By Paul Cooper
Paul Cooper he shares how he developed his first practice to offer outstanding customer service, and then brought a second practice on board and imbued it with the same culture of excellence.
Specsavers Chelmsley Wood launched in 2002. Paul says: “This was a new store for Specsavers and started from the ground up with one test room – now we have 10. We had a team who were mostly new to optics. The pressure on us at the time was getting the skills up as fast as possible while opening the store and being extremely busy. That was our focus for the first couple of months.”
It wasn’t all about optical skills, however.
“Alongside that we were setting out our stall that we wanted to operate as a team. We outlined our culture, what it was going to look like, how everyone should help each other, and we would always look after each other,” says Paul.
“We recruited people who fitted that model. Recruitment was more about personality and customer service background. We brought on board friendly, smiley people who would go out of their way to give great customer services every day, because we knew that optical skills could be learned.”
Paul’s ethos is very much that happy staff equate to happy customers, and the practices have an ongoing programme of staff training and events.
“Being part of Specsavers means there is a whole raft of support, with a centrally driven programme for on-boarding, the same for everyone. We hold a weekly training session of 45 minutes in each practice. This focuses on issues that are important at the time such as GDPR, for all the team. We follow up with a document in pdf form which is emailed to anyone who has missed the meeting.”
Alongside the regular weekly meetings there are annual events.
“We have an annual general meeting and seminar every August which we get the team together. We assess the year just gone, share the focus for the next year and celebrate success. The event runs for three or four hours after work one evening. We plan ahead to go off site and hire rooms in a hotel. We have over 40 team members so getting them all together is rare. This event locks in talent to the business and gives the team a 3/5 year plan to focus on,” says Paul.
He says the best people are retrained with ongoing mentoring and development.
“This way we hope that they never feel that they need to move to another business to progress. The key is keeping people happy and showing them how they are moving forward. Having future leaders in the business means that when people do move on, we have a succession plan in place to replace them with minimum disruption to the business. It is very easy to say ‘we are ok today’ but what are the future plans for tomorrow?”
He goes on: “A few years ago we invited the consultant ‘the Sumo Guy’ to give a keynote speech at the stores’ annual seminar. Rather than helping with the usual sales babble, he focused on how the team were feeling about work, themselves and their personal life. It was a night spent looking at how changing a few small parts of your life or changing your outlook can make a big difference to you whole existence. For us, of course, the halo effect could be seen both commercially and in the feedback from the customer.”
The team also holds summer social events, a team barbecue without a business focus, “purely fostering team spirit”, and, as Paul, “we always invest in throwing a good quality Christmas party.”
Paige Furlong is a member of the team at Specsavers in Chelmsley Wood. Paul says: “Paige is a retail supervisor who has worked with us since leaving university. She is any company’s dream and has added on competencies and qualifications to become part of our senior team. She fits perfectly into our model of customer service and puts customers above anything else. People ask to see her specifically and she gets mentioned weekly on customer feedback.”
Paige was recently awarded Leader of the Future in the Optician Awards.
“When she entered this award, one of the judges commented specifically about her work with under 16s in promoting eye health. Paige went to meet teachers and schools, then sent out a pack and a kit for basic screening to local schools so the teacher could screen the whole school, and anyone who didn’t meet the criteria could book in. She developed engagement with teachers, children, parents, grandparents, it was a real practice builder,” says Paul.
“Because of where Paige now sits in the management structure she is often the most senior person in store, running five optoms, a couple of DOs and 20 retail staff over two floors. She has to deal with lab teams, retail teams, keep everyone calm, and not lose it under pressure. She really makes sure that everyone comes to work and has a good time.”
Paul became a partner in the Loughborough branch two and a half years ago. He says, “This was a well established large store that had been operating for 22 years. It had some fantastic people on board but the culture was very different to what I wanted to do. There had been a lack of focus on store standards, retail standards and uniform. We had a full refit which was completed six months ago and which has transformed the store. This has had a halo effect on the team and customers. Staff are proud of their environment and customers love it.”
Paul continues: “When I joined the Loughborough branch we had to plan what we would build over the next three years. We shared this with a full team meeting. It was an opportunity for people to reflect. Regretfully some people didn’t buy into it as they had a different view. We have now added people into the team who are allied with the culture and everyone is pulling in the same direction.”
Reflecting on the store’s new look and culture, he says: “The number one benefit is that anyone is able to come in feel there is a generally happy team. It’s not to say we don’t have problems, but there is a warm friendly environment and everyone enjoys being at work, which leads to happy customers and the commercial benefits follow.”
Paul has three tips for anyone wanting to improve the working culture in their practice.
“First, take a detailed and honest stock of where you are. We had to look inward and say we are not brilliant at what we do, we have people who are letting us down. Don’t put your head in the sand.
“Second, don’t be afraid to put the actions into place. Once you have identified the issues, what are you going to do about it? There will often have to be investment. If you are asking people to take pride in what they do, they have to be proud of something.
“Finally, be honest with the team about your strategy and give them the chance to have their say, but at the same time don’t deviate from the plan.”
Paul Cooper is a retail director at two award winning practices, Specsavers in Chelmsley Wood and Loughborough.