Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores’ Associates ‘Say Yes’
While others may insist that "Customers come first!," Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores has made it a policy.
The business, spun off from Sears Holdings in October 2012, includes approximately 1,250 stores selling home appliances, hardware, tools, and lawn and garden equipment. Its banners are: Sears Hometown Stores, Sears Home Appliance Showrooms, Sears Appliance & Hardware Stores and Sears Outlet Stores.
In an interview with RetailWire, Will Powell, SVP and COO who first joined Sears in 2003, explained that he personally reads all customer complaints. The company wanted to reduce the volume of complaints while making the stores and store-level associates the "heroes" in the process. With most of the flagship Sears Hometown Stores’ 900+ locations focusing on selling major appliance brands, the company found that policies and procedures were getting in the way of good customer service.
So, in early 2012, management removed the obstacles and told store associates to do whatever it took to "say yes" to fix customer problems and issues. As the program initially rolled out, it did just "okay," admits Mr. Powell, so Sears Hometown produced videos showing how the program worked and built a special website to showcase success stories to employees. They now select the best effort once a month and award a prize of $1,000 to an associate. During the holidays they do even more.
The result: complaints were reduced 50 percent by the end of 2012 and another 70 percent decrease is expected in 2013.
Mr. Powell says the key is to find and attract the right types of employees to implement a program like this, since it is based so much on employee judgment. Guidelines are used for what is appropriate, but a lot is left to the individual. If an associate feels uncomfortable about saying "yes," rather than declining the customer’s request, they normally escalate the issue to a supervisor, which is done until someone at a higher level feels comfortable making a final decision. When an employee makes a "say yes" decision, they are only required to send an e-mail to their superior after the fact, explaining what they did and why they did it. Those e-mails are evaluated for coaching purposes afterwards.
Can the “Say Yes!” program be a true differentiator in the marketplace for Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores? Do the opportunities outweigh the risks in providing associates more leeway to resolve customer service issues? What safeguards should be in place when giving associates such latitude?