When Gordon Ramsay turns around a restaurant in his shows, the problem often stems from the menu being too confused and complicated.

It makes for good TV, but it is often the front-of-house staff who suffer.

Likewise, on retail’s front line, staff bear the brunt when we fail to provide them with a clear offer and don’t listen to their pain points.

Since our objective is to provide a consistently great experience for our customers, we must develop the discipline of making processes simple at the point of purchase.

“Value is added when those who source and distribute the ranges work in the stores and familiarise themselves with life on the front line”

The starting point is a clear, well-thought-through product offer.

If staff do not understand the product hierarchy, nor will customers. A clear offer without proliferation leads to better stock availability.

Failing on these makes life impossible for staff and deeply frustrating for the customer.

Value is added when those who source and distribute the ranges work in the stores and familiarise themselves with life on the front line.

Understanding what is really important to our customers’ service needs helps us focus on what we want our people to deliver.

Time is money

For Screwfix’s customers, time is money. Our core purpose is “everything we do is about helping our customers get their jobs done – quickly, affordably and right first time”.

We have built our model to reduce their shopping time and get them back to their jobs as quickly as possible.

We pick each order in less than three minutes.

Our trade customers know more about their projects and product needs than our staff do.

“The trick is to understand what is right for the proposition and create easy processes for staff to ensure the experience is great for the customer”

They are the experts – our staff are there to support them, especially with speed at the till and fast product-picking.

For some retailers, browse time, inspiration and interaction is what the customer most needs.

Again, the trick is to understand what is right for the proposition and create easy processes for staff to ensure the experience is great for the customer.

Too often we retailers create heavy work burdens for customer-facing staff and then compound the problem by driving down the cost of sale. Everyone loses – customer and ultimately business.

Instead we need to make our processes easier and leaner – or entirely rethink their purpose – so that our staff can deliver better for the customer.

Staff engagement

Many of the improvements can come from an engaged staff team who understand the business objective and are given a voice. This is what business leadership thinker Ron Heifetz calls “protecting the voice of leadership from below”.

At Screwfix we make time every two weeks for two store managers to feed back from their region to the board. The rules are “there are no rules” – they simply feed back.

“Many of the improvements can come from an engaged staff team who understand the business objective and are given a voice”

Some great and often simple, brilliant ideas emerge. One result is our new customer card offering a quicker method for them to be identified in-store, which speeds up the shopping process. Simple and obvious, but it wouldn’t have been implemented if we hadn’t listened.

Often in retail we don’t give enough thought to making life simple and easy for our staff to enable them to offer great service. My golden rule is simple: never ask someone to do something that you would not be prepared to do yourself.

  • Andrew Livingston is chief executive of Screwfix