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Wholesalers Must Up Their Service Game

For decades the UK banking sector has been dominated by the so-called big banks Lloyds, RBS, and Barclays et al.  They are highly powerful and at the same time deeply unpopular.  A Think Tank report by the London Business School states that the giant UK banks account for 77% of all personal accounts and 85% of all business accounts. Yet between 2008 and 2014 they generated around 21 million complaints. The report goes on to say that their toxic culture was decades in the making. *

Enter Metro Bank, the first new chartered bank in England since 1835. Metro Bank opened its first retail location in Holborn, London in 2010. While the big banks are closing hundreds of branches, Metro has big plans to open in 200 outlets in major shopper locations. They are planning for 1 million customers, 5,000 employees and $40 billion in deposits by 2020.  This should come as no surprise as their founder Vernon Hill achieved a similar feat in the U.S with Commerce Bank, which he founded in 1973 and eventually sold to TD Bank of Canada for $8.5 billion. Vernon Hill states, “Every great company has redefined the business it is in.” He and his partner Shirley Hill really do put customers at the very heart of operations. To quote Shirley “Everything we do either helps or hurts the brand” Their attention to detail is fanatical.  They are now redefining banking in the UK.

  • Metro branches are open 362 days a year, 12 hours per day during the week, 10 hours on Saturdays and 6 hours on Sundays.
  • All their banks are fitted out to be warm, welcoming and a place to dwell.
  • A new customer can walk in and open a current account in fifteen minutes with a live debit/credit card and online banking.
  • They don’t charge fees for current accounts or for ATM service.
  • All their banks have coin deposit services and coin counting machines.
  • They have recently opened bank drive-thrus at Slough and Southall.

Metro bank has created a positive aura around their bank. This single-minded focus on customer first and service is driving their market share. **

In many ways wholesaling in the UK is in a similar place to banking. The old order is being torn down and the Tesco/Booker deal will continue to put serious pressure on all the competing wholesalers in the sector. Now is not the time for accepting that the old ways of serving customers is acceptable. Despite recent failures and closures, the industry is still over-supplied and customer choice is increasing.

Trying to compete on price is a zero sum game. Customer service is the new battleground in wholesale. Efficiencies must be improved across all areas of the operation and the gains reinvested in front line services. I see two levels of focus on service for wholesalers.

Level One is the absolute minimum expectation or the baseline. These are the absolute day-to-day givens to earn the right to retain customer loyalty.

  • Stock availability.  Reliability is the key and customers must be able to shop and/or order with confidence.
  • Choice and range. It is the job of the buyers to select the most relevant stock assortment– in tune with the market and on trend. Not simply stock everything and confuse their customers.
  • Speed of checkout service. Business customers are time poor and they need to know that they can clear the checkouts quickly. All the obstacles to fast service must be designed out and the checkout experience should be frictionless. This is vital. Although the industry is moving more to delivered sales, the walk-in customers are very important as they are generally more profitable for the cash & carry operators.
  • Delivered service. This must be fast, accurate and reliable. Amazon has raised the bar and customers now expect same-day or at the very least next-day response times. And they won’t tolerate stock-outs.
  • Order method. Online and App ordering must be available in addition to the walk-in & telesales options. Websites and Apps must be user friendly and intuitive with a full range of product information and images.

Level Two comprises of the “delight” layer. These additional services will only work properly if the level one services are fully in place.

  • Car park vehicle assisted loading.
  • Free tea and coffee for all customers.
  • Longer opening hours. Open when customers really need their wholesaler such as on Christmas Day.
  • Drive –thrus for bulk purchase of fast selling lines.
  • Business centre offering ranging, category, store layout and merchandising advice.
  • Financial services offering loans, insurance and utility advice.
  • A business health check service offering ways to improve sales, margin and reduce costs.
  • Business services such as human resources, trading standards & health & safety advice.
  • Regular interesting & exciting in store events.

All of the above to be underpinned by teams of competent, well trained, engaging, helpful and friendly employees.  And with management who are open & able to build lasting commercial relationships with their customers.

There is a big prize in sight for wholesalers who can emulate Vernon Hill and redefine the culture of customer service.

* /** Extracts from “Simply Brilliant” by William C. Taylor


David Gilroy

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