This dystopian nightmare is the everyday reality of more and more young people with basic skills, particularly in regional areas where jobs may be scarce. It highlights the lengths some workers must go to, to meet aggressive targets, set by their managers. In Life and Death in the Warehouse, it’s as if the senior manager has swallowed a customer-first playbook, using jargon to circumvent genuine care for employees, in the name of teamwork and the customer experience.
So how can you ensure winning with the customer doesn’t come at the expense of employee well-being?
Don’t wait for a tight labour market to focus on EVP
The best way to dispel doubts is to elevate your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) alongside your Customer Value Proposition. Companies often prioritise their EVP when it becomes business-critical, in the face of growing competition for talent, but an EVP is a tenet of any good business, regardless of the labour market.
A company’s reputation as an employer is a key trust driver for the brand overall. Brands seen to treat staff unfairly will ultimately be penalised. Employee reviews surfacing on Indeed and Seek, pointing to unrealistic expectations and toxic culture, are an early indicator of the potential reputational and business cost. If a media storm follows, it’s too late. Now is the time to engage staff and make them your biggest supporters.
Communicate the impact of want-it-now culture
Awareness of the consequences of consumer demand is growing with organisations, such as SGS New Zealand, and platforms like Transparency-One, showing the impact on supply chains. Retailers will have to strike the right balance of employee satisfaction and customer commitment. The challenge is to do this while preserving the competitiveness they achieved by boosting the level of value customers expect beyond the reach of competitors.
Technology-enhanced service can help engage customers on their terms, at scale. Applied with a human lens, technology doesn’t just monitor and control a workforce to meet targets, it enhances the experience and serves the needs of both staff and customers.
A bold approach is for brands to take the lead in explaining the consequences of a ‘want it now’ culture and conveying limitations to customers. This manages expectations and protects retailers from overstretching. Acting with surprising transparency is also an opportunity for competitive differentiation, attracting a growing customer base of aware and empowered consumers. Fashion Revolution publishes a Fashion Transparency Index and is driving the #whomademyclothes movement.
Empower customers to make better decisions
Another way to create value is to pursue an insights-driven approach. Understand what’s driving customers to make tall orders and unlock alternative strategies to satisfy them. For example, do people need near-instant delivery because the product might not be suitable, so they need to factor in a return and re-order? Brands are exploring ways to get it right the first time, such as made-to-order.
Leveraging a counter trend of slow fashion, H&M and Amazon are offering customisation to mainstream audiences. H&M is trialling 3-D scanners that take your measurements in-store to get a perfectly fitting pair of jeans just a few weeks later. Amazon is selling $25 ‘made for you’ T-shirts with virtual try-on technology.
Once seen as perpetuating overconsumption, H&M has got on the front foot and is now inspiring its people around the goal of circular fashion. The first to launch a clothing collection and recycling program in all its stores, the retailer has a comprehensive approach to sustainability and employee well-being. Its EVP offers staff the opportunity to ‘be yourself and more,’ emphasising open dialogue and internal advancement.
Amazon, meanwhile, has been the subject of several New York Times investigative reports, indicating it has sacrificed the needs of workers for faster delivery speeds. This suggests an opportunistic approach to satisfying customer segments whatever the cost to employees.
Just because customers have come to expect something, doesn’t mean it’s the most meaningful thing, or the right thing, to offer. Reflecting on the unintended consequences of our actions, it’s time for customers to stop behaving like entitled five-year-olds and for retailers to stop being helicopter parents. Every company has a duty of care to people, including those who don’t want to be treated like children – their employees.