Sometimes it’s easier to forget about staff insights and to focus solely on the customer. I carried out research for a leading FMCG supplier some years ago. They wanted customer insights as they were spending significant amounts designing and developing new, high impact POS (point of sale) for retailers to use in store, and wanted to test the concept. We did consumer research with thousands of consumers. We did customer research with hundreds of shoppers.  The POS got a big thumbs up and it was rolled out to thousands of stores.

When customer insights aren’t enough

I visited a store some months later, to take photos of the POS in situ. Alas, the POS was nowhere to be seen. After searching high and low, a colleague questioned a nearby member of store staff. Trying to find out where it was displayed in-store. “Oh, it didn’t fit on the shelf,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “So we just binned it all.’ 

And boom! Just like that tens of thousands of pounds worth of time and money into the trash! The original research was probably correct, the customer would have loved it, but this store’s customers would never know.

The missing link – sales staff insights

I’ve seen 100s of research proposals and the vast majority of the time (although not ALL the time) a critical element is missing. Companies collect and pay for sales data, customer data, footfall data, consumer data and pricing data. But put very little focus on getting feedback and insights from the frontline staff. Yet these are normally the people who really know the reality of what happens day to day in the stores and retail outlets. The people who REALLY engage with the customers. 

I’ve learnt that sometimes we can focus TOO much on the customer when it comes to improving customer engagement. Maybe, just maybe, we need to move away from putting just the customers opinion first and check that whatever we’re planning will work operationally to! We need to check with those who actually have to implement our exciting new campaigns, ideas and initiatives. We need to talk to the frontline.

Another fine mess – how staff insights can save the day

I was genuinely delighted when, year’s later, a client called me to thank me for one bit of insight which had had a big impact on her. I’m easily pleased! Because this time I had learned my lesson, and had recommended we speak to store staff within the scope of the research.

We did focus groups with store staff in a small room above a convenience store. The conversation came round to the issue of on-shelf availability. “Product X is an absolute nightmare,” one store manager commented and promptly marched me and listening client downstairs, into the store. Then down more stairs, into the stock room. Have you ever been in a convenience store stock room? Possibly not, not many people have, even those who work in the industry, and sell their products to them. It was a 4 meter sq room, stacked full with brown boxes, some with writing on, a few with images, on stacked in no comprehensible order. After some time the store owner located a nondescript brown box and with difficulty bought a box of product X to us. 

The product looked fantastic on shelf for the shoppers – attention grabbing, sexy, appealing etc etc etc. But for the poor staff member trying to locate it in a crowded stockroom it had no defining features at all. They could never find it. It wasn’t easy to tell which pack size or flavour variant was inside, so often it was one of the last products to get restocked, if at all. A panic stricken client stood next to me! 

The proof was in the pudding

From that day forth, images and colours on outers were used to help the store staff. We carried out further research to test the effectiveness and appeal of the outers to store staff, just as we would the product packaging to shoppers. With great results.

Budgets for customer and consumer research tends to come from either Insights or Marketing Departments. The question of ‘whether my campaign / initiative / programme will actually work in the live retail environment’ might not be top of the agenda. 

The operational details, the logistics or, in other words, “will it fit on a standard sized shelf” doesn’t get asked. And often the people who can answer those questions are the staff and managers or owners are not included in the research, they are forgotten about. The focus is purely on the customer or consumer.

Marketeers have historically focussed on the infamous 4 ‘P’s’ to drive sales – Product, Price, Promotions and Place but the fifth ‘P’ which constantly goes under the radar is ‘People’. Staff insights are a powerful tool that brands and retailers should also be investing in.

New faces

Talking of people, you may have noticed I’m a new face at KAM. Nice to meet you. Having worked in research for more than 15 years – i’m fascinated by the human psyche. Discovering what motivates us, what drives us, how our opinions and behaviours are formed and influenced. I love KAM’s slogan of ‘Research with Purpose’ because knowledge for knowledge’s sake, or data for data’s sake, doesn’t sit well with me. 

I spent 12 years working for a leading research & consultancy agency within both grocery retail and hospitality sectors. Helping clients such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Coca Cola, Red Bull and Pernod Ricard deliver growth. Through a better understanding their current and future customers AND STAFF! I look forward to working with you at KAM.

Find out more about Katie and the rest of the KAM team here.