The right staff

When a shopper walks into a shop and quickly finds what they want, get served and go, they may leave with a smile on their face – but they probably don’t realise that their pleasant experience was weeks or even months in the making.
Making sure the right staff are in the right place at the right time is vital for any retailer and in today’s competitive market – and while companies are trying to balance good service with their cost base – the need to stand out from the crowd is becoming ever greater.

Workforce management experts Kronos have helped companies such as Co-operative, TJX and Sports Direct put together plans to make their stores run efficiently, and Simon McPherson, senior director of operations, says there is a ‘circle of staff management’ that retailers need to follow.

“You need accurate forecasts for the number of customers coming into your store, so that you know the number of people you need and which skills you need. Once you have those figures you can then begin allocating staff to that plan, taking into account their abilities, availability and preferences.

“Even for a store of 10 staff that is very complex – and if someone doesn’t turn up when they are expected that can be 10 per cent of your workforce.”

He adds that having a lower staff turnover will see a workforce management plan have greater success, and expressed how vital it is to make sure the staff are dealing with customers well.

“Given the current economic climate you must make sure your customers get the same experience when they go into your stores – there are so many choices now, from the internet to the shop next door. Volumes tend to be dropping so making sure you stand out by offering great and consistent customer service is important.”

One of the problems that retailers have faced in recent years is ‘buddy punching’ – where one member of staff will clock in for a colleague who is late or not in store. Many stores are trying to tackle the issue by introducing biometric systems so workers have to be at the store to clock in.

Biometric systems
Christian Berenger, business development director at Auto Time Solutions, claims it is a massive problem particularly in retail, with its large hourly-paid workforce.
“Buddy punching can have huge financial ramifications for businesses and is a practice that cannot be ignored.

“Put simply, paying wages to someone who arrives late, leaves early or, in the worst case scenario is not even there inflates the company’s payroll costs. In some cases this can account for up to eight per cent of the total payroll cost over the course
of a year.

“There is also a massive health and safety issue. If an employee clocks in for an absent colleague, in the event of an emergency this could result in co-workers or firefighters putting their lives at risk by searching a potentially burning building for an individual that is not even there.”

He claims biometric handscan terminals are the most effective way of tackling the problem. Not only can the system tell who is, it can also notify managers by email or text alert so they can arrange.

Another advocate of biometrics is Nigel Garrett, business development director at Workplace, who believes fingerprint scanning is the best method.

“As a technology it has matured magnificently in the last 10 years. It is definitely the way to go. Sometimes employees may feel it is ‘Big Brother’ and they are being monitored but that is mainly a myth. “I have seen biometrics installed on dockyards on the Clyde, with a militant union, but when the details came out about how their payroll would be more accurate and their overtime would be paid sooner, within a month or two it had settled down and become a new way of working.”

However, one of the major payroll problems – he claims – is with managers, rather than colleagues, helping those who don’t turn up for work.

“It is contentious for a manager to tell someone they aren’t being paid for being late or if they are ill. A much bigger problem than buddy-punching is managers simply not doing their jobs properly by not reporting lateness or leave. Making it an individual thing takes that problem away from your managers.”

Balancing act
Striking a balance between a successful workforce management plan that keeps your store well staffed – while also being cost-effective – is one of the major challenges facing retailers of all levels in the current financial climate.

Even electronics giant Apple have recently found that a tough compromise, with retail staff having their hours cut and shifts reduced recently, leading to stores being understaffed.

The firm were soon forced into a U-turn and in a statement to Dow Jones said: “Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed. Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve.”

Maybe they should have looked at recent study from retail research company Martec International before making their cost-cutting move. Speaking to 58 food, fashion and pharmacy retailers in the UK and America, they found that balancing customer service and labour costs was the top priority when it comes to store performance and productivity, with 33 per cent having that as their main goal, while only a third of that figure prioritised reducing costs in store.

Nigel Garrett echoes the view that this is a challenge retailers must overcome, adding: “The issue now it that people want to drive their top line, and maximise their bottom line, while at the same time customers are becoming even more demanding.”
He says one of the best methods of being able to manage this simply, quickly and cheaply is by using ‘The Cloud’ – programmes on the internet that can be logged into at any time.

“You can switch it on tomorrow and start using it. Normally it would take anything between three and six months to create a plan, but with the Cloud you can start straight away. The world is becoming more mobile and a lot of management now spend a lot of their time in cars and want to be able to use their smart phones to access information, or look at home through their internet.

“It also allows self-service, so workers can log in to see their information, rotas, holiday entitlement and time booked off, and they can even swap shifts. This means not only efficiency, but employee satisfaction. When you look at your customer-facing staff what you want is a good attitude, being happy and smiling. That can be helped by the way companies treat their staff.”

The impact of using workforce management software has been shown by Co-operative in recent years.

Utilising their new ‘Right for Us’ programme, moving away from pieces of paper to leading technology, has seen them reduce premier overtime by 3,500 hours a week, improve punctuality by 5,000 hours a week and highlighted 10,000 colleagues who had previously been scheduled for fewer hours than their contract stated.

Steve Bond, head of IT for retail solutions at Co-operative, said the change has been huge. “Some used time sheets and some wouldn’t be accurate. Some forms would arrive late and it was difficult managing that level of staff.”

They installed fingerprint readers in store, but also allow workers to clock in using a pin pad with a unique number if they prefer. “It was all about accuracy for us, that has saved us far more money than tackling buddy punching. One of the key drivers in this move was making sure staff were paid accurately for the time they are on site.”

Any retail organisation must strive for a workforce management plan that offers efficiency – you can only keep your customers happy if your till are manned and your shelves are full.

While all industries are looking to minimise costs, the warnings are there – if you do that to the detriment of sensible staffing levels, you may be creating more problems than you solve.

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