Monday, March 12, 2012

Company Leaders Going Undercover

Mystery shopping is heading in a new direction as company leaders don disguises and assume false names to get the inside story on their brand from staff on the shopfloor.
Getting a chief executive to operate a till or make tea for staff might seem like a bit of fun, but having senior management experience their own brands on the frontline is a serious business strategy.
This mystery shopping approach has been made famous by Channel 4 TV series Undercover Boss. Senior executives spend two weeks working with frontline staff, doing everything from making burgers to stacking shelves, often finding out startling facts about their own companies.
Going undercover on the Channel 4 show made Vanessa Gold, the deputy managing director of Ann Summers, realise how much her staff knew about what the shop sells. After spending time on the shopfloor serving customers, Gold recognised just how valuable her staff members were.
She explains: “You can pay a lot of money for customer insight and we had it relatively free, on our doorstep.”
Apart from potentially saving costs on research, the time spent in store enabled Gold to understand how shop staff can feed into what the brand does at the top level. She says: “There is a very close relationship between our store teams and our customers. But we were failing to tap into what our teams know and using that information in some of our decision-making.” (See Q&A, below)
Using staff knowledge is also something that Brian Scudamore, chief executive of Vancouver-based waste disposal firm 1-800-Got-Junk, says he will do more of, having appeared on the Canadian version of Undercover Boss last month.
He explains: “One opportunity we saw was the potential to grow this business outside of urban centres. I realised that the small towns have junk too.
“One of the franchisees I visited was in a very rural market and he was driving up to 700km a day to pick up rubbish from houses, but he still found a way to make that model work.”
Scudamore also identified the company’s star performers during the show. Big rewards have been handed out to help keep hard-working staff motivated, with one truck team member being rewarded with a flight to Las Vegas for the company’s annual conference and entry into a poker tournament.
If you are not out there on the shopfloor, you can’t understand the customers
“He loves to play poker and had never been on a plane,” says Scudamore. “It is about taking the learnings from the show and recognising people who go above and beyond.”
Nikki King, who also appeared on Undercover Boss, has introduced management training for staff at Isuzu Truck UK as a result (see Case Study, below).
Identifying people for promotion is something that Martyn Birks, marketing director at discounter Poundworld, says he will do following his appearance on the Channel 4 show.
After gaining an understanding of what it is like for shop staff to work for the company, Birks introduced a programme to refurbish staff break rooms and canteens. He adds that he now spends more time meeting shoppers. “If you are not out there on the shopfloor, you can’t understand the customers,” he says.
The company has also changed its policy of docking wages when tills at its 170 shops do not balance up and when staff members are late.
But going back to the floor does not always have to be done in secret or undercover to reap benefits. Travel company TUI’s senior staff visit shops throughout the year, and the business now runs an annual scheme where 200 managers work in a Thomson or First Choice shop on the third Saturday in January, which is traditionally the busiest day of the year.
The benefits of doing this include getting direct feedback from customers and staff, and discovering why customers might go into a store rather than booking online, explains Nick Longman, distribution director at TUI.
This year’s back-to-the-floor day was Longman’s fifth, and he was struck by how hard the staff work to sell holidays in the economic downturn and the fact that they need as much information about the destination as possible.
“What really hit home to me was if we are going to sell holidays, we need to know a lot about those holidays; we really need our people to be experts in the products that we sell.”
As a result of this insight, TUI will increase the number of overseas familiarisation trips it sends staff on this year.
This year’s back-to-the-floor day has also shown how much customers want to interact with a person rather than a website. Longman makes sure he talks to the retail director once he’s back at head office to make sure the time spent in the travel agent isn’t wasted.
He says: “It’s all well and good everyone going back to have a nice chat with staff but unless it leads to action, you have lost part of the benefit of doing it.”
After all, it is customers who have the money to make brands grow and, as 1-800-Got-Junk’s Scudamore points out, it can be easy to forget the value of mystery shopping. “Sometimes you get caught in building a business and forget just why you are doing this. There are about 100 people in my head office, all working and busy, and it is easy to forget why we are here.
“I recommend other chief executives do it as a form of connecting with the reason they are in business.”

No comments:

Post a Comment