It goes without saying that we are living in uncertain times and our news feed gets gloomier with every passing day. With recent reports about how Singapore might face its worst recession since independence, the unrest is increasing by the minute.
Amidst all this negativity, we try and look for small successes and narratives that inspire positivity. One such story is that of BHG Mall Singapore. While due to the absence of an eCommerce platform, the business has taken a hit but BHG is using this time to prep and train its employees, and get ready for post-COVID customer needs.
We spoke to Naomi Pinkerton, Head of Human Resources at BHG (SINGAPORE) PTE LTD. who earlier this year, joined BHG as Head of HR. We asked her about the experience of joining a new team amidst partial lockdowns and potential shutdowns.
I joined BHG in February 2020 – I did have some moments where I wondered if it was the right move, changing roles in the middle of COVID-19. The first few weeks we were working on a split roster and that was pretty challenging – I couldn’t physically meet half the people in my team for the first fortnight. But there’s a lot of institutional knowledge within the Company from people that have built their careers within BHG and that has been incredibly helpful – there’s always someone who knows the answer or can point you in the right direction.
Also, my handover was very structured and comprehensive – every detail of my induction was well planned and I think that made a world of difference in helping me integrate faster.
We further explored how BHG is fairing amidst the ongoing crisis due to the COVID-19 and their future plans after the CB and the impact of this pandemic on the industry in general.
TVM: What are some of the main challenges that the HR industry is faced due to the pandemic?
HR is all about people, and your people are generally the most important assets within an organisation, regardless of the industry. So one of the biggest challenges is definitely figuring out how to protect your workforce, whether it be with business continuity planning (which is a huge challenge on its own if you have very lean teams and limited resources), trying to facilitate flexible working arrangements where people have the right technology/tools necessary to work from home, or thinking ahead and planning for the re-skilling and/or upskilling of staff in order to adapt to new norms.
On top of this, the situation is constantly evolving but the responses must be relatively quick and effective so there is a lot of time spent planning for different scenarios; the role of communicating changes in policies or procedures and making sure they are adhered to often falls into the role of HR as well.
TVM: What role do you think HR can play to help alleviate stress during these tough times in a company?
I don’t think the answer to this is HR specific – this is a somewhat unprecedented time and as difficult as it is right now, it’s more about focusing on the future. At BHG, we are encouraging everyone in the business, starting from the top to stay positive — keeping an open mind and to be flexible.
TVM: How has COVID-19 affected employee engagement in your company?
It’s been challenging for sure. But it’s been great to see how positive the team has been about embracing new things during this period – you’d think with stores closed our frontline teams would be relatively free but they spent a lot of time training – we arranged 2 external courses they completed virtually and then our managers developed and delivered some in-house training as well.
We are incredibly lucky to have a very cohesive and dedicated store management team who constantly keep our teams engaged and informed – they use Google Hangouts, Zoom, even WhatsApp to speak daily – even if it’s just to keep in touch and maintain contact. They even run daily exercise challenges so it’s been quite holistic!
TVM: Tell us about your collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS).
Last November, BHG and the Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU) signed a partnership agreement, committing to ongoing collaboration with different training partners in order to provide continuous learning and development for our team.
We set up our Company Training Committee (CTC) and identify the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS) as one of our early training partners, and they have been great so far. Easy to work with, very accommodating and completely aligned with what we want to achieve.
The courses our Retail staff completed during the Circuit Breaker was run by SIRS – they completed the Service Leadership and the Service Excellence modules conducted via Zoom, Google Classroom and Kahoot Quizzes. It seemed a bit counter-intuitive conducting courses on face to face customer service virtually, but the feedback was fantastic – the concepts were practically reinforced, and the trainers were highly engaging.
Fadil Bin Mohamed, aged 42, who works as a Store Management Coordinator at BHG Bugis shared, “I am appreciative of the fact that I have the opportunity to be exposed to new skill sets beyond my usual role. For example, now that I’m equipped with the basic skills in sales and customer service, I can use them in my daily routine to better assist my colleagues in handling customers.”
These courses will be arranged for the entire company, including all front line and back end staff from departments like Marketing and Operations. We want to upgrade their skills set and get the whole team ready for the new transformations to come.
TVM: Apart from the training sessions, how are you keeping morale high among employees?
We’ve got some really great leaders – everyone is aligned with where BHG is going and how we need to get there, so it’s relatively easy to remain focused, in terms of the work that needs to be done.
The tough part about working from home is that the days blend into one and it can be easy to burn out – there’s potential to feel like you are working round the clock. So apart from being great functional leaders, I really appreciate that our leaders are also great humans – we check in on our teams regularly and make sure they take enough time for themselves and their families.
Ms Jasna Lee, aged 58, who works as a cashier at BHG Bugis said “I am thankful towards BHG for arranging this e-learning. I learnt about customer service and how I can approach customers better. I initially faced some issues accessing the online courses, but my supervisors and managers were very helpful in guiding me step-by-step on how to troubleshoot and resolve them.”
TVM: When is BHG reopening and what safety measures will be taken to ensure the good health of employees and customers?
BHG is committed to adhering to the various safety measures and guidelines provided by the government and will resume operations when we can. The safety of our staff and customers are of the utmost importance to us. Our safety measures will include temperature taking and safe distancing measures, and we are continuously exploring additional steps to take in the near future.
To further explore the commercial aspects, we spoke to Mr Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer at BHG (SINGAPORE) PTE LTD.
TVM: How are you managing to survive without an eCommerce platform? How has the business been affected?
BHG Singapore has been committed to serving the community over the last 13 years right into the heartlands of Singapore. It’s no secret that the retail landscape is more competitive than ever and the customer is in total control. A personalised, unique retail experience and blurring the lines of offline and online shopping experience is key in capturing the customer’s attention.
With this in mind, we have been working on a Re-Invention Strategy which includes a digital transformation plan at the heart of the strategy. The main objective of the strategy is to ensure that BHG delivers a fully-connected and engaging experience which is not only seamless across all channels, but also make it both practical and rewarding when customers visit our stores be that online or physical stores.
We will be implementing the new initiatives this year amidst the global fight against COVID-19. Since the last week of Jan 20, traffic has been around 50% – 60% of 2019 and all of our outlets have been closed since the Circuit breaker was implemented.
TVM: What are some of the expected new trends with regards to consumer preferences after the pandemic?
These are unprecedented times and we do not know what the new normal will be. Whilst we do expect to see people coming back, it may be a while until the numbers return to pre-COVID periods.