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Employee care key to brand reputation during COVID 19, consumer survey finds

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large parts of the economy and upended the way many companies do business, Canadian consumers were watching, and judging.

The Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria’s annual brand trust study tracks consumer trust in hundreds of brands across five measures, including consumer perceptions of the brand’s social responsibility and how it interacts with consumers. This year, researchers also conducted a follow-up study due to the pandemic. They tracked changes to consumer sentiment for 125 brands.

The study revealed that when it comes to brand trust, consumers put a premium on how companies treated their employees during the pandemic.

One company that saw its trust erode among Canadians was Amazon Inc.

The tech titan’s trust score in the overall survey was 31 – down from 48 in 2019, said Saul Klein, the business school’s dean and lead author of the report.

In the follow-up survey, Amazon’s trust score fell to 24, said Klein, and it took the no. 68 spot in an overall ranking of the 125 brands.

“Those are big moves,” he said, explaining brands that Canadians trust the most tend to score between 55 and 60 points, while those in the bottom rankings fall just below -30 points.

“I think there’s a whole bunch of things (that) came together at the same time,” said Klein of Amazon’s fall.

Early in the pandemic, consumers worried about price gouging on the platform, he said.

While Amazon promised to crack down on any sellers looking to profit from the pandemic, the initial impression left many consumers worried about whether they could trust the company to do so, he said.

Meanwhile, the company experienced an increase in volume, resulting in some delivery delays and supply-chain problems, he said, and faced questions around its treatment of employees.

As bricks-and-mortar retailers start to reopen after temporarily shuttering operations due to the coronavirus, customers may not have to rely on Amazon as much, said Klein.

“If it doesn’t come across as providing a superior alternative, then they have to worry.”

Lysol and Clorox also saw their scores drop slightly in the follow-up survey thanks to supply shortages.

In the early days of the pandemic, customers flocked to grocery stores to stock up on a number of products, including cleaning supplies. Many retailers experienced temporary shortages of some cleaning products and limited the number that shoppers could purchase at a time.

“While customers might have wanted them, they couldn’t find them,” said Klein, noting even now consumers may struggle to find the brands’ products in stores or online.

Neither brands’ score dropped dramatically, he said. Lysol fell from 44 in the initial survey to 41 in the follow up, while Clorox lost six points going from 32 to 26.

Lysol was no. 28 in the follow-up list, while Clorox took the 51 spot.

On the positive side, Canada Post claimed the top spot with Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix, CTV News, Costco and The Weather Network rounding out the top five in the follow-up survey. The latter two tied for the fourth spot.

Those surveyed gave the mail carrier top scores for honest communication and care for societal well-being, according to the report.

Canada Post’s score increased from 38 to 57 in the follow-up survey, said Klein, calling the 19-point increase “massive.”

That came down to the mail service treating employees well, he said, as well as increased consumer dependency.

Consumers also rewarded Loblaw, Real Canadian Superstores and Walmart with higher scores on employee treatment. Their trust scores on employee treatment rose by 19, 15 and 13 points respectively, according to the report, which attributes the rise to the retailers being at the forefront of Canadian food and drug retailers to raise wages temporarily for their workers during the pandemic.

Overall, Loblaw claimed the no. 12 spot, the Real Canadian Superstore tied with Sobeys for 13, while Walmart fell into a five-way tie for the 77 spot in the follow-up survey.

Recently, Canada’s major three grocers – Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Sobeys Inc. – announced they were eliminating so-called pandemic pay hourly wage increases for workers as of Saturday, June 13. Walmart made a similar move at the end of May. Two unions called the decision premature, with one of them calling for the pay increases to be made permanent.

 

Several convenience and gas-related companies also made the list, with Couche-Tard boasting a notable increase over 2019:

Lindt/Lindor: 23

Haagan Dazs: 33

Petro-Canada: 92

Canada Dry: 102

Hershey’s: 162

Lay’s Potato Chips: 162

Old Dutch Foods: 162

Couche-Tard: 228 (up 30 spots from 2019)

Esso: 228

Pepsi: 252

Dentyne: 257

Coca-Cola: 257

Ultramar: 265

Husky Oil: 277

Shell: 289

Red Bull: 387

For the overall survey, AskingCanadians surveyed 7,800 Canadians 18 years and older online for opinions on more than 342 brands between January 8 and February 10. The follow up survey questioned 1,050 people to gauge changes in trust for 105 brands between April 8 and 23.

According to the polling industry’s generally accepted standards, online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

With files from Michelle Warren


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6 tips to reduce employee anxiety about COVID-19

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In Convenience Store News Canada‘s recent online survey asking operators “How is the coronavirus affecting your business?” many wrote in with concerns about how to keep employees safe and healthy, not just physically, but mentally.

We reached out to the Canadian Mental Health Association for advice and they shared this.

With coronavirus (COVID-19) now officially being called a pandemic by the World Health Organization, public fear and anxiety are on the rise. Your employees may be experiencing a high degree of uncertainty, worry and stress about the health and safety of their loved ones, and how this pandemic may disrupt their work and personal lives. 

While employers are preparing responses to safeguard their business operations and protect the physical health of their employees during this crisis, it’s important to consider everyone’s psychological health and safety, too. 

In order to support the psychological health and safety of your employees, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) recommends employers consider the following six tips:  

  1. Have a plan. Let employees know that you are thinking and looking ahead, that you will stay well-informed and that you can answer the questions they already have: What if I get sick? How do I take time off work? What if my family member contracts the virus? You may want to compile frequently asked questions and direct employees to them often.
  2. Communicate, share and be open. Worry and fear grow in the absence of up-to-date information. Let your employees know that they can expect regular updates from you. Communicate even if the situation remains unchanged.
  3. Empathize. Share that you know it’s stressful. Recognize that it’s okay to be anxious. Remind your employees of resources (EAP) that are available for those who are experiencing stress.
  4. Reassure—as best you can. You can refer to reports indicating that most people who become infected with the virus will recover.
  5. Understand. Recognize when stress has become unmanageable for individual employees. Stress can lead to anxiety and even panic. Some employees may need mental health days and medical intervention in order to cope. Encourage employees to practice self-care activities on-the-job and reassure them that it’s ok to take steps to manage stress, such as relaxation exercises, listening to relaxing music or taking regular breaks. 
  6. Recognize this is not quite ‘business as usual.’ Know that work will likely be impacted—work will slow down (or get busier). Reassure staff that expectations will shift accordingly, and that’s ok. We will get through this! 

Additional resources for employers: 

COVID-19: Practical workforce strategies that put your people first

How to stay emotionally healthy during the coronavirus outbreak


Employee training must-dos

Employee-training-TEASER_0Training is the most important element of the foundation on which to build a retail business. Everything you want to accomplish in retail revolves around training. I firmly believe that good salespeople are born, but great retailers are developed. It takes consistency and repetition to create a retail culture that enhances the customer experience.

Of course, training takes place in all parts of a company or organization. Accounting people need to be trained. Marketing people need to be trained. Store personnel need to be trained. All of this training needs to be interrelated so that one section feeds off another. This is truly a case where the sum is greater than the parts.

What do you need to focus on when you create a training program?

Although I am going to use store operations as an example, I think the following ideas are applicable for any type of training that takes place within your organization.

COMMUNICATION

Training is about communication. It’s not just about knowing what words to say and how to speak well. It is about how to tell a story that resonates with your audience.

A good trainer must have experience in the areas in which they are training. They have to know the battles that will be fought, the problems that will arise, and the various psychological components of the tasks to be done. Sending out a trainer who does not have experience in the subject matter is like sending a fireman to fight a house fire with a water pistol. It’s going to be ineffective and it will not be respected.

The first step is finding a person with the requisite experience who can tell a good story. That person will be able to command the attention and, more importantly, the respect of the trainees. Ultimately, the role of the trainer is to become a mentor. The trainer will be someone who gives advice, listens to problems, and is there to help spot flaws and inconsistencies in your organizational program.

Once you have someone who can tell a knowledgeable story, they need to convey the context as to why the employee is here. What is the purpose of their job? How do they fit into the organization? What are the expectations? How can they improve? How do they report mistakes and errors? Clear business objectives and organizational structure will help the employee to find his or her place in the company and feel more at home.

PURPOSE

All of this leads to what I think is the most important part of a training program — helping the trainee gain a sense of place and purpose. It is not about the mechanical or administrative skills that need to be done on a daily basis; it’s about how the trainee fits in as a member of the overall team. In my experience, the most successful team members are those who feel as if they belong to something that is larger than themselves and know how their position impacts the greater group.

Here, we start getting into more of the nuts and bolts of the training. We’ve found a good trainer and our trainee understands their place in the overall structure. Now, the job is to tell them how to do the task at-hand. To do that, you must have something to train them with. The same way that you would have a map (or, these days, GPS) when you are going on a trip, you need to provide your trainee with a route through the training requirements.

Everyone can put together the basis of a training program. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you may need to spend some time. To build a training program, you need to think about each specific job, how that job is performed, and what you want the outcome of that performance to be. At its most basic, it can start off as the equivalent of a job description for the position.

When someone understands their job duties and their objectives, job satisfaction and retention rates go up. It is important that an employee knows what she can and cannot do and the limit of their authority to make decisions. The more definition that is given to the granting of the employee’s decision-making power, the more confident the employee is in handling customer complaints, providing enhanced customer service, and doing those things that the customer feels is above and beyond what was expected.

The simplest way to create training materials is to make a paper version of your training program and requirements. Put the job description together with a list of objectives and expectations, add a checklist to show that the trainee demonstrated their knowledge of the tasks, and make sure that when you read it out loud, it makes sense.

Hey presto, you will have a basic training program for that position.

Of course, you can spend the money to develop or buy online training programs with more sophisticated parts and pieces. However, when you buy an off-the-shelf training program, it lacks the special features and uniqueness that define your company and what makes it special. Remember what I said at the beginning of this article — the most important thing about training is conveying your company philosophy and ideas to your employees.

PROGRESS

An element that we have found very successful in our business is having the completion of the training program linked to a person’s progress within the company. For example, once a team member has completed the Customer Service Representative training section (our equivalent to the person who runs the cash register and interacts the most with our customers), they are then eligible to move on to the training program that provides them with the next level of skills. That could be training in foodservice or some other special program you have in your business.

Completing that training may make them eligible to be trained as an assistant manager. And once the assistant manager training is completed, they can move up to the store manager training. This provides a path that the employee can see, and they know what they need to do to advance their career.

Training keeps the employee involved and it helps them see what their career path is. It is human nature for someone to want to know what they are working toward, and this gives them a set of objectives. An engaged employee is a motivated employee, and a bonus to any business.

Once the training has been completed, we feel it is very important to have refresher courses conducted periodically after the initial training section is done. For example, when somebody completes a training program, we may go back in 30 days and do a refresher course to remind the employee of what they have done, and reinforce what they have learned. This also allows the employee to give you feedback based upon what they have experienced in trying to implement the information gained during the training program to what actually happens in the job.

Which leads us to the next element of a successful training program: the feedback loop. It makes no sense to train somebody in a program that doesn’t work. Therefore, you need to solicit feedback and suggestions from your employees and from your customers. Your customers are the best evaluators of how successful your training programs are.

Take all of the feedback and comments seriously and see what can be done to modify or change the training program to reflect the reality of the situation. Are you training people to do something that doesn’t actually work in real life? Or that no one actually does? Or that doesn’t meet your customers’ demands?

CONSISTENCY

The last key element is consistency. All of these components need to be implemented the same way every time the training program takes place. In our business, it’s important that everyone is trained the same way every time so that if we move a team member from one store to another, even if it is across the country, they can slide effortlessly into the routine because it feels familiar due to the fact that our training is the same and everybody is doing the same thing the same way.

Consistency is how great stores are created. Even if you have one store, every employee knows what to do because they’ve all been part of the same training program.

Story. Context. Map. Advancement. Refresh. Feedback. Consistency. Remember SCMARFC!  Actually, that is a really silly acronym. Don’t use that. But what is important is that your employees know what they need to do and how they can be successful working in your store.

If you remember that, you will be on the right path.

Originally published at Convenience Store News.