Everyone in retail, particularly those in retail management, knows that communication between Head Offices, Regional Offices, Stores and, even, within the Store, can be difficult at best. Yet it is critical that we master it. The smooth and constant flow of clear and concise communication, upward and downward, is what makes great retail organizations work.
Excellent communication makes the difference between flawless execution of directives and mediocre execution. It makes the difference between a productive workforce and a workforce that really can’t seem to get things done. Well informed management teams and associates are the ones who make the service – profit chain work. In its most simplified state, satisfied, productive employees will in turn satisfy the customers, thereby helping the organization retain customers. Basically, great employees make satisfied customers and satisfied customers make profit.
And we can’t overlook the impact communication has on morale; on the company culture. This is, of course, difficult to measure just by the very nature of it. But, rest assured, badly managed communication efforts are responsible for so many failings in retail that you must give it the attention it deserves.
Case in point: A large grocery store chain makes a decision to reduce costs by changing a long time practice at store level. The long time practice, in this case, is that age old courteous practice of bagging groceries for the customer. The Head Office management decides to make this change despite the feedback they receive from the store personnel. Unhappy with the change, but implementing it haphazardly anyway, some Store Manager’s find themselves being approached by unhappy customers and, without any understanding of how to handle these customers, they simply go for the easy way out. The Store Manager I am referring to in this particular case told the customer, who was objecting, that Head Office wants to reduce wages by having fewer cashiers available to attend to customers. This Manager went on to say that he thinks his Head Office is wrong and that he knows they are losing customers but nobody at Head Office cares about that so he’s just doing what he has to.
Hmmm. How very nice for the customer. Not only can she no longer expect to have her groceries bagged (at a regular, full price grocery store) but the Manager does not support the change and is in the habit of bad mouthing his company. On top of that, the cashier who was involved in the situation that gave rise to the question in the first place, was reprimanded because he didn’t quote company policy correctly. I wonder why? Perhaps he did not know it – perhaps it was not clear. As much as we at DMSRetail deplore the practice of quoting company policy, if it is done it should at least be correct. Obviously the culture in that company is poor, to be kind. I wonder how many other problems they have. This only addresses their customer service practices. What about their health and safety practices or their practices pertaining to food freshness?
Clearly, this new anti-customer practice was not communicated properly. You may wonder what they could have done differently and there are many answers to that question; it would depend on how they actually did communicate it. The bottom line is – it didn’t work and customers are unhappy and dissatisfied. So are the employees. So much for the service-profit chain. And we all know what that means. If enough of these communication disasters take place, the company will be no longer.
Now let’s look at the importance of communication from another angle. Let’s think about the company who has communication figured out. In this company, all employees know what is expected of them. They know how to handle customer issues – without quoting the dreaded policy manual. They represent their company with pride and say nothing uncomplimentary while talking to customers. This is not to say they do not pushback to management when they feel something is not right – but they do it privately so as to remain one united company; preserving one great reputation. The lines of communication are always open in this company and everyone has plenty of opportunity to learn and to participate.
There are many options available to retailer’s who want to ensure regular, quality, two-way communication takes place between Head Office, Regional Offices and Stores. One of the best ways is to hold regular meetings- face to face, or on-line. Before you roll your eyes and say ‘oh yes, let’s have more meetings’ please understand that I am advocating meetings with clear purpose and intention. So, have more meetings either in person or through the use of technology. With a large number of business units (stores) spread over large geographic areas, it is often difficult to get everyone together more than maybe once or twice a year and not all retailers can even do that.
But these days it is so easy and convenient to meet with people weekly, or even daily if that’s what is necessary. Technology has solved this huge issue for retailers. For sales meetings, for new product introductions, for changes in policies and procedures, for training on just about anything, you can use meeting technologies that are simple to use, economical and convenient. They do not require people to leave their workplace. Share information regularly and you will reap the rewards.
Achieving excellence in communication is so critical that finding the very best way to make sure that everyone in the organization has the opportunity to hear, and be heard, is something that warrants serious attention. Take advantage of the options available to you.