JB: How does this goal manifest itself in the business?
NM: It manifests itself in the business in two key ways. We have a ‘NICER’ league which is a balanced score card of customer metrics. They’re the five broad behaviours that we’re looking for: be nice, interested, caring, enthusiastic and responsive.
Secondly, if you’ve got managers who look after their people and genuinely listen to them, encourage them, are genuinely pleased when they do something right and it’s a positive culture that overrides everything, the staff are happy coming to work. They know where they fit in, feel valued and appreciated and that they contribute in some way.
JB: Can the pay model of low basic, high commission be broken? And could you do it unilaterally at Lookers?
AB: It’s going to happen. The whole purpose of the NICER programme and what we’re doing with IT and the web and our branches – the blended retailing – reflects there’s been a transfer of power from us to the customers. The whole sales process in the past was predicated upon the fact that I know lots of things, you don’t know anything and based on psychologically controlling customers and you therefore needed staff that were good at that.
Now people say: “I don’t want any of your psychological rubbish. I know this car needs to be £500 cheaper if I’m going to buy it. So, I just need you to help me to buy this car and I don’t want you to sell me anything, just explain the price differences between makes or models.”
This will lead to a different pay model because all it requires of sales staff is to be a decent, helpful person. You don’t need to have all these psychological control skills, the doggedness. As long as you answer their questions and you’re polite, a customer will buy from you.
JB: What will be a fair basic salary in the new model?
AB: I don’t know. I’d need to scientifically study the market, to find out what good quality, retail sales people outside this sector earn? It could be £20,000. But we would look outside our industry for inspiration.
NM: The days of having two or three big hitters that earn £70,000 are passing. The vast majority of recruits we bring in to the business now are new to the industry and don’t have that expectation that they’re going to earn £70,000 and in truth don’t have the same skills as the guy that earned £70,000, but the skills required today are different. There would be a transition phase in the pay model.
But some of the people that earn £70,000 are very hard working and customer focused, so we’d have to make the pay scheme flexible enough that they can still earn a lot by working hard. Those that want to work six and seven days a week can really do a job that impacts the performance of the business, and you need to reward that. Whatever the number is we’ll pay, but it’ll be more like three quarters of it as basic and a quarter of it based on performance.