Coles promises Easter shoppers 24,000 extra checkouts: How should you deliver customer service this weekend?


The Easter long weekend is one of the few times customers accustomed to always-available retail opportunities have to grapple with restricted opening hours, and the big supermarkets are aware that hungry customers call for many more bodies in stores.

This week Coles unveiled its “I’m Free” campaign, pledging to have an additional 13,250 extra checkouts open on Wednesday, Thursday and Easter Saturday to cover shopper demand in its second-busiest week of the year.

Promotions for the campaign promise shoppers that when they show up at Coles this week, they’ll be faced with all registers open and a much faster path through the checkout. Over the past week and in the lead up to Easter Sunday, 23,570 “extra” checkouts have been open, the supermarket says.

Some have suggested the campaign is a direct play by the Wesfarmers-owned supermarket to increase the number of staff on the floor as it competes with Woolworths, with a UBS broker telling Fairfax this week he believes the move is in response to “increased investment” in staff at Woolies. Meanwhile, the broker suggested Woolworths might have “over-invested” in staff on the supermarket floor.

But a Coles spokesperson tells SmartCompany its all-checkout-open policy has also been running for the past two Christmas periods, with shoppers anxious to spend less time in lines and “more time with family and friends” across the Easter period.

However, this is the first time that the campaign has been branded “I’m Free,” and while the claim has gained traction so far on social media, the passion shoppers hold for customer service claims like this is evident in comments already popping up about not all checkouts being open, despite the policy not having started when they visited the store.

“Work out what your service barriers are”

Customers can get stressed and upset by more than just the service that you offer, and it’s important to anticipate the pain points throughout their entire experience with your business, especially over peak times like Easter, says psychologist Eve Ash.

“I notice with a lot of service scenarios [where] the completing of the service, the actual getting out and ending the scenario, is where everything can fall down. You can have a great dining experience, but if you can’t get the waiter to get the bill, it drives you nuts,” she says.

A company’s failure to respond to the emotional triggers involved in using their service can have a big impact on your operations, advise researchers from Texas A&M business school and Rice University. Their work, published in Harvard Business Review, suggests companies should be especially vigilant in cases where the result of the interaction is out of the customer’s control, or the costs of it going wrong are very high. This applies to all companies, from those treating serious illness to those engaging in car repairs, the research team said.

Ash says during peak periods like Easter or Christmas, SMEs should plan to relieve tension not just around the customer’s ability to shop in your store, but how easy it is to get advice and complete transactions. Making sure they can ask a question, contact a service executive, or actually process the payment are the most important parts of the equation.

“The service completion is a very important step to helping a customer,” she says.

While it might be too late to re-evaluate strategy for this Easter, Ash advises business owners to start consulting with their staff over their hours and strategy weeks in advance, because they might be surprised at the availability of their workers to help out over peak periods.

“Think about your people — what are their needs through this? If a business owner talks to their staff and says, ‘How do you feel about working on Christmas Day, on Easter?’, you’ll probably find some staff who are happy to work on Christmas. You might find someone rapt to work through Easter, because they want to clock up the hours,” she says.

However, once you have a strategy in place, director of InsideOutPR Nicole Reaney tells SmartCompany business operators should be prepared for factors out of their control to affect any big customer service promises.

“Organisations need to keep in mind that there will always be factors outside of their direct control, and the larger the organisation the greater the risk for this occurring,” she tells SmartCompany.

When making blanket claims like “all checkouts will be open”, make sure you can deliver on the promise before advertising, because while “grand claims” are always tempting, things can go wrong. The most important thing to have in your back pocket is a Plan B, Reaney says.

“Whenever claims are made, ensure it can be met and plan for contingencies. Always include a disclaimer that provides for circumstances that can arise beyond control,” Reaney says.

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