Service & Retail Academy: Putting empathy to work for customers all over the world
How do you go about upskilling one million beauty advisors worldwide* in customer excellence? That’s the task facing Eun Sil Son, General Manager of L’Oréal’s Service & Retail Academy, who describes the challenges involved in rolling out a global educational programme rooted in emotion and empathy.
L’Oréal blazes a trail in emotional retail with its Service & Retail Academy
Putting customers back at the heart of it all
L’Oréal’s Service & Retail Academy (SRA), supported by top management, is a large-scale transformation project for the Group. Eun Sil Son explains: “SRA goes far beyond mere training: we want to change how the entire company thinks and behaves from top to bottom, including the top management and beauty advisors. It’s an educational initiative.” So, what’s the goal? “To put consumers right at the heart of all our initiatives. We’ve always been strong on products, innovation and so forth, but it’s time to focus on the customer experience. We want our customers to have an incredible retail experience, no matter where or when it happens.” To do this, L’Oréal has created a holistic training approach, removing the barriers separating the brands and divisions to focus squarely on the end customer and his or her retail journey.
Making intimate connections
With the digital revolution in full swing, this project is especially timely. “If people still go to stores, when they could easily shop online, it’s because they’re looking for an unforgettable experience, something that will take their mind off things and make them feel better.” The Group gets this broad-based trend, as reflected in the fact that brand points of sale (POS) are concentrating less on sales and more on immersion and affect. Beauty advisors also need to adapt to this shift by taking an empathy-centred approach to become brand ambassadors who can inspire customers and forge special relationships with them. “It’s what we call situational intelligence, or how to connect with someone else. Our L’Oréal advisors need to see their customers as family members or friends.” With this in mind, the SRA programme is grounded in a very personal approach that teaches participants how to listen to consumers, identify their needs and understand what drives them. The basic idea is to create an almost intimate connection in a very short space of time. With this programme, which breaks new ground in its approach and scale, the world’s leading cosmetics firm is inventing a more emotional and human kind of retail experience.“Customer satisfaction rates have risen markedly as a result, climbing by 10%-20% for some brands after SRA training.”
Tailoring the method to suit each country
40/60 split between the global core programme and local adaptations
To apply the SRA programme on different markets simultaneously, L’Oréal has to think big. Step one is to reach out to all the stores, divisions and top management in the country to make sure that everyone is on board with SRA principles before introducing the programme. The next task is to draw up training guides and a crystal-clear overall methodology so participants can get to grips with the programme quickly. Third, the core SRA training programme is adapted to reflect the specific cultural and business situation of each country. “The ratio is about 40% core global programme to 60% specific local content”, explains Eun Sil Son. In the last three years, L’Oréal has taken the programme to close to 20 different countries. “By the end of 2018, we aim to reach over 40 000 customer advisors** in over 13,000 POS.”
KPIs, coaching & certification
Given the sheer complexity and scale of the international roll-out, the SRA Global team has to wear several hats. “Our tasks range from studying changes in the retail universe and observing the needs shared by all brands, setting strategic priorities, developing innovative programs, providing guidelines and methodologies, as well as on-the-ground support and analysis of outcomes.” All while maintaining the same quality standards for each market and closely monitoring developments. Consistent key performance indicators (KPIs), local coaching and a certification system for advisors are key features of the permanent supervisory system. “The results on the sales front have been nothing short of spectacular in some instances, with some brands reporting up to 42% growth.”
MOOCs for everyone
Even with this well-drilled organisation, when L’Oréal’s own beauty advisors and those of its retailers are added up, over one million people need to be upskilled worldwide. To achieve this ambitious goal, the Group is going digital, developing massive open online courses (MOOCs) for SRA. “We are also capitalising on existing digital training platforms in some countries”, adds Eun Sil Son, who argues that the customer advisor of the future has no choice but to be digital-friendly. “Digital is at the heart of our holistic training strategy and our international deployment.”
Building loyalty among beauty advisors and customers
“This is something that will help them for the rest of their life!”
Eun Sil Son is clear: the SRA programme sets up a virtuous circle that is just as much about keeping customers happy as it is about building loyalty among beauty advisors. “Our advisors are so pleased to be getting this training. It’s a unique programme that teaches them as much about their job as it does about themselves. This is something that will help them for the rest of their life”, she enthuses. It offers L’Oréal a way to build loyalty and hold onto talent, with an average 10%-20% increase in retention rates, ultimately paving the way to significantly improve customer relationships.
An evolving initiative
In a constantly shifting sector like retail, being able to adapt is also a matter of survival. “SRA is definitely the right programme to meet the new needs among the women who buy our products”, says Eun Sil Son. She wants to make the programme, which is backed by solid teamwork, even better, making sure that it is always totally in step with market conditions by bringing in new versions and setting new standards of excellence. The goal, though, will be the same, namely to build stronger human connections to consumers and “create memorable in-store experiences that brighten our customers’ days.”
* Total number of beauty advisors working for L’Oréal and its network of retailers.
** Term specific to SRA to designate all those serving final customers, including beauty advisors.