Employee experience consultants, TQMI (now part of Brand Vista) were tasked with helping Shop Direct with their continuous improvement programme, Be Better.
Working in partnership with the Shop Direct process excellence team, they designed and developed the Be Better programme.The company’s strategy was to become a world class digital retailer, and to do that it needed to make improvements to processes throughout the organisation including its fulfilment centres.
We talk to Zakir Khan, section manager at Shop Direct’s fulfilment centre in Shaw, about his experience of working with TQMI / Brand Vista and how the project has made an impact on both the company and his own role.
Q. Please can you explain more about your position as Section Manager at Shop Direct and what your role entails.
Section manager is an operational leadership role. I head up a team of managers who manage the teams within the department.
Currently I’m responsible for the Inbound department where stock intake, data capture and quality control takes place. It means leading a team to deliver continuous improvements to the quality, accuracy and efficiency of our stock holding capacities.
Q. You began as a packer, but following the Be Better programme you transitioned to temporary Line Manager, Line Manager and then to Section Manager. How did the project help you to progress?
Being a section manager is a totally different experience to being a packer. As a temporary line manager, the Be Better programme provided a platform for me to learn and showcase new skills, demonstrating my potential and showing what I could offer to the business in a position of higher responsibilitIes.
I had always been quite ambitious to progress within the company, but if you don’t have the tools you can’t build the confidence.
The Be Better programme gave me a number of tools and taught me how to tell a story - an essential skill if you want to implement business improvement because you have to articulate and prove the benefits.
This gave me confidence and ignited my ambitions to become more successful.
Q. How has the Be Better programme impacted on your career and aspirations?
Since being upskilled and progressing into different roles over the last year and a half, I’ve become more emotionally and mentally connected with the business. It has also helped me to better understand the values of the company and to live those values, as well as the importance of our promise to our customer.
Q. Which problems did you choose to address as part of the Be Better programme and why?
I worked on two problems:
For the first project, I focused on customer parcel accuracy to ensure we delivered what we promised to our customers.
For the next project, I focused on our internal efficiencies of customer parcel collation
This second Be Better project took my learning to the next level, giving me exposure to new tools, ways of working and problem solving.
The focus of both Be Better projects was to drive continuous improvement to deliver our customer promise ethos ‘Serve her Better’.
Q. What challenges did you have to overcome to make the necessary changes?
Some people were concerned about making changes to the way they worked and therefore didn’t totally buy into it at the beginning. However, we were given a number of tools to simplify what we were doing and illustrate the results we would see, so people quickly understood and bought into it.
The training from TQMI / Brand Vista simplified everything for everyone to understand, appreciate and accept, making it easy to communicate why the changes needed to be made.
Q. What improvements were introduced as a result of the Be Better projects?
The Be Better project improvements: Utilisation of HHT (hand held terminals).
As a result of the projects, HHT’s were introduced to the process improvements in an innovative way to improve parcel accuracy to ‘Serve her Better’. They also helped to maximise parcel collation, eliminate waste and reduce delivery costs.
Q. How did you work with TQMI / Brand Vista to find that solution?
The support from TQMI / Brand Vista was immense; we had a clinic one week and a mentor session the following week.
The mentor sessions enabled us to have in-depth conversations to discuss the problems and existing processes in detail, so it was a very collaborative approach to and making improvements.
Q. What role did data analysis play?
Using data was key. It showed us a pattern and made us notice changes and problem areas where we could focus our attention.
We were introduced to a reporting tool called ‘Minitab’ which TQMI / Brand Vista trained us on. This is really useful when you are dealing with a large amount of data. If you apply the Minitab tool and use all its features, such as flow charts and comparison mapping, it paints a picture for you so you can focus on the key problems.
Q. Can you share an example of a problem area you identified in this way?
We had missing item reorders. This meant that, while our order process showed as complete, the moment the item reached the customer we started getting ‘one incomplete item’ notifications.
We focused our attention to that specific area to understand why one item was going astray from a parcel and how we could improve the processes currently in place to get that complete parcel first time. It pinpointed problem areas for us and made it significantly easier for us to identify and apply an improvement.
Q. How did you remedy that?
We investigated each stray item and scanned where it was found, compared this to where it should have been, and calculated the difference. We found that the majority - if not all - of the items were falling into the packing chute behind or in front of the correct one. This was because some items were slightly lighter or bouncier than others.
We spoke to our technical teams and packing colleagues to get their point of view, and we had meetings with different people with various expertise to find the best solution to tackle the issue. We then implemented a technical improvement.
Q. How did TQMI / Brand Vista’s expertise help you to find solutions to problems?
One of the greatest benefits of working with TQMI / Brand Vista was the experience they have and the tools they use. But what they also offered was a fresh pair of eyes…
We work for the organisation and are so used to using certain processes, we might easily miss something. But they always offered a different perspective on the situation and would ask open questions to get us thinking more.
The support was great. It wasn’t just technical support, but also the conversations we had to keep us motivated and boost our confidence. It kept us driving for improvement.
Q. Can you share an example of how a fresh perspective helped?
For example, when I am working with processes I say, ‘if that works, I’m happy’. TQMI / Brand Vista would say, ‘so if that works tell me why it works, and if you eliminated this, what problems would that cause?’
These kind of questions challenge you and keep you thinking about better ways to do things. They would observe a process and, even when it was working, they would ask questions that we wouldn’t really ask ourselves. They brought out the best in us.
Q. How have you seen these changes impact on the customer experience?
With regards to the projects I have delivered, we set ourselves a goal of a 35% improvement within the process - currently we are tracking at over 50%. This has a great impact on the customer service we deliver as an organisation.
Through Be Better, we have been able to sustain our customer service promise and continue to improve on it, which means delivering that parcel to the customer quickly and making sure it is right first time.
Q. How have you achieved this?
Every person who has been working on the programme, including myself, has brought in improvements which have driven the results we are currently achieving. It is about effort, hard work and a desire to serve customers and learn, as well as making ourselves more efficient and consistent in delivering the customer promise.
One thing that is particularly important is that, while implementing a solution is one thing, having control measures in place is another. If you don’t have controls in place you can’t measure improvements.
Q. You are also helping to coach and upskill your team members. How are your team progressing and responding?
I believe there is always room for improvement. When I came into the department that I recently took over, I observed certain processes and noticed that people could learn from the skills that I have learnt.
I introduced the new tools to them, showed them the data collection and analysis techniques, and trained them up. From there they have upskilled themselves.
It has been successful, with people coming forward and making the impact we need on the business. The programme has continued to deliver so many improvements, even after we stopped working directly with TQMI / Brand Vista.
Employee engagement, confidence and ambition are all higher because we’re seeing the benefits of using these tools.