Can I save on staff training now workforce is experienced?
Q I'm lucky enough to have a pretty experienced group of staff and I am thinking about cutting back on the level of training that I am doing over the next number of years, to use the investment elsewhere in the business. Do you have an opinion?
A This would be a big mistake. Regardless of how good your team are, my experience has been that you can never do enough training and that staff will always grow and develop the more training you provide them with. I was talking to a restaurant owner recently who was detailing for me the amount of product menu training they do with their staff that never really gets to an end point.
They ensure that their chef spends lots of time with their staff getting them to taste all of the meals and understand all of the ingredients.
That means when a diner asks about a product, they get a passionate and enthusiastic response about the servers' own personal view on that dish. It would simply be impossible to achieve this without ongoing training.
Customer service is another one of those topics that staff seem to thrive on. No matter how good a staff member is at dealing with customers, they always seem to raise their standards even higher when they benefit from customer service refresher training.
During a recession a number of decades ago some of the senior management team at Superquinn suggested we cut back on our training to save money. After some debate we did the opposite and increased the spend on training, and remarkably our sales went up - at a time when the market was declining. No coincidence, I suspect.
Q Despite the products I sell being cheaper than my competitors, I still cannot convince certain customers to buy mine. They say they 'trust' my competitors' product more than mine. Can you help me understand this?
A There are many things about consumers that you can quantify and there are many logical behaviours that you can predict. A big part of winning customers though is tapping into emotional feelings and, as you describe it, having the customer trust your brand.
This is a really valuable situation and puts any business that can achieve it way ahead of its competitors. At the height of one of the many beef crises a number of decades ago, I remember the owner of a crèche telling me a story which illustrates the point you are making. The media channels had been lighting up with talk of BSE in beef, and this crèche felt obliged to ask the parents of the children if they could continue to give them spaghetti bolognese. Several of the customers stated in their response: "Only if the beef originated from Superquinn." For that group of customers, the important thing was that they trusted in Superquinn standards, possibly ahead of national schemes. While I felt very proud on hearing it, it also created huge pressure within our business to make sure that we didn't let anyone down and that our systems were as robust as they should be.
On another occasion when we were the first retailer in the world to introduce DNA traceability on beef the reaction of lots of customers was: 'Don't tell me the detail as I am not interested, I trust Superquinn have taken care of everything." This again, was a combination of factors that had allowed us to achieve this status in the market. It is not something that you can write down 10 steps on how to achieve it, but rather a view that customers form over time through actions you take and messages you give. For customers to trust your business, you will really have to understand what are the core issues that they worry about, and then be the business that credibly solves these things for them.