. Each shop in HMV was responsible for buying approximately 70% of the stock you would see in store, entirely aiming at you, the local and regular customer. This brought challenges and risks. For instance, if an album sold well on Monday, was this because it had a very loyal fan base or did it have the legs to keep selling. Would it get any airplay? Would customers tell their friends that they had found a gem? Should you order more? This wasn’t a tin of beans, it wouldn’t eventually sell through – it was a genuine gamble.

HMV connected with customers in a way that most retailers can only dream…and yet….somehow it has all gone wrong.

Why? Technology has changed, and well, let’s be honest, HMV hasn’t. Consumer shopping habits have changed too. The customer base at HMV is very different. It feels like HMV has been caught between two very different customer profiles (sweeping statement alert!); one that is older and still keen on physical product and, well the kids who don’t really get HMV anymore.

I look at HMV now and don’t really understand what they stand for, and to be honest I am not sure they really know either. Do they cater for an ageing and dwindling customer base or do they completely reposition, fundamentally changing their product base to get the kids re-engaged? Is technology (ie. headphones and accessories) the answer? Not really. HMV has to reposition as a specialist, but of what?

Trevor Moore, the new CEO, has an enormous task. He has to choose what type of customer he wants as he cannot appeal to everyone in the manner of the HMV of old. Jamie Zuppinger of Barracuda Search, wrote an article in Retail Week earlier in the year, in which he commented that most CEOs he had spoken to felt their biggest mistake after joining a failing business was not cutting deep enough and fast enough. Unfortunately I feel that this is exactly what Trevor Moore needs to do. In all probability, the only way HMV can survive is to reduce the store portfolio to circa 100 stores and to truly specialise. The margins have became so tight that to support this the supplier base will probably need to increase their equity stake much like other specialist retailers.

And we, as consumers, have a responsibility too. There was an outcry when Woollies went under. Are you prepared to see another integral part of our high street culture disappear? Yes, you can buy an album cheaper on Amazon, but is it as fulfilling as browsing a display in HMV? We have to place a greater value on our high street.

Trevor Moore, needs time. As consumers, we have an obligation to buy it for him.

Jez Styles

www.admore-recruitment.co.uk

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Two recent items of news prompted me to write this blog. Firstly, it was announced that Nick Henwood had been appointed as the new Director of Retail Operations at Mothercare and last week John Lewis announced another fantastic set of results with in store LFL sales growth of +9.2%.

My earliest childhood memories of retail and shopping were in Mothercare. I can still remember, in clear detail, the store in my home town High Wycombe.  It had a large window at the front of the shopping centre and I can still feel the sense of excitement walking past the window looking at some of the toys before we went in (the equivalent now is Apple, some things never change!).

When my twins arrived in May 2011, my wife and I firmly entered Mothercare’s core market. It felt natural to shop at Mothercare and while we often shop on the internet I do value good old fashioned one to one service and advice. Having twins is expensive, a new pram at £900, a subsequent pushchair at £400, in addition to two cots and well, two of everything.

Unfortunately for Mothercare it was not a positive experience. I was never approached and offered help. When shopping for a pram, we found there was limited stock and the service was non-existent (in store stock is irrelevant when you have the internet website on a computer terminal at the counter). If I walked in to most other retail businesses with £900 to spend on one item the sales assistants would fall over themselves to help me. I struggled to find sales assistants and when I did it was clear that their station at the till was far more important. This wasn’t a store specific experience and on the few times I have returned over the last year it has always been the same.

Interestingly I have had similar experiences at the Early Learning Centre, Mothercare’s sister company. The Kingston store has nice wide aisles, a good range and a fantastic play area at the rear of the store. The play area has been a godsend as it has afforded me the opportunity to allow my twins to safely let off some steam while out shopping, thus ensuring a dwell time other retailers can only dream of. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say I have probably been there most weekends over the last 16 months. I make regular purchases, however, I would happily spend a lot more but for the same problem described above. Recently I visited the store and there were 4 sales staff stood around the till chatting, oblivious to a shop full of customers. I walked out without having spent any money.

When I contrast this with my experience at John Lewis it couldn’t be starker. I didn’t shop in JLP previously, seeing it firmly as the preserve of my parent’s generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong and my shopping experiences in the baby section have been nothing short of fabulous. Staff are always available and cannot do enough to help. They are confident, knowledgeable and offer useful advice. This isn’t ground breaking, innovative retailing as some analysts would attribute their success to.

In the modern arena there is a huge pressure on retailers to innovate, identify and target their customers through multiple channels, to offer great value and to do everything the internet does, but better. However, it is clear that the retailers whom have instigated significant cultural change in customer service have benefitted enormously. DSGi is a great example; they have not only invested heavily in their store formats but also their people. Their store format changes were accompanied by a cultural shift in service. Great sales results have followed.

I have met quite a few people whom have worked for Mothercare over the years and they always talk about the pride that Mothercare employees have in the business and I do not doubt this for a moment. However, it is clear that the service offer is lacking and needs to change. I imagine that they are somewhat concerned about actively selling as traditionally we Brits don’t like being sold to. Try telling that to the customers in the Apple stores. Their staff do sell, not through a hard sell, but through unmitigated enthusiasm. As a nation we are beginning to crave, and expect, a different level of service. In short, we are beginning to like being sold to.

Nick Henwood has a big job on his hands at Mothercare, not in my opinion because of the much publicised reasons regarding store portfolio or margin pressures, but because he will need to engage a workforce to change it’s views on what good customer service is. This will be a massive cultural shift for a loyal and long serving workforce. Nick comes with a great track record with a career spanning M&S, Sainsburys and more recently Autoglass where he transformed the customer experience. Coupled with other significant appointments, Mothercare look well positioned to make the changes required to secure the brand’s future.

Interestingly the mobile phone retailers have come from the different end of the spectrum in recent years. Known for their unscrupulous activites, they have had to regain consumer trust and engage, rather than sell, to thier customer base. In this middle ground there are some very talented retailers that would do a great job at Mothercare…

Jez Styles @JezAdMore

www.admore-recruitment.co.uk

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