Change is a piece of cake & if it doesn’t work, give up!

On a day in the late summer of 2015, a man and his heavily pregnant wife slowly walked into a British hospital, full of expectation and anxiety. The journey to get there had been a long one, involving 5 years of false starts, 2 expensive IVF treatments and countless fears and emotional rollercoasters. The journey was almost at an end. A week later, the couple walked out of hospital; the husband proudly carried their new baby daughter, the wife sported new emergency C – section scars (it had been a very difficult birth) and both had huge smiles on their faces.

On arrival at their home, they both sat down in their beautifully decorated nursery (it had been a 5-year labour of love) and quietly watched their beautiful baby sleeping peacefully. “I still can’t believe we’ve done it!”, said the husband in hushed tones, lest they wake the baby up. “Against all odds and insurmountable obstacles, we have produced a beautiful, healthy baby.” Tears welled in both their eyes. The wife was the first to get up. She went to the nursery book shelf and carefully cast her eyes amongst the diverse and comprehensive range of baby books. They say that babies don’t come with instructions, but on the book shelf was a book on everything one needed to know about an infant from birth until 16-years old- arranged in order. The husband, sensing that she was anxious about whether or not she would make a good mother, got up and stood beside her. “Don’t worry love, you will be an excellent mother. We will make excellent parents. I have read almost all those books AND I have gone through the baby folder that you have carefully compiled and saved on the PC for all these years. We’ve got this.” And to further erase her fears, he added humorously, “the difficult part is over love. The rest is a piece of cake…practically business as usual.”

“I agree”, said the wife, “this has been a 5 year ‘project’ to transform our family. My life has been on hold. Now that the baby is here, I am going to get back to normal. I am going on a 2 week holiday with the girls tomorrow and when I come back, I shall be on a 6 month project in our offices in Hong Kong. You and baby will be fine. I will be back every other weekend but you know how to contact me if you need me”.

The story above is of course untrue; made up by me to illustrate a point. As any person with even a basic understanding of life will tell you, having a baby is a long term change process which stretches and evolves over a minimum of 18 years legally (in most countries), and 21 years morally. Like all transformation change activities, it has various steps and stages and declaring victory and completion once the quick win of the “birth” stage has been realised is, to put it mildly, irresponsible.

And yet, in organisations and against the counsel of the John Kotter Model of Change, we do just this everyday. In some cases, we are also very quick to declare failure because of our interpretation of an unintended consequence of change. The recent story by AOL Money alleging that self-service checkouts are costing supermarkets in Britain £486M loss in revenue per year, is a case in point.

According to the story, people are abandoning up to 3 items per shopping basket at the self- service checkouts for the following reasons:

  1. The queues were too long/too slow and I didn’t want to wait – 64%
  2. I couldn’t get assistance from staff – 62%
  3. It wouldn’t scan on the system and I got frustrated – 55%
  4. I decided I no longer needed the item – 49%
  5. The item didn’t fit into my carrier bag(s) – 23%

£486M losses per year is HUGE for any industry. Clearly, supermarkets did not invest significant amounts of money into this self-service capability to lose money. So, what are the options?

Option 1 – Do Nothing  

The Self Service Culture is here to stay. Self Service capabilities are regular features in all industries in Britain now (rail, banks, utilities, telecomms etc.) and so people will just have to get used to it. Given this, assume that the £486M losses are only temporary and ride the wave. Incidentally, the no. 1 reason which people say, does not make sense or align with what they are doing. For example, if the queues at self- service checkouts were really too long/too slow, wouldn’t shoppers either abandon their entire baskets outright and walk out in that instance, or queue up at an operator checkout? How much time is someone really saving by queuing up and scanning all their items except 2-3?

Option 2 -Give up.  Declare self-service checkouts a failure, abandon them and roll back to operator- manned checkouts.

This option will certainly address customer issues 2 and 3 above, assuming of course that the operators are competent. It doesn’t however address issue no 4 since shoppers are free to change their minds at any time before the transaction is finished and are not beholden to take all the purchases they bring to the checkouts. For so many reasons, it also doesn’t address issue no 1.

Option 3 – Consider the £486M losses as part of a series of signals that the self-service change is not done yet, and develop opportunities to build on the change

This option aligns with steps 7 and 8 of John Kotter’s Eight Step Change model. The supermarkets should build on the successful implementation and adoption of their self-service checkouts (let’s face it, a cross section of demographics utilise them to pay for uncomplicated, small to medium sized transactions), and utilise this win to build on the positives and identify what can be improved in all the touch points of the customer experience. This option should aim to get to the core of all the issues above and be prepared for even more change, not because the initial change has been a failure, but because change is an on-going process and not a one time event.

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