The Rochdale Pioneers were innovators. It’s what they’d be called today. In the past our Co-op has been known for many ‘firsts’ – we’ve led the way, and I’m excited we’re starting to do that again.
I’m lucky to meet lots of innovators around our Co-op doing amazing, creative and forward-thinking things every day. Co-op Insurance’s (and the UK’s) first ever chatbot is a great example.
Not all these ideas and projects end up being rolled out across our organisation, but I was privileged to see one that’s made it through in Funeralcare – a digital service that will transform the way we do funerals, giving time back to our colleagues to spend with families. I think it could be a game changer.
I wanted to see it in real time and how it’s being used by our colleagues in what is a very traditional industry – where pen and paper is still the tool of choice for funeral directors and arrangers.
Regional Operations Manager Iain welcomed me to one of our funeral homes in Bolton where our new ‘at need’ digital funeral arrangement service has gone live. It follows our Edinburgh funeral homes which went live in August, and next year we’ll see it rolled out across the rest of the country.
The brilliant thing about this service is Co-op Digital have built it with Funeralcare colleagues who’ve given their feedback every step of the way, and they’ll always be looking to improve it.
It was fascinating talking to the team about how they’ve coped with the change – if it’s made their jobs easier, and given them time back with families. Brilliantly it has.
I met Steve, a funeral director, who’s been with us a long time. I loved his honesty, and how he’s faced the changes with humour. He told me he’d struggled to get to grips with this new way of working but after some coaching and training from fellow colleagues he now felt confident and was arranging his first funeral with the service that afternoon. I hope it went well. To me, Steve is a shining example of how we can all adapt if we put our minds to it.
Where history meets innovation
We’re also doing incredibly exciting things in Food. I went to our Horbury store in Wakefield with Jo Whitfield, our CEO of Food.
It’s one of three Everyday Convenience Plus stores we’re trialling to see if some new (and very brave) ideas work for our customers, members and colleagues. It’s bigger than our average convenience store and caters for a three-day shop.
Horbury is a village that has Co-op running through its history – virtually every shop on the main street used to be owned by us.
Here’s a few things I really loved:
- New style community board – customers are loving this as they can see how long we’ve served their community for. There are also spaces for colleagues and customers to share great things that are happening.
- Brand wall (light boxes showing our Co-op difference) – I was blown away by this. It’s an idea normally seen in clothing retailing but think it really helps show what we’re about.
- Meal solutions display – this really shows off our fresh, quality meal ideas in a creative and colourful way and makes it easy for the customer.
We’re in the early stages of these trials but it was great to hear from a customer called Christine who absolutely loves the things we’re trying in this store. One thing she said stayed with me: “The staff here are absolutely brilliant – they make this store”. And she’s right. Without the commitment and passion of our colleagues, this new stuff wouldn’t have the same impact.
Why change is important
So change can be really good. But I completely understand it can be unsettling at first and isn’t always easy.
I know many colleagues have experienced changes in their businesses this year and it’s been difficult. But it’s so important we make those changes or we’ll be left behind – the markets we operate in, and our competition, are constantly shifting.
I think we’re starting to show everyone that we can be innovators again.