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Theatreworks: Creating the Ultimate John Lewis and Partners Experience

Creating the Ultimate John Lewis and Partners Experience

From behind the scenes to front of house, Theatreworks is working with John Lewis and Partners to train team members across the organisation including Partners working in its newest shops in Westfield, White City and Cheltenham.

When it comes to retail, high street ‘bricks and mortar’ shops are having to go above and beyond for our hard-earned pounds and John Lewis and Partners is no exception. The retailer has always championed exceptional customer service and has a reputation for looking after its team. To ensure the two go hand in hand, Britain’s favourite department store pulled out all the stops with its new flagship stores that opened at White City, Westfield and Cheltenham in 2018. Even its rebrand to ‘John Lewis and Partners’ reflects this commitment to customers and staff.

To ensure that each of the Partners for the new stores were fully prepared to be ambassadors for the well-loved brand, John Lewis and Partners invested in an extensive training programme for each team member. Regardless of their roles, the content of the first four days of the induction remained consistent; covering everything from the John Lewis and Partners brand, history and best practice to hands-on till training, day-to-day processes, emergency response and health and safety. Partners taking on more specialist roles took part in longer induction periods – some up to six weeks – that built on the foundation training and focused on their specific job requirements.

After the first three induction days of primarily desk-based learning, every new Partner took part in a dynamic, tailored Theatreworks training programme facilitated by professionals from the National Theatre.

‘Partners are on their feet constantly once they are working in a John Lewis and Partners shop, so we wanted energising training sessions that would prepare them for this,’ said Sarah Scahill, Customer Experience Manager at John Lewis and Partners. ‘We worked with Theatreworks to develop a programme aimed at helping our Partners at all levels to think on their feet, build confidence to take initiative and, perhaps most importantly, embody a warm welcome – all with the objective of filling our stores with energy.’

Peter Cross, Customer Experience Director for John Lewis and Partners, said, ‘Retailers have talked about “retail theatre” but as shopping habits change this has never been more important. We’ve invested in this training with one of the world’s leading theatre companies because actors are outstanding communicators and that’s an important element in offering outstanding personal service.’


Experiential training for everyone

To ensure the Theatreworks training sessions would resonate with their team members and fully address all of the objectives, the White City store’s leadership team took part in the training in advance as part of their own onboarding processes. They then provided feedback to help the facilitators in their session with the new Partners.

‘I was sceptical of theatre-based training at first and wary about taking part,’ admitted Craig Neil, Operations Manager for the White City store. ‘But the Theatreworks session was brilliant and I knew it would prove hugely helpful to my team.’

Designed to help Partners at all levels to become Brand Ambassadors for John Lewis and Partners, Theatreworks continues to facilitate sessions across the company.

‘Whether a Partner works in stock management or on the shopfloor, they are representing John Lewis and Partners and the values we stand for,’ explained Sarah Scahill. ‘Customers expect the same level of excellent service from any of our Partners, no matter what their role, so we are committed to providing all of our team members with the training to ensure they can provide the best possible service to our customers. Theatreworks provided a key element of this.’

Theatreworks facilitator, Tom Anderson, has led a number of the Partner training sessions. Tom Anderson has over 20 years’ experience as a theatre and television actor, and has provided bespoke communication training for major international clients for more than ten years.

Anderson noted: ‘It’s unusual for businesses to invest in experiential training for their staff members at all levels and I applaud John Lewis and Partners for taking this approach. I’d love to see more organisations adopt it. It was great to be facilitating sessions with Partners from catering and the stockroom alongside greeters and shopfloor Partners all taking part. Everyone can benefit from the exercises we do to help them build confidence and gain experience with customer-facing conversations, thinking on their feet and dealing with difficult situations.

‘The sessions were also a great leveller for the Partners – everyone was in it together, learning and helping to support each other.’

Christine, a Partner working in haberdashery agreed, ‘I really enjoyed the group exercises during the Theatreworks session. They allowed us to build good connections with our new colleagues, breaking down barriers and giving us a sense inclusion and of all being in it together.’


The importance of making mistakes

Much like the theatre, the retail environment leaves little room for error. Customers, like audiences, often notice missteps. While many customers are forgiving (we are all human, after all), some missteps can result in a lost sale or, worse, a bad experience that unhappy customers share with others. As such, the pressure to perform well is as essential to a retailer as it is to an actor.

It therefore makes sense for retailers to get the chance to rehearse, just as actors do. Having the opportunity to try new things and practice techniques behind the scenes means that when they are ‘front of house’ with a customer or supplier, they can draw on what they’ve learned to deliver a flawless ‘performance’. Theatreworks does just that – using techniques from the rehearsal room, they work with participants to practice everything with their peers in a safe space ‘behind the scenes’; from tone of voice, movement and stance to how they come across in a variety of situations. The Partners are encouraged to push their limits in the sessions and go outside their comfort zones; to make mistakes and understand how it feels when things go wrong – and, most importantly how to recover when things don’t go to plan – essential elements of good performance.

To explore ways of managing conversations that hadn’t gone to plan, Partners are encouraged to share their experiences with difficult situations they’d encountered when dealing with the public in some way. ‘They opened up more than I expected during the sessions,’ said Anderson. ‘Some of the Partners spoke very movingly about challenges they faced, including confronting their own learning difficulties and challenges. Theatreworks really gave them a safe platform to voice their concerns and some tools for how to overcome them.’


Standing tall

While many of the Partners are familiar with some of the techniques used by the Theatreworks facilitators, they serve as good reminders for what to do to project confidence and embody authenticity and warmth in a variety of situations. Many people have to overcome nerves, or even embarrassment, especially when it comes to voice and movement exercises:

Mervin, a Partner working in carpets and flooring at White City noted, ‘The voice exercises were out of my comfort zone.’

Customer support Partner, Herjinder, added, ‘Theatreworks has helped me in overcoming my nerves, reminding me to take deep breaths and be aware of my stance.’

Both agreed the session was fun and really helped to release stress, get the blood flowing and improve their confidence levels.


‘Overwhelmingly positive’ from day one

Based on customer feedback, the Theatreworks training continues to pay off.

‘We’ve had consistently positive feedback from customers since the store opened, commenting that the Partners have really added to the “light and breezy” environment of the shop,’ said Sarah Scahill. ‘Our customers have commented that the Partners have been consistently engaging and friendly.’

Craig Neil continued, ‘The Partners still use their Theatreworks training as a point of reference. It’s really given them confidence and composure to engage with customers on a personal, rather than merely a transactional level.

‘I’ve also had amazing feedback internally that thanks in part to the new store, the new team and Theatreworks we’ve really captured the “magic” that John Lewis and Partners was built on – outstanding customer service.’

If you’d like to learn more about the National Theatre’s Theatreworks programme and the work they can do for team members at all levels, please call us on 020 7452 3815 or email [email protected] to learn more.