Driving engagement, quality and accurate data gathering.

The importance of user engagement and the steps taken by retail giant B&Q to master this.

Major DIY and home improvement retailer, B&Q, part of Kingfisher Plc, is recognised as one of the most successful retailers in the UK. With over 300 stores and 27,000 employees across all divisions, the company naturally has many operational challenges to contend with, not least in security and loss prevention – which accounts for a significant cost to the company’s bottom line each year.

A large role in B&Q’s strategy for loss prevention involves Zinc’s SYNAPSE system together with a dedicated Crime Centre; whose analysts use SYNAPSE to receive incident reports, collate evidence, build cases against offenders, as well as identify trends in order to deploy more proactive security measures across stores. 

We caught up with the Crime Centre’s Engagement Officer, Derek Gent, to discuss the recent approach to user engagement, the role it plays in getting what you need from a system, and the key steps in improving this area.

In Derek’s view, the value of the engagement piece has often been underestimated across retail loss prevention as a whole. A decision in 2023 to restructure the Crime Centre team which coincided with the launch of Zinc’s new instance of SYNAPSE provided an opportunity for B&Q to change this.

A dedicated role focused on user engagement was created and a carefully planned lead-up to the system launch was put in place. 

“We deployed a teaser campaign over a 4 week countdown to launch. Comms were sent out to staff and stores with “Did you knows” covering key messages about types of crime, types of violence, levels of police engagement, and what makes an effective incident report” says Derek. This was coupled with ‘sneak-peaks’ of the new app that was coming – promo screenshot images and short video clips that would drive awareness that something new was coming soon.

The company has what are referred to as ‘Staff Users’ – Store Managers, using the app to report incidents that happen within their stores; and ‘Security Users’ – Security Officers and Store Detectives who are provided by a third party guarding supplier. 

Historically, the message coming back from the Stores was often how busy they were, how they don’t have time to report incidents, and that it’s Security’s job. The problem is when you’re only deploying guards to about a third of your stores at any one time due to a risk-based deployment methodology, it means a lot of activity is going to be missed.

One of the key things was to create tangible statements. Things like “You will be able to report an incident in less than 5 mins” and “By capturing good quality images or CCTV footage of the suspect, you will increase the likelihood of achieving a successful civil recovery claim and / or police prosecution exponentially”. This works on the principle that whatever is said to staff has to be relevant. They all need to know that a) they can make a tangible difference; and b) there is the support there for them if they need it. 

According to Derek “The ethos we needed to install across our staff was that this is “Not just another task I have to do – I’m helping to stop something and I can make a difference.” By looking at both the existing users and the projected users and tailoring our ‘teaser campaign’ to suit those particular users, the messages we put out were much more relevant to their roles.”

Success!

And this has proven to work. Before the launch, about a third of the company’s stores were reporting regularly. This had been the case for a long time. The vast majority of reports had been coming in from security staff, and there was limited engagement with store staff. This meant two-thirds of staff were blind to what was happening in their stores. It was important to get those numbers up.

B&Q Success

Now, in the three months since launch, 99% of B&Q’s stores have reported incidents – previously this figure only ever got into the 60s! Perhaps even more importantly, the company has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Store staff that are reporting. Around 25% of incidents being reported are now from Store staff, whereas previously this was next to zero. The difference this has made is that the Crime Centre now has a much better knowledge of what’s going on in the stores and much more in the way of data and evidence going into its cases. The mid- to longer-term benefit of this is a higher percentage of successful prosecutions meaning the criminals committing the crimes are no longer in the stores.

The How…

Of course, this success isn’t simply down to messaging and communications – although it certainly helped lay the foundation. Training and knowledge is also very important in achieving high levels of user engagement. But, in Derek’s experience, this has to be done in bitesize, regular ways; and again ensuring relevance to users based on their roles and what they need to achieve through the platform. 

“We use lots of webinars – short, half-hour max. The content covered is kept to a single thing the audience needs to be able to accomplish through the system. Trying to cover any more than that in a single session risks the knowledge being lost or confused.” 

There is a strong feeling that it is important for these sessions to be ‘webinars’, not simply ‘videos’. Webinars mean you are talking on a personal level to the audience. You can repeat something if you feel it might not have been fully absorbed and be able to gauge this often simply from the look on an attendee’s face. You can encourage two-way participation and gain instant feedback. This last aspect also aids user engagement in itself – as users will have a heightened sense of being listened to and valued.

It’s also recommended to have lots of what Derek calls “off-the-cuff stuff” – checking a report, pointing out missing information, quickly connecting with the reporter, jumping on a screen share if they’re stuck or not sure about something, showing them what they’re doing and what they could do differently. Not everything has to be pre-scheduled and done formally – this one-on-one, personal touch has proven to have a hugely positive impact on people out on a store’s floor, who are often having to do very repetitive tasks.

“Direct access to users on the ground is key for us. We can go directly to a guard, engage with them, bring up what they have done on the system and have discussions with them about what they could do differently or better” says Derek. “It’s better to have a model that doesn’t require all this to go through an Area Manager as that just adds complication and formality, as well as slowing things down.” A key take away from this is that it’s acting on something “in the moment” that often drives the best improvement and engagement.

“The SYNAPSE platform has been fundamental to the development of the B&Q Crime Centre, allowing the team to evolve from a simple intelligence-gathering function to a strategic crime management tool. It enables agile deployment of security resources, supports future investment decisions, and, most importantly, serves as a clear conduit between stores and law enforcement.

The team at Zinc is very supportive and certainly puts the customer’s needs, priorities, and values at the forefront of what they do. They constantly consult and listen to our development needs, ensuring their platform stays ahead of the competition. They are a personable organisation, enabling customers to regularly engage with company leaders. This personal touch ensures that customers feel valued and appreciated.

They exemplify partnership and care passionately about B&Q’s success and the impact their product and services have on every employee within the organisation.”

SYNAPSE’s role

Question Sets and Workflows at Store Level

One of the big benefits of what has been put in place from a system-perspective is the ability to adjust the question sets and workflows at a Store level. The SYNAPSE system has the ability to adapt and change for individual stores and this gives users a much more positive message. “We are able to say “here’s the system, tailored for you” rather than “you have to fit into the process””, says Derek. “This unlocks natural resistance and peoples’ attitudes noticeably soften towards the system’s use.”

Scoring

The use of ‘scoring’ or ‘rating’ of incident reports is another good area for generating engagement. People like to know a) the purpose behind something they are being asked to do; and b) that something they have done has had a value or been of worth. One of the key advances being worked on is the ability to score incidents both automatically and manually, based on the level of completeness of the report, the sorts of questions and answers that have been given, whether the right information was gathered and how useful it is in providing evidence. If an incident report has a witness statement, something that can help to identify the offender with, or details of the goods that have been impacted – this can heighten the score the reporter receives for their report. With this, leaderboards can be created, stores can be ranked based on the effectiveness of their reports, and incentives can be issued to encourage higher quality reporting. Again, it comes back to making this all tangible and meaningful to the user. 

Dedicated User Accounts

A further important factor in heightening user engagement and more effective use of the system is by doing away with shared user accounts. It is often tempting for organisations to utilise shared accounts – citing challenges around issuing individual email addresses to high volumes of staff, the potential for staff to forget their login details, having to maintain and update user accounts in line with regular joiners and leavers, and potentially incurring higher license fee expenditures. It must be said that there are solutions to each of these common complaints – integrations with third party HR systems to automatically add, update or deactivate user accounts can be achieved; license fees can be handled through packages that don’t ‘penalise’ an organisation for the number of users it has; and the likes of Active Directory and Single-Sign-On capabilities together with biometric ID (Face ID, thumb scan, etc) that are built into today’s mobile devices all mean that a user rarely has to remember anything in order to log into an app. 

Aside from the security risk implications (a very separate topic – although an extremely valid one!), the sharing of user accounts reduces user accountability and limits the feasibility of recognition and reward methods that could/should be put in place to encourage good system usage. Opening up the system to each user as opposed to making users share accounts has shown significantly increased gains through heightened engagement this brings – far outweighing the arguments against doing so.

And has the strive towards excellence in user engagement finished there? Not according to Derek. “A lot of our engagement activities are still done outside of the system. Going forward, we’d like to bring these more into the system itself.” 

Added value features

The system has the capability to do this – the staff accounts are there; there’s a Mass Notifications module that allows easy communications and updates to be sent through a range of methods (email, SMS, Whatsapp); there’s a Resource Library that can be used to point staff to newsletters, updates, resources and material; and things such as polls and surveys could be built in to further engage and gain feedback. The aim would be to make the system a single point of access for a lot of things – not just to report incidents. It can be a good, quick, easy way of getting messages out, sharing good news stories and shout-outs – with images and videos – and also enabling a way for users to ask for assistance.

“The way I see it, the staff are here to sell products and provide customer service,” Derek concluded. “If they’re struggling with the tasks we’ve enlisted them to do, we have an obligation to help them in any way we can. Providing them with a system tailored to their tasks, along with sufficient encouragement to use it and the necessary support, will make them feel valued and heard. They can then share this positive experience with others facing similar challenges. This approach will not only help them perform their jobs better but also contribute to a better working environment and culture across the business.”

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