EXCLUSIVE: Smiths News project to tackle ‘root cause’ of missing newspaper titles, missed delivery times and uncollected returns

At least 14 new steps were considered to address the three most-common customer complaint issues

Smiths News project to tackle 'root cause' of retailer complaints

Smiths News has been running a “root cause” project to tackle the underlying causes of common retailer complaints in Birmingham, leading to service improvements and implementation of changes nationwide. 

The Customer Complaints Improvement Plan project team was formed in September, leading to a review of processes, “quick wins” to improve service procedures in November and further “targeted trials” in Birmingham in January. Between September 2022 and March 2023, Smiths said its customer complaints at the depot had reduced by 39%, with consecutive month-on-month improvement for nearly the entire period. There are now plans to roll out nine changes nationally. 

Speaking to Better Retailing at the wholesaler’s Hemel Hempstead depot last week, Smiths News commercial director Simon Gage explained the measures as part of the wholesaler’s mission to ensure newspapers and magazines continue to play a fundamental role in stores: “We’re very aware we have to meet customers’ needs or they’ll drop the category.” 

In the trial, at least 14 new steps were considered to address the three most-common customer complaint issues: missing newspaper titles, missed delivery times and uncollected returns. Head of operations, delivery and solutions Louise McCall listed some of the suggested changes as:

  • ‘Calling cards’ when a returns collection is missed by the store
  • Data from delivery drivers’ hand-held devices accessible by Smiths News careline staff to give stores more detailed updates on their queries
  • Daily driver debriefs to contain same-day and improved feedback on customer claims and complaints, using data from throughout the business
  • Higher percentage of packs to be checked for accuracy using bundle weight technology
  • Scheduled follow-up calls for stores experiencing repeat issues
  • Improved GPS technology for better analysis of route order, speed and scanning performance
  • Live distribution data to give stores up-to-the-minute information on delivery issues

After the new systems were implemented in January, uncollected returns and missing titles in Birmingham fell by more than half, which they attribute to their improved processes and communication. 

Smiths News director of customer experience Mark McConnell said the firm is also undergoing a nationwide “technology transformation” with a raft of current and upcoming changes to its app, SNapp, which is currently running at around 8,000 active users. The objective of the changes is to allow stores to carry out more actions on the app and to increase the number of stores using the service. 

Recent updates include allowing stores to log temporary store closures on the app, more accurate estimated arrival times and quicker sharing of retailer claim outcomes. 

Upcoming changes will include the ability for stores to opt out of receiving paperwork, live text chat services, helping stores resolve issues while serving customers – the ability to manage Smiths’ new recycling service collection days and app control of marketing preferences. 

McConnell assured Better Retailing its call centre will remain an option for retailers who don’t want to switch to SNapp. “We will never switch off the phone lines to customers,” he said, adding that the average retailer waited just 12 seconds for their call to be answered in March. 

Anya Ahmad, head of retail at Smiths News, stressed there was “still work to do” and efforts to improve won’t end with those already outlined, with more to follow as part of its long term “continuous improvement” strategy. 

The wholesaler highlighted its automatic compensation scheme introduced in 2019, which pays stores £5 each time their delivery is more than two hours late. 

Figures shared with Better Retailing show Smiths News is on track to provide stores with nearly £38,000 under the scheme for the 12 months from last September. 

Other improvements on the horizon include the much-requested sharing with stores of real-time delivery vehicles’ location via GPS, as they complete their rounds. 

Gage acknowledged the functionality is now common and expected from delivery firms, and estimated a two-year timeline for the project. 

In further good news for stores, Better Retailing understands Smiths News’ Oxford depot, normally serving 424 customers but closed due to a complex third-party gas-pipe leak since before Christmas, is closer to reopening, with the team awaiting the all-clear from external safety experts. 

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