Archive for the ‘Managing People’ Category

How Small Businesses Can Listen to Customers

Monday, May 18th, 2015

listeningThere is a wonderful quote that “the plural of anecdote is not data.” Too often retailer and other small business owners get snared into believing that a story or two that rises from the hundreds of customer encounters every day is a full and accurate reflection of customer feedback about their stores or business.

Net Promoter Scores (see our earlier post: Net Promoter – the Most Common Retail Listening Tool) prevent that but they are just the beginning to really understand the Voice of the Customer. To objectively understand how you are perceived in the marketplace, find out:

  • What do your best customers love about you?
  • What most frustrates your unsatisfied (past) customers?
  • How do your customers think about you differently than your competition?

For most managers, the only way to uncover these emotionally charged questions is to hire an objective third party to uncover the answers. Focus groups and intercept surveys are the most robust methods – but also expensive. At Delaney Consulting, we administer online surveys and other methods for uncovering honest customer feedback. Because it is human nature to overreact to negatives and under-react to positives, an outside firm like ours can help a management staff accurately gauge the appropriate responses that are required to elicit the kind of customer support everyone wants. Use caution when relying on internal communication to accurately judge customer feedback. Rarely is accurate data unearthed solely through employee feedback of “what customers are saying.”

Next Post: Using Social Media to Listen to Customers

Net Promoter – the Most Common Small Business Feedback Tool

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

CHCKLSTOne of the most common retail tools for collecting customer feedback is a “net promoter score.” The concept of net promoter is simple. Customers are asked whether they would recommend the store (or service) to friends and family on a scale of 0-10 . A score of 9-10 is a promoter. A score of 7-8 is neutral. A 6 score or below is a detractor. Subtract the detractor percentage from the promoter percentage and you have a “net” number: the Net Promoter Score.

Promoters are customers who are enthusiastic about your store or brand and will keep buying from you. These are loyal customers who drive growth over time through their positive “word of mouth” marketing to their network. Neutral customers are currently satisfied but constantly at risk to switch stores or brands. Detractors are unhappy customers who can damage sales and give your store or brand a bad reputation throughout their network.

A net promoter score is useful for doing more than capturing your customer’s feedback at one point in time. It is especially useful when comparing scores over time or across locations. Savvy retailers look at their net promoter scores during peak hours and non-peak hours to understand the possible degradation in customer service during busy hours. They compare net promoter scores by floor manager to understand which ones direct and lead staff in providing excellent customer service and which do not. Most large retailers, restaurant chains and service providers use net promoter scores.

Customers are incented to provide a net promoter score by either going to a website or a toll-free phone number for a “less than one minute” survey. In return for participating in the scoring, customers can usually win a gift card or a discount on a future purchase. Customers are typically notified of the survey through register receipt messaging or from store associates directly. There are dozens of Net Promoter providers that can be found online – many integrate seamlessly with the most popular POS platforms.

2 Reasons Why Store Managers Don’t Hear Their Customers

Monday, May 11th, 2015

listeningFor the store associate or manager who interacts with customers all day long, the idea of having to listen to their customers seems redundant. After all, listening to customers is what they do for their entire shift. But actively engaging with customers and distilling all of the voices into major themes is difficult. Honestly, most store associates “cannot see the forest for the trees” when it comes to listening to customers.

There are two reasons that store employees are too biased to be good listeners to their customers:

Recency: As humans, we are programmed to remember only the most recent things while the past becomes hazy. It is called the recency effect and it means that people tend to recall the most recent information about something above all else. When asked what customers think, we are most likely to only remember the customers of the past week and not remember past interactions well.

Reinforcement: Another human trait is to remember facts well that reinforce our own beliefs and discount facts that contradict our beliefs. Called the confirmation bias, it causes us to listen and recall information that supports our pre-existing attitudes and beliefs while selectively forgetting the uncomfortable information that challenges us. For example, if a store associate believes that the reason sales are down is because the prices in the store are too high, they are likely to retain all of the comments from customers complaining about the prices and not recall comments about trouble finding parking.

For those reasons, store managers need to put tools into place that can actively inquire about customer experiences and objectively report the findings.

Next Post: Net Promoter – the Most Common Retail Listening Tool

6 Things to do to Coach a Store Team

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 4.44.20 PMA coach watches the store and gives feedback to employees at least once a shift – if not more often.   A coach in a store will recognize when an employee is struggling and make adjustments.  A coach analyzes interactions with customers to see if employees need more product knowledge or a more (or less) aggressive sales technique.  A coach provides feedback, encouragement and advice to the team to improve job performance. A coach sees his (or her) role as improving the team that delivers a great customer experience – not delivering the customer experience himself.

To transition from manager to coach, there are some fundamentals to practice.

1)   Be in a position to notice – and take the time to coach.  Make time in your schedule to watch the team as they complete their work and interact with customers. Accept that part of your role is to observe, analyze and thoughtfully advise your team.  Do not jump in and do it for them – that’s what a Team Captain does.

2)   Provide timely feedback. Give feedback the same day an observation occurs.  It should never come later unless there is real research you need to do. Feedback is most effective when it is occurs immediately after the event.

3)   Be specific. People cannot make the necessary adjustments with generalities.  For example, an employee who hears “make more effective suggestions for customers” will struggle to improve while one who hears “when making a suggestion for a product, take it from the shelf and place it in the customer’s hands” will know what to do differently next time.

4)   Be consistent. First make sure your standards are uniform and predictable. Then make sure every manager is in alignment so that employees understand the standards.

5)   Be Fair. There is a difference between “treat everyone the same” and “treat everyone fairly.”  It is the definition of an inspiring leader.  Leaders draw the best out of individual players by challenging each one to reach their personal best.  That cannot be done by treating everyone the same.

6)   Follow up. Consistently evaluate the team and recognize when they are creating new habits or slipping into old ones. It is a good way to set a tone of accountability.

Coaches & Managers – Stores need both to Succeed

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Draymond GreenThere is a reason winning sport teams have Coaches, Managers and Team Captains.  They have different roles.  Coaches strategize, plan, make calls within the game and encourage their teams.  Coaches hold the highly-paid talent accountable and set high expectations.  Team managers ensure that the logistics of clean uniforms, travel, and equipment is always smooth.  They oversee practices and scrimmages. Team Captains lead the team by doing. They are role models and peers within the team. Think about your store and your role as a leader within the store. Which role do you play?

Typically, great store employees (team players) rise to become supervisors or key holders. Truthfully, they have proven themselves to be good role models and play the role of Team Captain.  They know how to execute the tasks that need to be done to run a store well.  They are trusted and necessary to any successful retail enterprise.  But they usually are not prepared to manage a store on their own successfully.

Shops are usually run by a single Store Manager.   Perhaps that describes you.  With that role, comes new responsibility for ordering inventory, managing vendors, setting prices, hiring and training new employees.  Delegating tasks is critical to prevent bottlenecks from slowing down momentum.  But for many (if not, most) managers this is as far as their management talent extends.  They are capable of running day-to-day operations and balancing all of the crises that comprise running a store. Most stores operate with such a manager or management team for years.

One way to recognize if a store leader is behaving as a manager is to listen to the interaction with other employees.  If it is primarily assigning tasks, inspecting completed work and redirecting resources, then the person is acting as a manager. And everyone needs to be a manager at some point in the day. But great store leaders move beyond management to coaching the team to make the entire team better.
Next in this series: how to Coach.

What To Consider BEFORE Posting Your Staff Schedule

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

778alarm_clockPrior to publishing a schedule, review upcoming promotions, inventory tasks, changes to delivery schedules or other store events that could change your staffing needs.  Always make servicing customers the priority and make decisions in favor of over-serving rather than under-serving customers.  It is a poor choice to augment staff to conduct an inventory by taking away hours to merchandise and sell products during regular store hours.

Not all business hours are equal.  Make sure to schedule your strongest employees at your busiest times. A smart manager will ensure that the best sales people are on the floor when the most customers will encounter them.

Changing a schedule once it is published is sometime unavoidable – but should be an unusual occurrence.  If your schedules change regularly after they are published, make it a point to discuss it at your next store meeting. (You have one at least once a month, right?)  Get to the root cause of the changes. Are employees providing late notice of schedule conflicts? Do you have a poor system for recording time off requests? Are schedules posted late? Are other jobs interfering with your schedule? Make sure your team and you uncover the real issues behind schedule changes and make an action plan to correct them.  For those rare occurrences when the schedule must be changed after it is published, have a process for informing your team of the change.  Consider texting and other real-time notifications so that store associates are not caught unaware of schedule changes.

For many employees, “retail hours” can cause burn out.  Be aware of the toll long hours can have on employees and their families.  Look for ways to acknowledge them with surprise pizzas over the dinner hour shift, a breakfast pastry box for early shifts and (free) hand-written thank you notes when employees demonstrate praiseworthy flexibility or reliability.

Finally, have a consistent recordable method for clocking employees in and out. Employees need a consistent process for reporting their work hours and absolute confidence in accurate paychecks that reflect hours worked and paid time off.  If there is one critical item to outsource to experts, it is getting payroll done correctly for every employee every time.  Even a single hiccup can cast doubt in the most important element for engaged workers: their wallets.

Creating Fair Store Staff Schedules

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Smiling Retail AssociateYou Need: Flexibility.  They Need: Predictability. 

It is a balancing act to keep a store operating efficiently and employees satisfied with their work schedules.  Good practices are to:

1)   Always post hours and schedules at the same time. Whether monthly or weekly, your employees should know when you post the work schedule so they can plan accordingly.  Have schedules posted online or accessible via the web for even more convenient visibility.  You can use a private account, a private facebook group or a private Google calendar as free options to support your team.

2)   Have a consistent policy for accepting vacation requests and other time off.  Make time off requests public as soon as they are known so that staff members can see when multiple requests could be denied. Publish known vacations and approved time off early and consistently.

3)   Establish consequences for tardy shift starts, unexcused absences and long breaks that are consistent, fair and well known.  While unreliable transportation, ill children and sickness occur for everyone, address issues quickly and balance being understanding with the needs of the store and the remainder of the staff.

When creating a schedule, it is easy to fall into a pattern that is repeated week after week.  While it is critical to have a schedule that is not erratic, be sure to look at the schedule from the point of view of your individual employees.  Are you relying on an employee to “clopen” too often? (close the store one day and open the store the next.) Is one employee protected from working undesirable shifts causing resentment within your staff? Are you making accommodations for seasoned employees that you do not extend to new employees?  Do you have too many employees listed as “on call?” Review your choices objectively. Inspect your decisions for possible favoritism. Your acts of flexibility may be seen as partiality if you seem to show a bias for particular employees.


How to Set up a Low Cost Mystery Shopper Program

Friday, July 19th, 2013

inventoryHow to set up a low cost Mystery Shopper program that any savvy manager could create.  First, you cannot alert your staff to the mystery shopper program.  Putting them on notice will have them ratchet up to “best behavior” levels.  Second, select people who your staff will not recognize.  Then:

1)   Identify your main competitors. Be honest and include the tough ones as well as the easy ones.

2)   Ask for volunteers in your personal network to complete a mystery shopping survey in return for something of value. The best is to reimburse them for up to $20 of whatever they purchase at their assigned store.

3)   Provide your mystery shoppers with specific questions to answer. (see sidebar.) And a mandatory deadline for completing their store shops – 2 weeks at most.

4)   Assign a specific store (including your own) to each shopper. Do not tell them which other people nor which other stores are included in the study.  Each store should be visited by at least 3 shoppers at different times of the week/day.

5)   Give each shopper the same task so that each store is tested in the same manner. (ex: ask for assistance in finding the best solution for setting up a network printer to connect 4 devices, the best printing options for a home office under $175, etc.)

6)   Compile the answers and evaluate them analytically (in a spreadsheet or with a numeric measure that can be constant across all questions such as 1=never, 2= sometimes, 3= usually, 4=always.) Look for patterns.

7)   Share your findings with your staff and discuss specific ways to address each issue.  Set targets and measure against the new targets every day. For example, you can institute a new policy that all customers must be greeted within 20 feet of the door.  Change how you evaluate your people and reward them to ensure compliance with new targets.  Find people who are meeting the new targets and make them heroes.

If your business does pass the customer mystery shop experience with flying colors, it is time to do a similar survey evaluating assortment (count number of choices by SKU, brand and price points.) Evaluate promotions by comparing at least 6 months of advertised promotions to promotions in your stores during the same time. Evaluate prices by comparing prices on several dozen key SKU’s across competitive stores each week.

If you make an effort to remove your blinders and see your stores in the same framework as your customers do, you can ascertain how you truly stack up – and determine what to change to stay ahead of the competition.

A Mystery Shopper Program Can Point Out Blind Spots

Friday, July 12th, 2013

inventoryHow do you REALLY stack up?
Recently a client with three stores asked for help to create a strategy for the next 5 -7 years. They routinely talked to their customers and employees; there was even a customer survey two years ago. They concluded:

1) They were the best among their competitors. As evidence, a local business group had selected them to lead a conference round table on leading retail practices.
2) The two main obstacles to improving store traffic were poor locations that were selected over 25 years ago and lack of convenient parking.
3) Their customers were high-end shoppers who did not mind paying more for the high degree of customer service they prided themselves on.

Nevertheless, they felt pinched by new competitors opening nearby and lower profit margins as more sales skewed to discounted goods on promotion in their product of the month program. After listening to management’s point of view, I set up a mystery shopper program to see what customers actually experienced in their stores.

The findings uncovered that the stores were beaten in critical areas:

1. Customers were commonly ignored for up to 15 minutes upon entering the store.
2. Inquiries about products were met with direction to the product location but any additional conversation quickly revealed a lack of product experience or knowledge.
3. Store associates were more surly and unkempt than management observed.
4. Prices were competitive but not enticing, locations were convenient and product selection was appealing – but high-end customers were happy to drive further to have cheerful, knowledgeable staff help them make their purchases.

Think you can’t be fooled? Think again. The management team was on site six days a week. Their interaction with store associates had become so close that they no longer saw the lapses in service. Management rewarded task completion like putting away deliveries, making bank drops and completing the work schedule more than helping customers. At least, store associates believed there was more retribution for not completing tasks than for not assisting shoppers. And customers could grasp that in a single store visit.

Up next: how to create a simple Mystery Shopper Program any manager can administer.

No Cost/Low Cost Rewards for Employees

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

giftcardAs a leader, you are expected to look for ways to keep people moving in a positive direction.  Great managers build morale, motivation and energy even as the team ratchets up their performance under stress.  We like to say “catch people at their best.”  Each day make an effort to find someone doing something right and make sure they know it.  As you give rewards, make sure the team connects that receiving in the reward recognizes that what they do matters.

Here are ideas for supporting people with no or little cost:

  • Talk is not only cheap – it is free.  But the right words can mean a lot. So simply telling people that you believe in them, that you support them and that you appreciate them can go a long way.  At the same time, let people know you have high expectations and keep them striving for improvement everyday.  Remember names and greet people by name when you see them.
  • Share your time.  Ask someone to lunch or coffee to listen to their ideas about how their job could be better or what they think the company needs to do next.  Really listen.  (Put down the iPhone.)
  • Have fun.  For teams that need to produce, blowing off some steam is a good way to crank up the adrenalin.  Before heading off to the sales or production floor, create a quick “Minute to Win It” challenge: Two people compete to see how many tissues they can pull out of a box, stack apples or bounce pencils on their eraser end into a cup in a minute.  With the right team dynamics, these events can breathe some fun into a stressed time.
  • If you have an onsite cafeteria, buy cards worth one free drink or a snack and hand them out to employees who are caught doing their job well.
  • Spray paint an old trophy (or make one that humorously represents your company) and make it a travelling trophy that gets passed on from winner to winner for representing great company spirit.  Ideas include pens epoxied into a pen cup and painted silver, an old telephone handset, a toy pipe wrench, a golden coffee mug or a spatula.
  • Remember families.  Buy inexpensive books at the dollar store and wrap them for employee’s children.  That can mean more than a gift for the employees themselves.  Consider writing a quick note inside the cover that says, “Your Dad (Mom) is great!  Thanks for sharing him with us.”
  • Give perks as rewards.  Let an employee start 15 minutes later than normal or give first choice in scheduling next year’s vacation.  Let the winner park in the president’s prime parking spot for a week.
  • Give movie tickets and an afternoon off to see the movie.
  • Give away car washes.
  • Give lotto tickets.
  • Say “thank you” – look them in the eye and mean it.
  • Create a contest where you do something unusual.  When the team reaches the sales goal; you will shave your head, shave your moustache, wear red fingernail polish, clean the company kitchen, unload the delivery truck, work the lunch rush, wear a sandwich board or any other unusual chore.

At the end of the day, it isn’t so much about how you celebrate success as much as genuinely appreciating the people in your workplace.  Any silly idea can become a tradition if there is sincerity behind the message and a sense of humor – even about yourself.