Are you afraid?

Fear of losing, fear of making mistakes. That is the emotion that runs as a common thread through many retail companies, especially at many chain stores. Their business organizations are built from this fear. Systems, functions, working methods, everything revolves around control, because 'all heads must be pointing in the same direction, right?' The question is 'Why should that be?'

A few years ago I was invited by the CEO of V&D to come and talk to the head office about training for store staff. With a friendly smile and a hand outstretched, the man approached me and asked, 'And Mr. van Beek, what do you think of our stores?' Shaking hands, I said 'Just like the level of hospitality at this headquarters', I told him politely. 'Very bad'. His face clouded as I continued talking. ’ This is not going to be the case for V&D. Shall we check it out?” I took off the hidden camera glasses and connected them to my laptop. The images don't lie. He thanked me warmly for the inspiring conversation and would come back to it later. 5 years later I was invited again, by his successor.

Many corporate companies make the classic mistake of making the business processes focused on products the primary goal instead of the processes focused on customer connection. With marketing they tell the world that the customer is number one. That's where he goes wrong. Customers feel that the deep-rooted intrinsic motivation to connect is missing in the contact.

Arriving at V&D headquarters, round two, I was escorted to the CEO's office. Behind his desk, the company logo hung life-size on the wall. A flaunting tree, showered with presents, with its roots firmly rooted in the ground. A bird sits on one of the branches, eagerly looking at all that present, symbolizing the customer. "Sir coming soon." After 15 minutes of waiting, the man came in with outstretched hand and apologized. “May I ask you a question?” I asked him.

Despite the rapidly changing retail market and the increasing hospitality and service demands, many chain stores stubbornly cling to old patterns. They are unable to develop into a people-oriented company that puts the hearts of customers and employees first and that the systems, functions and working methods serve them. Fortunately, there are examples of successful companies such as Jumbo, Coolblue and Tesla, which are working hard to not only be a pioneer in this area, but also the market leader, now or in the near future.

“Are you going to change the V&D logo in view of your challenge to save V&D?” The CEO looked at me in disbelief. "Well, I feel so sorry for that one bird in that tree," I said, winking. "That's quite a lot of presents, but so few birds. Wouldn't it be nice if there were more birds on those branches? When more customers visit your department stores?' He walked over to me, took my shoulder and said 'I'd like you to train three branches, as a pilot. Just make a proposal, we will work out the plans in August.' That proposal came, but V&D no longer did.

The heads of V&D were all in the same direction, looking at that beautiful gift tree with those deep roots. Unfortunately, that tree stood on customer-infertile soil and the roots died out. Happy employees and happy customers, the breeding ground for a happy company! Do not be afraid! Trust your employees, they know what is good for your customers. They don't need systems, functions and working methods for that, but a happy heart.