On November 15, John Mullen of Office Depot addressed an Atlanta session of the 2012 Customer Care Leadership Forum on the subject of his firm’s efforts to improve the in-store experience for customers. In an era when in-store shopping is only one of many options for consumers, the in-store option has to be extremely attractive to continue to get customers spending money. When in 2010 customer satisfaction scores didn’t seem to match with corporate expectations, Office Depot set about overhauling the in-store experience to create a situation in which consumers were loyal to and satisfied with the firm. Likening the evolution of the in-store plan to climbing a mountain, Mullen said that the process began with executives like him going out and making trips to various retail locations unannounced. Acting as undercover executives, they took stock of everything that needed to be improved at 80 stores, using that information to create a general plan for successful store management moving forward. “The most difficult part that we’re still at is making a change stick. I’m not sure how many folks in this room have been through change management activities, but most of them fail for multiple reasons. This is the hardest part that we’re finding, that you think you have a good sales and service model, you think that you’re doing the right thing operationally and you think you’re doing the right thing for the customer, but making it stick is one of the hardest things to do.” By closely watching every aspect of the retail process in multiple locations all across the country, Mullen and other executives believed that they could create a plan that ensured this change would stick.
Another important aspect of actively involving an entire organization in a new strategy, according to Mullen, was to make sure that there were enough sales associates on the floor at key times during the day. Even though selling a firm on increasing payroll might not have been the easiest thing, he said, it was extremely important to a positive customer experience that there be enough people on the floor to help customers during the busy times of day: “One of the elements that we looked at when we did the study was how many customers were actually being serviced at Office Depot. The number flashed up was accurate, 50%. Now, that 50% was customers who either asked for help or were asked if they needed help.”