Are You Managing the High Side?

Olufemi Olowu
Retail Consultant

Shopping can be either a joyful experience or a chore, depending on your experience at whichever retail establishment you frequent. When looking at the components of a great shopping experience, there are many components that contribute, but three main things that a customer looks for are efficiency, fast service, and a genuine feeling of appreciation and warmth from the people providing them service.

As your experience might tell you, not all businesses execute exceptional customer service as well as others. What makes some able to do it better than the rest? I think there is one position that can really make a difference. That is the High Side position.

Good service is the result of good planning and execution. Good planning means an accurate forecast and staffing that puts the right people in the right place at the right time. But doing only that – and not managing your High Side – can still leave customers with less than a great experience. So, forecast accurately, schedule well, but don’t forget about managing the High Side.

So, what is the High Side?

The High Side is the space behind the registers before the customers get to the check stand. This position could be considered the command center of customer throughput. One can see what type of transactions, Regular or Express for example, are going through at a particular time and make the appropriate decisions on how to effectively queue them in the most advantageous place to get them processed quickly. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll consider Regular Customers are those with more than 10 items, whereas Express Customers are those with 10 items or less.

Generally, when customers are ready to check out they don’t necessarily look for the right lane to go through. They are mainly looking at the lane with the shortest line. In a lot of cases, this can backfire because the number of items they are purchasing doesn’t necessarily coincide with the lane they choose to go through. You can have someone with 10 items or less, or Express, go through a Regular lane, standing behind someone with a basket filled with items. Due to this being the “shortest” line at the time, they will actually spend an extra amount of time checking out while a quicker lane, Express, was readily available to get them processed quicker. An employee that is executing the High Side position effectively, would notice this and direct the customer to the lane that would help expedite their shopping experience.

Managing the High Side is about managing the queue and ensuring that the plan you put in place through a good forecast and schedule is what people experience as they move through your checkouts. Without it, you lose a lot of efficiency and customers gain innumerable inconveniences and delays. Managing the High Side will give the customer a positive and favorable view of the rapidity of their shopping experience. It also helps the Front end operate more efficiently. When customers are placed at the right place at the right time, throughput is enhanced and that is beneficial for both customers and employees alike.

Enhanced customer service is another byproduct of excellent High Side execution. While shopping, have you ever been lost or not sure of where an item is? An employee working the High Side position can help a customer find whatever is needed, decreasing their shopping time and perhaps adding an item or two to their overall transaction.

It has been my experience that if you were to view customer satisfaction scores between retail establishments, you would find that businesses which employ or spend the labor on providing a High Side manager for their customers enjoy great customer appreciation scores when compared to those that do not. Oftentimes, High Side management does not represent a higher cost, but simply a strategy of moving a supervisor to a location where they can perform this important function. Consider it a best practice that you might try to adopt that pays dividends both on throughput optimization and on customer service!

In this day and age, businesses are always looking for the next thing that will make them stand out from all the rest. High Side management is a definite way to realize a retailer’s potential in increased sales, productivity and great customer service.