I recently watched a US episode of TV’s Undercover Boss and in it a boss of a large car manufacture was shocked by what he found.

I recently watched a US episode of TV’s Undercover Boss and in it a boss of a large car manufacture was shocked by what he found.

I was more shocked that an intelligent, highly paid leader had never mystery-shopped or engaged with his staff before.

It was the same when I watched the UK version last week when the boss Moss Bros went 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 car 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 one 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 simply using empathy and imaging 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 – bricks-and-mortar or pureplay - could also make it a lot easier for customers to do business with them.

The big question you need to ask is: “Do I employ people whose job is to make it as difficult as possible for a customer to do business with me?” In effect, a ‘sales prevention department’.

I’m convinced that in some companies the sales prevention department is in fact the biggest and most powerful.

Why does it take a TV programme for chief executives to engage with staff and customers?

Why do companies employ mystery-shopping companies? Get the staff in your head office to go and visit your stores unannounced. Get them to observe what your customers feel.

Get the staff that normally 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 look at market research and surveys, they’re for insecure middle managers.

Get out onto the shop floor and ask people about their experiences. If you’re easily offended, don’t do it, stay behind your desk.

And finally, disband your sales prevention department now and watch your business improve.

  • Ajaz Ahmed played a central role in the creation of Freeserve and is founder of Legal365.com