When BOPIS, BOPAC Go Wrong: Managers Can Teach Damage Control

By Kathleen Doheny September 29, 2020
When BOPIS, BOPAC Go Wrong: Managers Can Teach Damage Control

​As the pandemic persists, BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and BOPAC (buy online, pick up at curbside) services are booming. In National Retail Federation surveys taken after the pandemic started, half of consumers polled said they've used BOPIS, and more than 90 percent of those who have tried BOPAC found it convenient.

Retail giant Target, for instance, recently announced that it will change its approach to staffing by dedicating more workers to same-day services, such as curbside pickup, and hiring more people at distribution centers. 

As these services become commonplace, customers expect a lot—even perfection. Errors can mean losing customers. Some stores are set up better than others for these services, but all managers can teach workers how to shift to damage control when BOPIS and BOPAC errors occur.

"Damage control comes down to good customer service," said Joanne Heyob, senior vice president of operation strategy and design for WD Partners, a strategy, design and architectural firm in Columbus, Ohio. Previously, Heyob was a manager in three different specialty retail stores and taught workers about both services as they became more popular.

What's key? Managers need to empower workers to make things right when BOPIS or BOPAC go wrong, she said. "It's about cross-training all the associates about what to do in that situation." Workers need to be given autonomy to make the fix-it decision without consulting a manager every time, she said.

"The customer wants to know they are dealing with someone who has the answer in their pocket," agreed Bob Amster, a principal in Retail Tech Group, a boutique retail information systems and technology consultancy based in Stamford, Conn. Managers need to equip their workers with a contingency plan. That might require a shift in thinking for some managers, Amster said. He has observed that in high-turnover retail environments, many managers are reluctant to train lower-wage workers because of high turnover. And, he said, those workers may well be thinking "I'm not going to be here that long because you don't tell me how things work."

It's crucial to empower workers ''so they are able to make a decision not just based on rules, but on what is going to serve the customer," said Sterling Hawkins, co-founder of CART (Center for Advancing Retail and Technology), a Los Angeles company supporting retailers and their brands.

Crash Course in Damage Control

All three experts offered practical tips on how to either conduct damage control or prevent the need for it in the first place.

Start with an overview. It's important to give workers an overview of how the BOPIS and BOPAC systems work, from start to finish. Do customers order from a national center, from the local store or elsewhere? Be sure they know what happens after that, such as notifying the customer or the store when things go wrong. This is a good opportunity to let workers know what updates are planned for the systems, Hawkins said. And that makes them feel more like a part of the team, more like partners. They can also tell customers when a glitch occurs.

Conduct a morning briefing. At the beginning of each shift, walk through the ''what ifs" and a game plan, Heyob said. Say to workers, "Let's talk about what to do when things go wrong."

Paint the big picture. Communicate to workers that they do not want customers to leave angry. "We know they will tell everyone under the sun [and] go on social media'' to air grievances, Heyob said.

Engage in role-playing. As time allows, walk workers through common glitches, with you as manager playing the customer, and ask them what they would do.

Know what to do when the order is not there. Workers need to jump in quickly and find out where the order is. Once they have that information, give the customer options: Do you want to wait 15 minutes? Should we deliver it later today? Is there any other way you would like to correct this? If possible, don't let the customer leave empty-handed, Heyob said, at least not without a promised (and free) delivery ASAP.

Staying with the customer as the problem is sorted out is important, Amster said. Part of good damage control is making sure the customer does not also feel abandoned.

The worker can take a number of actions, such as calling the back room, calling another store, or looking online to see if the missing or correct product is there. Once located, give options to ship or deliver it free, and perhaps offer a discount on the next store visit.

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. 

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