I recently watched a US episode of TV’s “Undercover Boss”, and in it, the boss of a large car manufacturer was shocked by what he found. I was more shocked that an intelligent, highly paid boss had never mystery shopped or engaged with his staff before. It was the same when I watched the UK version this week with the CEO of Moss Bros going undercover.
Believe me when I tell you that buying a car is a truly soul-destroying experience. If that is the case, I must conclude that senior executives in the auto industry have never actually tried to buy a car. They are given company cars, so they bypass the whole showroom experience.
What’s wrong with a car showroom? Everything. Every time I go to a car showroom, I’m amazed at how little these guys know about the basics of retailing. I end up walking around imagining all the changes I would make by using simple retail principles that would increase sales. How? By just using empathy and imagine that I am the customer, it's not rocket science.
But it's not just the car industry that makes it difficult for customers to do business with them, lots of retailers and retailers websites could also make it a lot easier for customers to do business with them.
The big question you need to ask yourself is “do I employ people whose job is to make it as difficult as possible for a customer to do business with me?” A “Sales Prevention Department.”
I’m convinced that in some companies the sales prevention department is, in fact, the biggest and most influential department.
Why does it take a TV program for the chief executives to engage with staff and customers?
Why do companies employ mystery-shopping companies? Why not ask staff in your head office to go and visit your stores unannounced. Get them to observe what your customers feel. Get the people that sit behind a desk sending out emails to go out onto the shop floor of your business and your competitors and talk to staff and customers.
I worked in retail for 17 years and had plenty of planned visits from directors, we used to call them “Royal Visits,” and in all that time, I never once saw any of those directors talk to a customer and I never had anybody turn up unannounced just for a chat.
This is basic, basic stuff. This is what entrepreneurs do - they talk to their customers and staff.
My advice to retail bosses is, don’t complain about poor sales, get out there and improve your customer experience. Don’t use market research and surveys; they are for insecure middle managers.
Get out onto the shop floor and ask people about their experiences. I warn you, if you’re easily offended, don’t do it, stay behind your desk.
And finally, disband your sales prevention department now, then watch your business improve.
Ajaz Ahmed founder, Freeserve and Legal365.com