by Tanya van Soest, Chief Storyteller, SAP Customer Experience

No business was fully prepared to respond to the pandemic, or much else that 2020 has delivered to our (now mostly digital) doorsteps. No one was ready to close down retail locations, pivot to work from home, and continue engaging and serving customers in whatever way possible.

Companies the world over have had to innovate (sometimes multiple times) while trying to make the best of the time in lockdown – while planning for the altered state of business in the future.

But some organizations were better prepared than others. Adjusting to the sudden closure of in-person retail locations was one of the many challenges that Arnold Clark faced. But the automotive dealership has been in business since 1954, so it’s fair to say this wasn’t the first challenge they’d faced.

Over 65 years, the company has built customer relationships that span generations. Staying ahead of the curve in an industry that hasn’t changed as quickly as others has been critical to the leadership, and a major factor in their ability to successfully navigate the transition to virtual, as well as the safe and successful reopening of their physical retail locations.

Today the team understands the importance of engaging their customers across all channels and all generations.

With physical and digital retail channels already integrated pre-Covid, Arnold Clark was able to quickly move operations to all-digital and contactless methods. Based on the resounding positive feedback, the company plans to continue providing their customers the freedom to choose whether they want to engage in-person or remotely – engaging them where and how they prefer.

Investing in the right technology is one thing, but as is turns out, at least as important as investing in digital transformation has been investing in company culture.

Great Customer Experience Begins With Great Employee Experience

The stresses that COVID-19 placed on businesses served to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of just about every business model and corporate culture.

The leadership at Arnold Clark understands a few key features of a great corporate culture:

· Keep employees engaged and informed

· Be accessible and earn employee respect

· Increase empathy, improve business processes

· Build company culture starting at the top

· Enable and empower your employees to become culture carriers

· Listen to your employees

Creating a business with so many moving parts and over 13,000 employees requires the cohesion of a positive company culture that leadership takes seriously in word and in action. Louise Joyce said this is what enables “the ability to work as one business.”

Keeping Employees Engaged and Informed

While retail locations had been shut down and many employees furloughed, the company kept them engaged and in the loop by providing learning, development, and training that could be done remotely.

“Thankfully, training was kept open,” Louise said, “and because our platform can be accessed from anywhere, it was amazing.”

This helped staff grow and stay sharp, improving a variety of competencies, while also letting them know they hadn’t been forgotten. Keeping in contact with furloughed employees assured them that Arnold Clark was keeping the business running, that it would be there when it came time to reopen, and that there would be a place for them.

Be Accessible to Earn Employee Respect

Louise describes it this way:

We’ve got 13 and a half thousand employees. That’s a lot of people to try and keep that family feeling with, and yet somehow, we manage it.

And I think that’s testimony more to the culture that the directors have in place.

Each one of them is accessible.

Increase Empathy, Improve Business Processes

Empathy is increasingly important for engaging customers and employees and certainly for fostering a workplace culture that motivates and enables creativity and innovation.

Exceptional employee experiences reflect in the customer experience, as well as brand reputation. Employee experience and customer experience go hand-in-hand.

Company Culture: It Starts at The Top

The attitude of leadership has everything to do with the attitude and culture of the organization they run.

“When it came to being able to open up the business,” Joyce said, “the first part of any conversation with the directors was how can we keep our staff safe? You know, it wasn’t, “How much money can we make?” “How many people can we sell to?” It was, “Okay, how can we keep our staff safe?””

Enable and Empower Staff to Become Culture Carriers

Happy, engaged employees become culture carriers. One of the most notable aspects of Arnold Clark’s company culture is how incredibly proud employees are to work there.

As indicated earlier, that culture had already been there. “So, before COVID,” Louise said, “we were supporting local charities, local schools, and the company doubled the amount raised by every member of staff who was fundraising. So, the company are fully behind their staff in the first place.”

Arnold Clark also gave free car loans to NHS workers and other key workers who needed transportation, regardless of whether they had been a customer or not.

“It was about keeping the UK going, and keeping these people mobile,” Joyce said. “We donated minibuses…we donated vans to charities so they could deliver hot meals to the vulnerable—without question. Not because of any other reason than it was the right and proper thing to do. We are so proud of the company that we work for.”

Listen to Your Employees, and Act on What They Say

For employees to feel valued, it’s essential to listen to them. Businesses who want to improve, grow, and innovate listen to the people on the ground working in the systems and processes put into place by leadership.

They are the ones who see what’s working well and what needs to be improved or changed to keep happy customers and happy employees.

“We have a culture of think customer, but we also have a culture of think employee,” Joyce said. “And it’s great, because if you can engage with your employees and get their input, it’s amazing the ideas that they can come up with that really simplify something that we are overthinking.”

Support your employees with clear communication, valuable training, and freedom to try new things.

Learn more about how digital transformation—including the robust SAP Litmos learning management system and extensive training content library—can help keep employees engaged and growing, serving as a catalyst to becoming a resilient organization that’s well-prepared to respond and adapt to quickly changing economic challenges. Register for a free trial of SAP Litmos Training.

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