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Paying the living wage: Retail & Hospitality

Paying the living wage isn’t optional for survival, but neither should it be a problem.

Lidl were the first supermarket to recognise the benefits of paying the living wage. Their stores may be no frills but their operation is efficient. Lidl’s customers, many deserting the likes of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s for all or some of their purchases, have clearly embraced the shopping experience. Lidl understand paying the living wage will pay dividends helping them attract and retain the best staff, improve staff morale, increase productivity and provide good customer service, a great recipe for increasing profits and market share. Lidl’s lead has been followed by other enlightened companies, including Costa.

Being an employer of choice and a “good place to work” is now crucial, not just to remain competitive, but to survive. Particularly for retail and hospitality, survival will depend on laser focus on the customer experience, through every channel. Paying the living wage isn’t optional for survival. Operational efficiency on the front-line isn’t optional either. It requires investment in systems to support staff in the execution of strategy at the forefront of operations, on the shop-floor, coffee shop, hotel reception, room or bar.

Getting staff scheduling right is critical, now more than ever. The effect of getting it wrong is frustrated customers who will walk away, and disengaged staff who don’t care if they do!

In this age of “big data” many organisations seem unable to predict with any degree of accuracy how many staff will be needed at any given time. This is particularly noticeable in retail and hospitality. You may well have wondered why, for example, you can be standing in the queue from hell attempting to return items in store, purchased on-line, with only two of six tills operating. Only yards away the on-line collection tills are fully manned with not a customer in sight. Sound familiar? Most frustrating for customers is why this happens and why the collection staff are either unwilling or unable to help their colleagues on the returns tills!

Many large retailers have commenced predictable cost-cutting initiatives, involving significant job cuts, recognising the need for leaner, more efficient operations. The cuts thus far appear to have been stripping out layers of management. When it comes to the staff on the front-line, where customer experience is judged, there is much that can be done to achieve efficiency, minimise job losses and pay the living wage.

It is possible to predict customer demand, deliver excellent customer service, pay the living wage and provide an engaging environment for employees. Historical data is available to predict demand and the mobile capabilities of today’s workforce management systems enable managers to adjust schedules from the shop floor, reacting quickly before customer service is adversely affected. Today’s systems can handle changes with all the information needed to ensure adjustments take into consideration staff availability, skills, trading of shifts, compliance requirements and cost.

For many years, retailers have invested in numerous systems to help them execute their strategy. Sadly, it seems that because efficient and cost-effective scheduling, particularly in retail and hospitality, has required such a complex mix of data from numerous systems, many organisations have found the prospect of automating too daunting and put off investing in such a project.

Automating the process is a major project, not least because to be really effective everyone in the organisation has to be a user of the solution. Because efficient, effective scheduling requires a complex mix of data (Sales, Footfall, HR, Payroll, Time, Attendance, Compliance, Skills, Certifications, Demand, Task Management etc) most of it in real-time, it makes sense and makes for a much quicker time to deploy, if all this information is available from a single solution. Crucially, it also means that everyone has just one place to go, one intuitive solution to use, for everything from booking a holiday, changing address, capturing rewards, recognition, swopping a shift or communicating their availability for additional hours.

To the average customer it’s all too obvious when service demand isn’t matched by supply of appropriate staff, whether in a supermarket, a coffee shop or in a hotel. Front-line managers and staff need the tools to get coverage right in real-time, all the time, in every department, every channel, in every location. By the time the impact of getting it wrong becomes apparent at Head Office the damage is done to customer service, employee engagement, revenue and market share.