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Tesco's UK CEO Matt Davies on harnessing the power of store staff

Tesco UK CEO Matt Davies says there is "no silver bullet" for empowering the grocer's staff to be energised to offer the required customer service, but it can be achieved through "lots of little helps".

Commenting on the Tesco Talking Shop Blog, Davies said that the business's new purpose – to serve Britain's shoppers a little better every day – is used as a guide and filter on all of the organisation's actions.

"This starts with our colleagues in stores – they're best placed to make our customers feel special," he noted.

"I think of our colleagues as an army of advocates for Tesco. We have to engage and inspire them to champion Tesco because they are proud of the business they work for."

Davies left his position as Halfords CEO last year to join a new Tesco senior team led by group CEO Dave Lewis, who arrived at the supermarket at the end of 2014.

The new team were put in place amid a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the manipulation of profit reporting under previous management and against the backdrop of an increasingly competitive grocery market often defined by lower margins, cost cutting and a drive towards operational efficiencies that has seen a reduction in the number of head office jobs at each of the UK's largest grocers.

Lewis has been on record apologising to customers and suppliers for some of the decisions Tesco had made in the past while chasing margin gain, and has highlighted how the company expects to change under his stewardship.

"Customers: put really simply are our magnetic north. We have put the customer right back at the centre of every single thing we do," he explained at an IGD event in 2015.

For Davies overseeing the UK operation, the three key ways the business hopes to achieve this target are through listening to staff and customers, shifting the culture of the organisation and offering "great service at scale".

The most recent Kantar Worldpanel grocery market figures were encouraging for Tesco, with overall sales in the 12 weeks to 28 February down by 0.8% year on year – halving the previous month’s reported decline of 1.6%. The data analysis firm said a renewed focus on price promotions has helped stem the flow of shoppers leaving Tesco despite the closure of around 50 stores in the last year.

"One of the biggest assets we have is that our colleagues are so reflective of the United Kingdom," Davies blogged.

"300,000 people from every corner of the country and every kind of background. So if we get better at listening to our colleagues, we'll be better at serving customers."

Some of the insight Tesco has generated to date includes the fact people are time poor, that households are getting older and smaller – with half of all grocery spend by 45-year-olds who don't have dependent children – and that consumers want simple value for money where they understand the best deal for them.

"The question I've been asked most over the past year is: why did I leave Halfords to join Tesco?" Davies explained.

"The answer is simple. I was fascinated by the challenge Tesco faces. It's a challenge that involves every single one of Tesco's colleagues. And it's this: How do we turn Tesco from a company that runs shops, into a company that serves people?"