Midcounties Co-op

Midcounties Co-operative has begun a multimillion pound improvement programme across its 235 food stores.

The independent mutual’s Customer First Programme is expected to take three years and cost up to £2m, group general manager Phil Ponsonby told The Grocer.

It follows feedback from customers, members and 5,300 colleagues who work across its 28 supermarkets and more than 200 convenience stores in Central, West and South West England and Wales.

Ponsonby said more than 15,000 Talk To Us online surveys had been completed by the public. Feedback was more positive than negative and had been overwhelmingly complimentary about the co-op’s staff.

However, it had also highlighted customers’ priorities including stores giving good first impressions, having the right ranges especially in fresh, having consistent availability, and good customer service.

“What we are doing now is based on customer insight,” Ponsonby explained. “We have used that to understand where we need to make improvements in our stores and then talked to our frontline colleagues through our Colleague Councils to understand how we can give them the tools to improve their stores and, consequently, the service they give to our customers.”

The Customer First Programme was using the feedback from staff and customers to ‘galvanise change’ with a focus on four areas: People, Products, Stores and Customers.

Among changes were the standardisation of stock and ranges to allow ‘Right Product, Right Store’ flexibility, so these could be tailored to customer needs, including local products alongside national ranges.

The co-op’s IT systems were also being reviewed and new technologies rolled out in areas such as store cleaning, newspaper and magazine ordering and returns, and staff rostering.

In addition, the co-op will recognise the highest level of customer service and satisfaction with a new colleagues’ rewards programme and plans to expand its apprentice scheme to encourage more careers in retail.

“Providing an unrivalled service to our customers is at the heart of everything we do, and our achievements are evidenced by the consistently positive results of our Customer Loyalty Index,” Ponsonby added.

“However, we also pride ourselves on being relentless in our pursuit of excellence, and the launch of our Customer First programme will ensure we maintain the great reputation we’ve built, whilst identifying ways to further improve.

“Through this over-arching philosophy, which covers all aspects of our operations, we’re aiming to offer a service that’s tailored exactly to the needs of the local communities we serve, whilst ensuring that our colleagues are well-rewarded for their efforts to deliver this objective.”