Dirk van Eunen

Let me get this out in the open straight away; I’m a huge fan of Undercover Boss. And even though I know that the staff, with all their intriguing stories, have been cast incredibly well and that in the episodes where the boss is allowed to have a look there’s ripe fruit everywhere, there’s always the same lesson to be learned: the distance between head office and shop floor is gigantic!

That distance, by the way, isn’t just big in other countries. There are very few companies I come across where the staff who work in the store honestly say what they’re missing or what they would like to see done differently. If they do state their views, we often tend to categorise them as ‘difficult employees’. Sound familiar?

Here’s a real-life example. Recently I visited the flagship store of a telephony brand in Milan and spoke with the store manager. As Italians do so illustratively and full of bravura, he explained how he and his team scored bonus after bonus and how often satisfied customers returned to the store. He also had a fantastic anecdote about a digital vending machine, which the head office had placed in his store to sell prepaid telephone credit. The idea was that prepaid customers no longer had to wait in line for the store clerk who was busy selling phone subscriptions. Pretty shopper-centric, right? Not really, because after two days the manager pulled the plug on this great idea. You see, if he can’t speak to the pre-paid customers, he can’t get them to switch to a mobile phone subscription, which is a far better margin maker for his team. Because the head office was able to follow every sale made on the vending machine, they saw little point in visiting the store… and after three months they came to the conclusion that the pilot failed, because sales were far behind the expectations. If the head office had taken the trouble to visit after one week, their findings may have been completely different. Again, sound familiar?

Another example for you. A very successful touchpoint is the kiosk/tablet, which can help prevent lost sales. If an item isn’t in stock, or isn’t in your size, colour, and so on, you can order it straight from the kiosk and have it delivered to your home, usually for free. Hugely effective, because it leads to an average revenue increase of between 3 and 10%! The conclusion, therefore, is that customers are very happy with this solution. And so a lot of money is pumped into this concept to make the design as ‘usability-friendly’ as possible. Now here’s a question for you. Have you ever, from a distance, looked at who actually uses the kiosk? I’m going to let you in on a secret: it’s almost always the store staff. Which isn’t that far-fetched, because customers usually ask a staff member if a particular item is still in stock. That same staff member then gladly provides a service to the customer by placing the order for him or her. And although they try so hard, the customers are never really happy when the order is placed for them. Their facial expression says it all: “well, okay, if you have to”. Sound familiar?

Last example. I ordered an extra smartphone through an e-tailer recently. After settling the amount online, I was promised that the purchase confirmation would be sent to me by e-mail. But no confirmation arrived! So I quickly logged in to my account in search of my purchase, but to no avail. A sense of panic started taking over, as I’d just spent quite a lot of money. ‘Only’ after the longest 45 minutes ever was I put at ease when my order confirmation finally came through. Just a small adjustment in the text to say that I’ll receive a confirmation e-mail ‘within one hour’ would have made a world of difference. A few weeks later I happened to be speaking with the e-commerce manager and shared my experience with him. His answer, although logical, was quite remarkable: “Dirk, you know what it is? Everyone who starts with us gets a mobile phone and a subscription, which is ready to use as soon as they get it. So no one here has actually gone through our own sales process.” Sound familiar?

There are plenty of examples like these, in your organisation too. Now I’m not asking you to go and put on a wig and play your own undercover boss. What I am pleading for, though, is that we get out on to the shop floor more often and have a good look in our own kitchen. Because I guarantee you, going through the shopping journey yourself will provide you with some very interesting experiences!

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