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?