Delivery drivers are as much a face of a retailer as shopfloor staff, says Rebecca Thomson

With services so easily affected by weather or traffic, the focus for delivery services has always been to make sure they arrive on time. But with drivers now becoming the main point of contact for many online shoppers, some retailers are starting to invest more in the overall quality of customer service.

John Lewis is concentrating on making sure its drivers are as engaged with the company’s service ethos as its in-store staff. The company’s brand is built on strong customer service and it says its drivers are as important as store staff in delivering that as online sales continue to grow.

John Lewis has created individual development programmes for 800 drivers, focusing on every aspect of service, and says it hopes to improve customer loyalty and satisfaction with the initiative. Business development manager Damien May says that historically, delivery services have been “a drop and run scenario”. And while they’re costly, he adds that John Lewis “didn’t just want to look at efficiency and profitability, but how the service can enhance customer experience, potentially driving sales and building trust”.

May says 25% of deliveries are for online orders, meaning many customers only interact with John Lewis through its drivers. “We had invested a lot in shopfloor staff, but less in our drivers, so we talked to them about their development requirements and their challenges.”

The retailer worked with occupational psychology company Cognisco to help articulate the day-to-day challenges the drivers faced, and to work out exactly what it wanted to achieve.

Six main elements of good service were identified during two days of talking to drivers, including the need to properly engage drivers in their work and make the impact of good delivery clear. “We needed to make clear the impact it has on a customers’ shopping experience if there’s a delivery failure, and how it affects their perception of the company,” May says. Operational performance and the importance of compliance were also highlighted.

From this, an online assessment was developed to help the retailer measure how well it’s doing on delivery and to highlight skills or confidence gaps in each driver. It looks at drivers’ knowledge, confidence and understanding of their job roles, and asks how they would react and behave in certain ‘on the job’ scenarios. The assessment led to individual development programmes being designed to help the company’s 800 drivers improve, and May says the assessment will be used again to gauge progress.

May says the exercise has led to a greater awareness of overall service, with drivers often spending longer with each customer and helping with product assembly instead of leaving quickly. “They are spending more time in the home, providing upfront customer service instead of dropping the products and leaving.”

Project’s History

  • Customer research in 2007 highlighted a need for better customer service during delivery
  • In 2008 John Lewis built a new scheduling system for deliveries, to cope with an increase in online orders and provide good service in a multichannel environment
  • In 2009 John Lewis started talking to drivers about their development requirements
  • It devised individual training programmes for 800 drivers