The impact of poor leadership…

This week I witnessed an example of some really poor service delivered. What struck me was the leadership culture that created this issue.

The first was in a large homewares chain. I had nipped into this shop to get a few things for a picnic – it is not a shop that I have ever used before and I only went in due to convenience. I only needed a couple of things. After navigating what was frankly a pretty full shop, yet reasonably merchandised I found what i needed and went to join the queue at the tills. There were only 2 tills working and there was a small queue at both. The lady in front of me had 4 identical items – when they were input into the till the price charged differed from the price on display. The old lady raised this and the lady behind the till said that she didn’t know what the price should be because she had only just come on shift after a day off (not an unreasonable position given the vast number of items on show). She called over a supervisor.

Whilst she waited for the supervisor the lady (a bit embarrassed) asked the checkout operator to come and see the prices herself to which the worker said I can’t do that because I am not allowed to. The lady asked why, what will happen and she said I am just not allowed to. The old lady said I am not lying (clearly made to feel distracted by the attitude of the checkout person). Meanwhile the queue was growing. Now the price differential was 29p on 4 items – a grand total £1.16.

The supervisor finally arrived and rather than doing anything to help alleviate the queue or frustrations of any parties he wandered off to find the products on the store. As next in line I asked the checkout person if she could suspend or void the transaction and allow others (myself included) to complete our transactions whilst we waited. The answer was I can’t – I don’t have authority to do that. So we all waited a good 5 minutes for the supervisor to come back who was perplexed and still could not understand the reasons for the difference. At this point the checkout operator told the queue that she was closing the till and they would have to go to another checkout – becoming more and more agitated as she did this.

This was an appallingly bad example of managing an incident and focussing on the customer experience. For 1.16 they not only made the lady feel massively embarrassed but they also managed to annoy a shop full of people!

The checkout person wasn’t great – but the bigger issue was the leadership culture that created her “jobsworth” attitude. Firstly the systems were clearly not well managed for pricing at till to differ from marked prices but in a large fast paced retail business this will happen. No the real issue was in the level of training provided to the checkout person in basic till usage and more importantly the over adherence to low trust money protection policies driven by fear of what the minority will do and the detrimental impact this has on customer experience.

The checkout person was not allowed to do voids or price changes because the company didn’t fundamentally trust them. I have worked in retail and I know the risks of staff theft and internal fraud – but by locking down the system to such an extent and not allowing any level of discretion the result was a service experience completely against the needs of the customer. This business had got it so wrong and in so doing made me, a new customer a complete detractor – I will never use this brand again.

Everything about this visit spoke of poor management and leadership both locally and at a more strategic level. Team members who were not developed to enable them to manage situations or empowered to make decisions at a level. The investment in training was clearly missing. Local management obviously kept control on authority and as such have made themselves indispensable – so much so that when anything goes wrong in even the slightest way the whole operation comes to a complete stop. The classic impact of micro-management and tight controls built out of an absence of trust.

I walked away from this visit feeling immense frustration of what should have been such a simple transaction was handled so badly. You can guarantee that this business would point the finger of blame firmly on the staff member for their actions and maybe they could have taken more initiative. The reality is that team members won’t show initiative if they do not feel safe within the system they operate and it was clear that every part of this team members thought process focussed on fear of breaking rules and not being allowed to make decisions.

Mindset Associates specialise in helping leaders create the kind of environments where teams feel empowered and enabled to create great experiences for customers. Please talk to us about how we can help you.

Haydn Bratt, Pioneer, Mindset Associates

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