How Systembolaget became customer satisfaction leaders

The bribery scandal at the beginning of the 2000s was an eye-opener for Systembolaget, and required a lot of enquiry by its concurrent management. Values, leadership, how to manage a modern retail chain and finding new ways to build the product range needed to be established and implemented throughout the organisation.

When Magdalena Gerger was made CEO in 2009 a goal was set – to become the best at customer interaction. The more customers that left feeling impressed and satisfied, the less likely the monopoly is to be thwarted and become a political issue. These days, Systembolaget has a customer satisfaction rate of 84%. 8 out of 10 want to maintain the monopoly and Tobias Frohm, Systembolaget’s HR director, was nominated for Manager of the Year in 2016. Today’s figures are no mere coincidence but the result of long-term and deliberate improvement work.

Tobias Frohm, HR-direktör, Systembolaget

Tobias Frohm, HR director, Systembolaget

– It is easy to think that we have high customer satisfaction because we lack competitors, but that’s not how it works – it’s rather the opposite. Expectations are high when you have the exclusive right to sell a high demand product. it means we have to work harder, says Tobias Frohm, HR director at Systembolaget.

Systembolaget’s mission is fairly unique for a business. They should limit sales, rather than increase sales. They should inform about the risks of alcohol, provide good service and sell responsibly.

How do you become the best at customer interaction?

– Through dialogue about what constitutes successful customer interaction we started actively working with how to best interact with out customers, Tobias says. We had discussions across different constellations of people across the entire organisation to reach a common idea about a good customer experience, what that means and entails. the customer doesn’t care who they meet, or what store they go to. What’s most important is that they are greeted with a cohesive image, reception and range of products.

To provide this, we formulated a customer promise with a clear goal. We did this to define how Systembolaget should interact with customers without risking a misalignment with the mission and drive sales or be perceived as «salesy». The conclusion was that the positive customer experience should be delivered by employees through good leadership.

– We went through the same process when we looked at good leadership as we did for customer interaction. What defines good leadership at Systembolaget? Our views on good leadership is symbolised in our leadership-pyramid. The unique aspect of it is not what it says, but the discussion and communication it embodies. We established key behaviours and skills necessary to achieve good leadership that provides employees with the prerequisites to achieve their assignment. A key to success was to create common work practices and processes, as well as focusing on how to enable employees to perform. This is where Agerus came into the picture.

Creating prerequisites for performance

– In the past we worked with traditional employee surveys that asked employees about how happy they are. That isn’t enough if you want to be proactive and create prerequisites for employees to feel well and perform well. By using Agerus’ tools, we can ask our employees if they feel they have the right prerequisites for doing their job, based on scientifically developed conditions for performance: will, know, can, may and should. Suddenly, the discussion and dialogue becomes more interesting, Tobias says.

When employees have a clear idea of their assignment they can have a constructive dialogue about their prerequisites. If the prerequisites aren’t there, they are unable to do what is needed to reach the overall goals.

– In the past we worked with traditional employee surveys that asked employees about how happy they are. That isn’t enough if you want to be proactive.

Agerus’ tools support Systembolaget’s efforts with identifying improvement areas and systemise work going forward. It also gives you immediate feedback, which in principle makes it possible to do a survey one day and analyse the results and decide on action plans together, the following day. This is in line with Systembolaget’s views on leadership: «Systembolaget develops through our employees.»

Today, the concept of performance isn’t a loaded word at Systembolaget, which it used to be. Its associations was then hard work, sweat, long days, and so on.
– When we started using Agerus’ method we had many conversations about performance and that dialogue was good. What is a performance and how do we feel when we’ve performed? We feel good and we feel satisfied when we’ve performed well. Our mission at Systembolaget is to ensure that the prerequisites for performing well is in place. If we do, it leads to good results.

Involve employees

Employees are your most important asset. They are the ones who see the customers and they are the ones that embody the power to perform development work.

– Agerus’ model measures the four basic human needs that research has identified as important for long-term performance, namely: belong, contribute, acknowledgement and develop. Doing your job well is one thing, wanting to do it at your specific workplace is another. In workplaces where employees score highly on these human basic needs, there is a stronger loyalty and sense of community. In our surveys, we can see that we stand out in this dimension. This means a lot to us.

This is perhaps a contributing factor in making Systembolaget a popular workplace that many seek out even though Systembolaget, like many other retailers, can’t offer market-leading salaries.

Systembolaget is successful at their work partly because they have a unified management who clearly believe in the strategy they have chosen. other success factors that Tobias would highlight are their leadership-pyramid where those at the top says «you have a responsibility to become the best version of yourself», and that they point out that they all contribute to each other’s success.

– It is not just one of us that succeeds.

He concludes by saying that he is proud of being nominated for HR Manager of the Year in 2016 because it reflects the work of everyone at Systembolaget. It is proof of that happens when many people decide to do a good job together. When we perform well we also feel well.