Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Employee Engagement And Self-Service Checkouts

Do you know what it says to your employees when you replace them with a machine? It says "I don't trust you".

It also says, your job will soon be irrelevant. You are worthless. I can provide better customer service by removing you.

Many of supermarket chains are are increasing the number of 'fast' self-service checkouts, with the exception of Morrisons who thankfully did some research of their customer base and are removing them. 

At our local supermarket, instead of spending time at the checkout with a member of the Sainsbury's team, I am forced through the agonising self service process of bag opening, mis-scanning, being accused of theft, and waiting for approval for wine and before I can scramble out of the store. 

Sainsbury's have also reduced the number of people on the checkouts (naturally), so the queues build up, and just like animals heading to slaughter we are all forced into the zigzag of the DIY area.....

During a recent visit to McDonalds we found a new form of ordering system. Instead of ordering food from a person, big vertical screens were suspended from the ceiling, into which you can tap your order and it magically appears at the counter five minutes later. No need to talk to anyone if you don't want to. 

In our experience around 90% of the people coming in refused to use them despite staff begging them too. Note to staff - begging people to make you redundant is a bad idea.

Same experience at my local bank - Barclays staff now try and usher me to self service machines rather than spend time at the counters, and there's a move to keep me out of fuel stations by presenting me with a card slot at the fuel pump - the same story is true at my local train station.

Even more bizarre is the appearance of self service coffee machines from Starbucks - which is horrifying when you think that their value proposition is based around the quality of barista and bean. Why would I pay the same for a robot as the qualified barista?

While these are unlikely to appear 'in store' any time soon - the rise of the poor quality franchise outlet and the war for UK service stations between Costa and Starbucks is not helping quality perception.

Starbucks - remember this from 2008, when you shut all your stores in the US for the day?

"We're taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That's why we're dedicating ourselves to to honing our craft"

I suspect a little sub-note saying "but you can still use the machine at the gas station" would not fit.....

In common with 44% of the population (according to Retail Week), I prefer interaction with people rather than self service, and although retailers typically preach 'choice' and 'speed' as their reasoning, it transpires that the associated increase in theft is costing far more than the $125k installation costs and the staff salary savings.

These thefts cost retailers over half a billion pounds per year and as a consequence are causing greater investments in multi-sensory, anti-theft spying systems at checkouts, combined with an increase in security guards. 

Now I'm sure that there is short term pain investing in the technology, and the aim is long term savings by removing pesky humans from the equation (or at least reducing the number dramatically) - but none of these companies are thinking deeply enough about their brand.

Wake up. Your people ARE your brand. In an evolving service economy one of the very few things that separates you from the competition are the interactions your customers have with your staff. 

Here's a quote from a really great article by Kate Hilpern on brand value.

"Brand value is measured one brilliant customer experience at a time"

Machines do not give brilliant customer experience.  They provide short term novelty and the illusion of choice, but never long term relationships.

I am REALLY upset that my local Starbucks closed last week, I'll miss the coffee, and the meeting space, but much more than that I'll miss the team of human beings that have looked after me for several years (most are facing redundancy which makes it doubly hard).  

We've all been to 'good' and 'bad' versions of our favourite chains - and greater consistency can be achieved by a machine, but it's never going to ask you about your family and bring you an occasional free coffee, burger or kids toy. It also won't prompt you about a '2 for 1' offer you missed (that might slow the line).

More touch points between companies and their customers is a good thing - but so many companies are now flying in the face of common sense it bewilders me.

Self service machines are the exact opposite of employee engagement, they suppress any positive projection of culture and they reduce your value proposition. 

Stop doing it. Stop it now - think better of your staff, see past the cost and appreciate the enormous value these conversations, relationships and other interactions bring.

And we need to stop using the damn robots. You don't have to use them - in fact you can have great fun (and get even greater customer service) by proclaiming in a loud voice "Why would I use one of those, I like talking to others, and if I keep using a machine, soon all these nice people will be made redundant".

Try it and see. 

PS Great people really do make great companies, and I'm a big fan of both Starbucks and McDonalds for that very reason - read this blog for some more insight.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Do Gender & Age Influence Engagement?

I've had some follow up from my last blog on employee engagement, which raised some interesting questions around gender and age, so this one aims to dispel some of the common myths on the subject using 13,000 sparkling data points (otherwise known as people). 

Those of a 'non data' disposition should start to panic now, or at least skip to the summary at the bottom of the page.

So why bother with all this analysis? Primarily to save money and time - if you're aiming at saving a few million pounds (see here for details), it's nice to do so as efficiently as possible and target the right groups.

Myth 1 - men and women are just as engaged (or disengaged) as each other, everyone is an individual. 

Wrong. Sort of. In the last blog I divided the population into four segments (plus one for the totally disengaged). Mapping the gender distribution gives the chart below.

The 'middle' of the engagement spectrum remains the same. But there's a very large difference at each extreme. A higher population of women occupy the 'highly engaged' quartile with 25% of the female population in that quartile compared to 20% of the men.

Also take note that almost twice as many men reside in the 'disengaged' segment. We'll explore some possible reasons why later on.

Myth 2 - younger people are more engaged than older people.

Ermm.....sorry, no - wrong again. In fact the opposite holds true, the more advanced in years, the more likely you are to be a highly engaged employee.  

If you're looking for the most engaged employees in your company, then you're likely to find them in the 'over 40's' section of the population. Strangely, the 40's group has (marginally) the highest proportion of disengaged employees too, but there is a clear progression of engagement as the population gains maturity.

Myth 3 - everyone has their own way of getting engaged with the company.

No. Not true, in fact there are a few very straightforward and simple options that engage people much faster than you might think, and they are unlikely to be the ones you imagine (I could write a whole new blog on the myth of internal social media).

Here's some simple theory before we go much further. Typically people get engaged in five different ways - most of which are available (and measurable) in one form or another at every company.

There are learning opportunities - these are not limited to formal education programs, but rather learning about why there is a focus on employee engagement. Most companies are trying to improve this, but few communicate effectively what they are doing about it and why with the population.

There are technical opportunities - typically involving multiple interactions with technical infrastructure, such as the intranet.
Social opportunities also exist, voluntary interactions between individuals and groups within a company which may or may not be related to internal social media platforms such as Yammer and Chatter.

Active engagement opportunities involve more visible volunteering or action based giving within the company - going out of the way to give help or recognition to others.

Finally there are Visible factors, people who are recognised by others for their contributions. These are the hardest to measure, but often take the form of awards and recognition by peers and colleagues for their help, expertise or support.

Examining the engagement quartiles for our population shows a very distinct pattern of evolution. 77% of the least engaged group has engaged in some form of learning, but very little else.

Our most engaged group are participating in learning, technical and social engagement, and almost a third are showing active participation in driving the company forward. 13% are being recognised by others.

There is a clear evolution of engagement through each of the five as engagement increases.
The take home from this? Make sure you're communicating effectively why employee engagement is important and what it means to everyone. From that seed, other forms of engagement will grow - but if you can only do one thing, make sure that this one is done well, if only because it is the most accessible to the highest number of people.


I would encourage only data geeks to continue from this point in. Remember that we're trying to make more money than the competition by having highly engaged employees - everything else is a waste of time.

So in order to do this right, we need to really look at the population to and see if the quick theories described above work on a more granular level. Get this part right, and planning the next phase of your engagement project becomes more cost effective - because it will work.

In theory then, the most engaged employees are older, and gender makes no difference. Everyone can get on board with an engagement learning program, but very few become the visible evangelists.

The charts below bear that out. We have a couple of slight anomalies, most notably with the over 60's in quartile 3 demonstrating a lack of comfort with the social factors compared to their younger colleagues (that's the yellow 57% block) - and those men in their 20's who refuse to engage socially (the red 1% block on the top line).

The final chart shows the gender balance - and as before, regardless of quartile, the engagement factors remain the same.

The conclusion? Stop worrying about different age groups and genders interacting in different ways. The fact of the matter is (with the exception of men in their 20's) - this particular population all behave in a similar manner.
Many of the tools you need to create better engagement already exist in your company - the technical infrastructure, social enablements and the opportunities to participate are all present, but without creating an environment of understanding even your best efforts are doomed to failure.

Then go and ask a bunch of 20 something males why they don't like the internal social systems.......