Kirsten spoke at our Global Frontline Experience Summit 2022 in an insightful mini-talk session. Listen in above. If you missed the summit, don't worry! All of the powerful sessions are available right here.
Head of People Experience, Kirsten Riechelmann, has worked for New Zealand’s largest home improvement retailer, Mitre 10, for more than 16 years. The co-operative comprises 84 locally owned and operated stores, with owners who are passionate about providing great service to New Zealand's home improvement and gardening enthusiasts. Kirsten’s challenge? Rallying all these stakeholders around positive changes that keep the group ‘one step ahead’ when it comes to customer experience.
“The strength of a co-operative is that our owners are passionate about their businesses and will always want to see their store flourish. The challenge is getting them all on board and aligned,” explains Kirsten. “Because of that, it’s more about doing things with them, rather than for or to them. That same approach also works wonders when frontline team apply it to how they treat customers.”
We spoke to Kirsten about how Mitre 10 uses care, co-creation, feedback and empowerment to supercharge its success.
The boomerang of care
“Build relationships with people, care about them; and care will come back to you.”
At Mitre 10, this ethos filters through every layer of the organisation - from the Support Office’s relationship with store owners; to each team member’s approach to helping their customers.
How Mitre 10 cares for those INSIDE the team
When it comes to team, Kirsten is a firm believer in the power of strong relationships to drive business processes forward.
She believes relationships are crucial and that’s something that’s built over time. “You can’t just roll out a programme and mandate its use in a store. It’s unlikely to be taken up and if by chance it is, it’s not likely to stick. We prefer working with the stores and showing the material impact it could have on their business. Caring about their business more than your initiative is vital. This not only builds trust but loyalty too.”
“Trust doesn’t just come from implementing initiatives that have an impact… sometimes, it’s as simple as actually answering your phone, returning messages or remembering details about people’s lives outside of work. It is also about showing a cohesive approach - involving others across the business in the process of planning change.”
How Mitre 10 cares for customers
On the floor - it starts with helping people ‘from the front door right through to the checkout’. Kirsten believes that something as simple as a smile, genuinely wanting to help them or creating a moment of magic, like walking a customer to their car with an umbrella in the rain, can make a lasting impression. “Customers can feel this; if you care enough about them, they will care back... and even better, they will come back.”
She is also an advocate of focusing on the experience, not the sale.
“The most important thing for people is not product knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important, but what’s more important is caring about the person you’re talking to. When you do that, everything else falls into place.”
Cooperatives like to co-create; so should leaders
This same ‘care’ has been extended to how the company rolls out capability programmes.
Their previous approach involved coming up with an initiative and laying it on the table for stores to pick up. “We used to develop programmes to and for stores. When rolled out, they worked in the short term, but it wasn’t sustainable. We knew if we were to do anything new, it needed to focus on both a culture shift and capability lift. We needed to change the approach and do it together,” explains Kirsten.
She shares the old adage: “‘Involve the business’. They are more likely to know more than you do…”
This, however, is easier said than done, when you are based in a Support Office and not in store.
She goes on to say: “Questions are powerful. We asked ourselves: How do we involve these owners? How do we find out what their pain points are? It’s not about having a complete and ready roadmap; it’s more important to create a loop for constant feedback and input that enables you to co-create something together.”
“We’ve tested, validated and created what we call ‘freedom within a framework’ - a way for store owners to have the flexibility to make a programme their own, while keeping within a defined framework.”
“Now, instead of presenting something in finished format, we take a subset of stores and invite feedback from them early on in the development process. We ask questions and listen. Those who are involved can then help influence others positively.”
Use feedback as a springboard for success
Aside from feedback from store owners, Kirsten also believes that getting feedback from customers is crucial in helping develop a better experience, and can be used as a unifier, not a divider, within a business.
Mitre10 uses several tools to achieve this, including a customer feedback and reward programme for gathering insights (i.e. ‘give feedback and stand a chance to win!’). Internally, this has helped the team focus on areas that matter and work together to come up with resolutions for things that didn’t go so well, while also focusing on how to make experiences even better.
“The great thing about using customer insight, is that it moves away from ‘what Kirsten thinks’, or ‘what Support Office says’ and becomes more about the experience the customer is after. When customer insight becomes the key to initiating change, there’s not much to argue about,”
Turn your team members into ‘experience advisors’
Aside from customer feedback, Kirsten also believes in the power of turning your team members into ‘experience advisors’.
“Epic customer experience starts with employing people who really like partnering with customers and solving problems. They will fast become your greatest asset.”
“Ask questions of them, too,” she advises. “Be open to learning about what might inhibit them from providing awesome customer service. The response may be surprising and quite often, there’s a quick fix…”
She goes on to say that incremental change in this area is one of the most powerful forms of improvement: “It’s important to realise it’s not about massive change at once. With both customers and team, make small incremental changes based on feedback. Find the one small thing you can do better. What’s the one percent improvement you could make? Try it. Make a few of those and they really do start adding up…”
Thanks, Kirsten, great tips for those of us who are ‘DIY’ enthusiasts when it comes to customer success….
Let’s recap Kirsten’s tips for nailing it:
- Care for your people and customers and that care will come back to you in the form of loyalty and trust.
- Learn the power of doing things with people, not for or to them.
- Let customer and team feedback lead you!
- It’s the small improvements that band together to make up big gains.