Has retail lost the art of customer service?

According to our latest report, ‘The Secret DNA of High-Performing Teams’, retailers have lost the art of customer service and creativity in their quest to be operationally efficient.

The study, co-chaired by Judith McKenna, former VP and CEO of Walmart International, and Sir Clive Woodward, Strategic Advisor to KultraLab, spanned six months and involved over 15 global retail brands. It aimed to identify the behaviours of the highest performing front-line teams in the retail and consumer sector, shedding light on the behaviours crucial for achieving results both now and in the future.

The research, conducted in partnership with the World Retail Congress, the University of Manchester and inBeta, collected over 4000 data points from more than 200 interviews across 50 high-performing teams. This data culminated in a High-Performance Framework, enabling organisations to evaluate their front-line teams against key behaviours that drive success. The framework highlights six critical moments: operational, team, customer, self-mastery, high-demand, and growth moments.

Surprisingly, the study revealed that high-performing teams prioritise team dynamics over customer interactions at a ratio of 2:1. Only a small percentage of these teams consistently demonstrated strong customer empathy (1%) and advising the customer (2%). 

This poses a worrying outlook for retailers, as the future of customer interactions rapidly evolves towards more immersive, and personalised experiences.  Adapting to this shift means that retailers will have to leverage AI to streamline operations, whilst simultaneously enhancing human interaction.  

Judith McKenna said on the findings, “At the heart of what we do in retail are customers, and perhaps one of the most striking findings in the report is that even in high-performing teams, the strength of customer interactions is still the weakest link. The same types of ‘moments’ that can create strength for a team can’t be overlooked for customers. Front-line teams need to focus on the small moments that collectively define the retail experience for those who interact with them.  It will be important for retailers to focus on getting these small moments right and that starts with hiring and promoting people that demonstrate qualities of empathy, curiosity, and creativity to make sure customer centricity is central to what they do.”

The study predicts that customer empathy, rapport-building and the ability to provide personalised advice will emerge as crucial behaviours in shaping successful retail and customer-centric experiences in the coming years. 

Steve Baggi, CEO & Founder of KultraLab added, “It’s more important now than ever, that retailers start to optimise human performance, otherwise they leave themselves open to significant risk.  While skills are essential, behaviours play a pivotal role in nurturing productivity and success.   Retailers will need to coach more customer-centric behaviours to deliver results.  Failure to do so could see established retailers vulnerable to disruption from innovative newcomers looking to capitalise on the evolving landscape.”

Furthermore, the report highlights:

  • The identification of the ‘Magic Six’ behaviours for high-performance in retail.  These are the core behaviours that managers and their teams get right to create high levels of team engagement, strong customer experience, KPIs and strong revenue performance against targets.  The ‘Magic Six’ collectively represented 44% of the total behavioural evidence gathered.
  • Increasing pressures on managers due to leaner management structures, leading to burnout and high attrition levels.
  • The absence of a universal approach to retail, with different behavioural strengths observed across various retail categories.

Sir Clive Woodward commented, “What we have seen from the report is that high-performing individuals and teams are often those who have a strong sense of purpose, belonging and loyalty at work.  All team members have a part to play in bringing the organisation’s values to life through clear actions and behaviours.  As identified in the report, the ‘Magic Six’ behaviours can be a powerful way to achieve this.”

Looking ahead and building on the findings, KultraLab will develop a diagnostic tool leveraging behavioural science and data analytics to help retailers measure and benchmark these high-performance behaviours among their managers against the best in the sector.

To read a copy of the report, please download here.