'Customer Focus’ is one of our four values and central to the way we operate our business. It is important to us that we understand our customers’ needs so that we can meet their expectations in our service, product offer and operations.
Customer service standards remain a key focus of WHSmith. We review our performance through an independently conducted Customer Satisfaction Monitor which assesses performance in areas such as friendliness and helpfulness of staff, time spent queuing and store cleanliness and tidiness. The survey for High Street customers is conducted twice a year during our busiest periods, with each survey having a sample size of 500. The survey for Travel customers is carried out in May and September covering Rail, Airport and Hospital locations, with an overall sample size of 1,000 customers.
Both our High Street and Travel stores continue to achieve high overall customer satisfaction scores with High Street scoring 8.2 out of 10 and Travel scoring 8.1 out of 10. Our overall score for satisfaction with the friendliness and helpfulness of staff ranks especially high at 9.0 in High Street and 8.6 in Travel. We use the findings of these surveys to ensure that we continue to focus on the key elements of service that are most important to our customers.
We continue to look at ways to improve the experience for our customers, for example, through improvements to store navigation or lighting. We also recognise that queuing time is an important consideration for our customers. Following extensive trials last year, we have rolled‑out self service tills to over 130 High Street and Travel stores and the feedback from customers has been positive.
We seek to ensure that our product range offers our customers choice. As part of a varied offer of products, we provide customers with the opportunity to purchase products with a reduced impact on the environment as well as those that support charitable causes. These products include stationery products made of recycled content, such as lever arch files and notebooks, or pencils made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified material.
Our charity partnerships also provide opportunities for customers to support specific causes. This year we worked with charities such as the British Legion and BBC Children in Need, through the sale of poppies, wristbands and pin badges. We continued to offer a wide range of charity Christmas cards. We also sell a range of fair-trade and organic confectionery products.
In terms of our books offer, we have a dedicated local books buyer to ensure that our stores have a range of books that are relevant to the area where they operate, for example publications on places of interest, local history, tourist guide books and work by local authors.
We also give high profile exposure to debut authors through the Richard and Judy Book Club launched in 2010 exclusively with WHSmith. Before I go to Sleep, the debut novel from SJ Watson, was the first title reviewed by Richard and Judy as part of their 2012 Spring Book Club, and leapt straight to the top of the paperback chart. Indeed, it became, not only the number one paperback, but the nation’s number one ahead of all other books in its launch week, hardback and paperback, fiction and non‑fiction – an incredibly rare achievement for a debut novel. SJ Watson commented, “I’m absolutely thrilled that Before I go to Sleep is the number one bestselling book this week. For as long as I can remember my ambition was to see a novel of mine published, but to see it finding such an audience is amazing and beyond even my wildest dreams!”.
Improving access for customers
It is our aim to make our stores accessible to all customers. We pay particular attention to our disabled customers and are working to ensure that our stores can accommodate their needs. To meet this need, we operate a rolling programme of installing new customer lifts, as well as replacing lifts that needed overhauling, and installing new automatic doors at certain sites. We continue to update our stores, and in doing so have widened aisles and created store environments that better accommodate customers who use mobility scooters or wheelchairs, as well as parents with push chairs. We offer information about the access features of all our stores on our website. These details include information on automatic doors and lifts in our stores. We continue to provide diversity training and awareness using training guides designed and printed by the Employers’ Forum on Disability, specifically for WHSmith.
During the year, we have been working with Action for Hearing Loss (formerly known as the RNID) to discuss ways that we could continue to improve the customer experience for customers with hearing impairments. As part of this programme we have commenced a heightened roll‑out programme to install induction hearing loops across the estate. We anticipate installing new hearing loops in at least 70 new store locations each year. An enhanced maintenance programme has been put in place to ensure that regular tests are undertaken on the hearing loops we have in place, to ensure they are working correctly and that appropriate signage is in place for customers. We have purchased a large consignment of personal listening devices, that have been distributed to various staff in our area teams, our group safety advisers, store auditors, regional maintenance staff, and our property contractors, as a means of testing that induction loops are working correctly when they are visiting stores. These personal listening devices will also act as portable assistance devices, for staff in stores to assist customers with hearing aids, whilst walking around the store.
We take seriously our responsibility for the products we sell, and we are committed to listening to our customers’ feedback. Our Marketing Code of Practice sets out the standards we follow in our promotional activity, marketing and advertising. In practice this ensures we sell products that are safe, fit for purpose, meet legal standards and are never described in a misleading manner, particularly when marketing to children.
Some of the products we sell carry age restrictions, for example, some adhesives, tobacco and lottery products. All staff take part in training sessions at least twice a year to ensure they are informed on the latest legislation and selling guidelines. We also have a system of till prompts to remind staff to check the age of the customer. During the year, in order to comply with new regulations around the display of tobacco products in England and Wales, we have modified the way these products are displayed in our larger stores, moving the products into cabinets and away from clear view.
Product safety is one of our key priorities. Our Quality teams in the Far East and the UK conduct a rigorous quality and safety assessment process to ensure that products are safe, fit for purpose and meet legal standards and also our exacting brand standards. We pay particular attention to products for vulnerable groups such as children. We closely monitor developments in legislation to ensure that products are compliant and have an established product recall process in place to ensure that we act quickly should a product be found not to meet our high standards of safety and performance.
We closely monitor the chemicals used in our own-brand products, specifically with regard to the European legislation known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). We are working with our suppliers to ensure that they understand their obligations under the legislation and are providing us with the information we need to ensure compliance and product safety.
Wherever we operate, we are committed to offering customers convenience and value for money and we always have a variety of offers and promotions across our whole range. Our Travel stores run different promotions and offers at different times to the High Street, tailored to reflect the needs of each specific customer base. We regularly monitor our prices to ensure that we offer our customers excellent value for money.