I’ve just moved house, so spent an afternoon this week visiting (six) furniture superstores, (two) DIY sheds, a department store “home store” and a branch of a large garden centre chain. The purpose of this activity was to get ideas, inspiration and potentially to identify a range of white goods, furniture and accessories to purchase once the house is ready. In marketing terms, I was a “hot prospect”.
During those ten visits I experienced the following interactions with Team members:
- A nervous-looking youth in a bathroom department, having ignored me once, asked “Can I help you?” the second time I passed by. My instinctive response was to say “No, thank you.”
- In one of the furniture stores a crumpled, middle-aged man, seated at a desk, looked up as I entered and muttered “Let me know if you want anything, won’t you?”. His body language actually said “Please don’t want anything or I might have to get up.”
- Finally, a nattily-dressed, career salesman approached me as I inspected a range-style cooker. “The only thing I’d say about that model,” he began, “is that it has that little rail across the top, that makes it hard to read the dials. That’s all I’d say about it.” True to his word, he then sat down.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the sum total of the Great British Retail Industry’s effort to inspire, entertain, engage and…er…sell.
And, in a week when a new survey suggests that Sales and Retail Assistants are “95% likely” to be replaced by robots, I’d suggest that I might have been better served, and indeed, the retailers’ tills might have been better served, were that already to be the case.
My conclusion, however, is this: I have long argued that whilst technology has its place in facilitating the Customer Experience, there is (or should be) no substitute for human interaction. My vision for what that interaction should look like is displayed on the homepage of my website: “The wave of enthusiasm from a team of people in love with what they do, who have created a sensational stage for their product, and who can’t wait to attend to every customer desire as they facilitate the ultimate buying experience”
Whilst retailers scratch their heads as they contemplate the impact of the new National Living Wage, and struggle to justify the running costs across their sprawling property portfolios, the answer is staring them in the face:
- Recruit people who exude enthusiasm and warmth
- Inspire them with your Purpose, Vision and Strategy
- Equip them with the skills they need (train them!)
- Support them to deliver, and to grow with you
As I’ve written previously, Engaged People + Skills = Enhanced Productivity (which means, happy Customers, sustainable jobs, more sales). It’s simple – and I’d invite any CEO to walk around their business with me and not see compelling evidence of the need to prioritise investment in people.
Fortunately for me, the same survey shows that Consultants are “”quite unlikely” (7%) to be replaced by robots – perhaps because a robot would be unlikely to notice the difference between itself and far too many humans in customer-facing roles today. Nor would it be capable of identifying how easily those same humans could be re-programmed and their outputs – in terms of Productivity and Contribution – transformed.