The Future of Work – How Was It For You, Visitor 6?

Wooden Christmas Star

You may be wondering about your staffing levels for Christmas. Are you? After all, it is only a few months away. Whilst you consider your options, I would like to share with you what it is like to experience The Future of Work and be a Christmas casual worker at Sainsbury’s.

Wooden Christmas Star
Look after your Christmas Stars

Last December business was a little quiet for me. It wasn’t desperate, but I was at the point of cancelling lunch with a good friend and I wasn’t having that! So, I signed up to do some casual shifts at Sainsbury’s; sometimes in life you just have to suck it up.

To be one of their merry band required navigating your way through the Indeed Flex App, which is apparently the Future of Work. This is not that straightforward; all very inhuman and not for anyone who isn’t tech savvy. At one point it crashed and I had to start again. After completing the “training” (ie watching a few videos about various things, including lifting and handling – compliance training anyone?) I got there in the end. Within hours I was booked in to do two shifts the week before Christmas. The app is the ultimate in being processed. But hey ho.

So how was working at Sainsbury’s?

Well not that great. Filling shelves and being in the hustle and bustle of Christmas was fine; it took me right back to my early days in retail. There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from getting an aisle straight and helping customers where I could.

What was not so sparkly was the way we were treated.

I arrived for my first shift and reported to customer service. They clearly didn’t know what to do with me or the others also arriving. I was given a visitor badge, number 6, and told to wait.

A manager collected us, took us through to the back office where we could leave our bags and then took us onto the shop floor. I was rather expecting a briefing – health and safety, domestic stuff etc.  But no. No explanation of breaks, location of toilets, the canteen, who to speak to, what to do at the end of day, where to take rubbish etc.

Straight onto the floor, shown an aisle and a cage, given a brief explanation of what to do and then left to it.

All day

And I Mean All day.

At no point during that 8 hours did anyone check I was OK, check that I was doing things properly, send me off for a break, be curious, be kind.  Not one member of staff came to speak to me. No manager knew my name. I swear I could have walked out of the store and come back at the end to sign out and no one would have known.

The fact that one of the other workers came and found me every time he had a customer query tells you everything you need to know.

It was inhuman. I was a visitor in the store and utterly abandoned.

Sainsbury’s has a quote that

“Our values make us different.”

Which values are these, do we think?

It was exactly the same for the second shift. I didn’t book a third. I had wondered whether I might make this a regular thing to do at Christmas. I guess not.

The Future of Work?

As a customer and as a person with a particular concern for people at the margins of society, I felt I needed to do something.

I emailed the Store Manager on the 28th March outlining my experience. Then again on the 24th April.

I wrote a letter on the 28th June.

I’ve still had no reply.


Customer Service vs. Customer Focus

Two pink champagne glasses

What’s the difference between customer service and customer focus? Answer? Excellence.

Two pink champagne glasses
Customer service that fizzes.

Good customer service includes being polite and friendly, going the extra mile, fulfilling your promises, making sure that your systems are easy for the customer to use and that information is accessible and relevant. But really excellent customer service includes something more; Customer Focus.

Customer Service Question 1

Who are your customers? The first thing to remember is that you are not delivering a service or product to a customer. (Or a client, patient, service user or passenger etc.) You are delivering a service to Jon or Susan or Mrs Miggins or Shareef or Doctor Braun or Great Aunt Winnie. They never cease being these things, even when they are on the phone to you, looking through your catalogue or walking into your shop. Their priorities, experience, likes and dislikes will always be there. If you don’t allow for this, then you are immediately letting them down. Letting down the controllers of your income is not a good business strategy. So think carefully about who they really are and design your business processes accordingly. That includes giving permission to your staff to see customers as people. Real people, with unique likes, needs and wants.

Customer Service Question 2

What do they also want? Hopefully we can easily deliver what customers want. If we are smart we deliver what they also want. To do this we need to analyse what is ticking their boxes and what is wrinkling their noses. Face to face businesses have the advantage here but only if they use that advantage. Businesses need to exercise some sensitivity – what NLP practitioners call sensory acuity; using your senses to pick up subtle clues from the other person about how they are feeling. You then need to test out and act on your findings. Your policy should be to treat each customer individually. For on-line businesses this is proving more difficult. Being told what other customers also bought can be irritating, though occasionally quite amusing.

Customer Service Question 3

What do they need? This is where real customer focus comes in and makes the difference. Customer focus is stepping into the shoes of your customer and asking the questions that they need to ask. “Do you care about my situation? Can I trust what you are saying? Will this product work with other products that I use? Is this going to be too expensive for me? What else do I need to make this work?” Suppose a lady comes into your shop wanting a new handbag to take to a swanky party this evening. She may have a thoroughly pleasant time with the sales assistant selecting just the right one and leave your shop delighted with her purchase. If, however, when she gets home there isn’t room in her new bag for her purse and she ends up using her old faithful, not only will she not like the bag anymore she will also not like your shop. You on the other hand will never know that you missed the chance to sell a purse or that you’ve just lost a good customer for ever.

Only by answering question 3 will you be giving excellent customer service.