eye on the prize

While creating a safer environment for employees, Kent Oil witnessed as much as a 19% increase in sales in one of two stores testing a new surveillance system.

Bill Kent has always had a simple goal: to deliver the best possiblelevel of customer service in his stores. Up till two and a half years ago, hethought he was doing all he could to meet that goal using mystery shoppers.Then he started to give a harder look at his operation and his equipment. Mysteryshoppers simply couldn’t catch every possible violation or verify all of the”right” moves employees were making, or ensure stores were fully stocked 24/7.His video surveillance equipment might have been on par with the rest of theindustry, but it was antiquated compared to some of the advances in technology.That’s about the same time he crossed paths with Westec InterActive.

“We still have a lot of old VCR-type systems recording surveillance of the stores, which seemed really antiquated compared to what’s available now,” says Kent, president of Kent Oil Inc. (Midland, TX). “We needed something more advanced that would save us time and effort while also offering better results and data. Truthfully, I knew we needed it, but it wasn’t until I met up with Westec that I realized the time had come to do something.”

Kent signed up two of his 22 stores to test Westec’s Operational Audit Services, which entailed upgrading video equipment to digital and the addition of audio surveillance. While the tool is touted for being a loss prevention tool, that capability was simply an added bonus.

“We believe there’s a value in helping us monitor our customer service,” hesays. “Beyond our mystery shoppers, the audit service is a way for us to monitorand read the reality of in-stock conditions in our key categories by watchinglive footage of our stores. Another important issue is it’s another safety precautionfor our team members. Loss prevention had been a low priority for us, but [thesystem] has helped us cut down on theft because everything is being watchedthat much more closely.”

Using the audit service, Kent and his staff can continually monitor what’sgoing on in the two stores. He gave Westec his mystery shopper requirementsfor what he wanted checked, and the vendor monitors the stores multiple timesa week by those parameters. Then Westec sends reports back to Kent scoring eachstore. Any negative grading is accompanied by a video still of the violationalong with comments explaining what he should look for in the shot. But aboveall else, it helps Kent ensure a consistently high level of service.

“In the long term it’s more valuable to have stores that are constantly instockand have associates giving topofthe-line customer service,” he says. “That’swhat will bring customers back to our stores and ultimately create more dollarsfor us. Our commitment is to impress those customers in the short time we havethem in our stores. That’s why we pursued this system. We can catch things thatour in-person mystery shoppers might not be there for, and we can communicateto the stores immediately if we see something they need to be doing. We don’thave to wait a week for results; we can get on it immediately and impact oursales now.

“Our industry suffers with outofstock conditions and low service performance levels more than we want to admit,” he continues. “We don’t want to give lip service; we want to execute—and this system helps us to do that.”

While Kent keeps an eye on customer service and store conditions, the system allows district managers to more accurately and efficiently view historical footage to settle in-store disputes. DMs can pull up footage from a particular day or time, watch the video and review the audio to get the necessary answers to settle any issues that might arise.

Westec (www.westecnow.com) monitorsthe stores for mystery audits, but it is also “on call” to monitor any suspiciousactivity. If an associate feels unsafe for any reason, he/she can trigger analarm that notifies a video surveillance center to watch that store. Shouldan associate need assistance, he/she can also contact the police or simply havefootage ready for associates or managers to review.

Because the system hasn’t been in his stores very long, Kent is unsure of the return on his investment. Even though he pays a separate fee for the weekly checks in his stores, he has seen the stores become more profitable. One of the two stores has seen a 15% to 19% increase in merchandise sales, which Kent credits to the ability to be better stocked and provide a higher level of customer service. The other store has seen an increase in sales to place it on par with the rest of his stores. But he says just making a safer environment for his employees has made the investment worthwhile.

“If it makes our team members feel safer it means we’ll suffer less turnoverand have employees feel willing to stay on later shifts,” says Kent. “That aloneis worth the investment. All the rest is gravy.”

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