Are you ready for the euro?

Despite
the UK’s ambivalence towards Europe, many businesses will be affected by the
influx of the new euro coins and notes next year. Lucie Carrington finds many
are having to think fast – and on their own

The
phoney war is nearly over as far as the euro is concerned. From January 2002
the currency will be a physical reality. Local currencies will be withdrawn and
euro notes and coins – each with its own national marking – will come into
circulation.

Many
UK businesses will be resting easy in the belief that they are unaffected by
the currency. But industries such as leisure, retail and banking realise that
they have to implement training and communication programmes, so that when
their European customers cross the Channel, their purses bulging, staff will be
ready to help.

It
will be crucial that employers get the right message across at the right time,
says Kati Strange, communication and learning manager for the euro project at
Marks & Spencer. “We must not deliver too early or too late. It has to be
just-in-time training,” she says.

M&S
is working on an autumn programme. Originally the project was intended to be
Europe-wide – covering the 10 out of 12 euro zone countries where M&S has
been operating. However, the recent announcement that M&S is selling its
overseas stores has reduced the euro project’s scope considerably.

Nonetheless,
Strange still has to be sure that Ireland and the UK are ready for January
2002. The retailer has identified key stores in the UK where tourists are
likely to want to know if they can spend or change their euros – branches in
places such as Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon.

“My
role is to help staff understand and adapt to the new currency. We want them to
be able to face customers with confidence and integrity,” Strange says.

What
training staff need will vary depending on their jobs. Some will need detailed
training and some will just need the information. Strange is working out the
precise training and information needs of sales staff, back office staff, and
the head offices in Ireland and the UK.

“The
important thing is not to sheep-dip. Staff have different roles to play and not
everyone needs to know everything, only what most affects them,” Strange says.

She
already has the experience of an earlier euro awareness campaign that M&S
ran throughout Europe in 1998. This was designed to help staff cope with
parallel currencies and it involved a variety of training methods including
videos, workshops, role plays and questionnaires.

Strange
is starting to put together a toolbox of similar training materials so that
store managers and training staff can pick and choose what most suits them.

Barclays
Bank is also looking to tailor its euro awareness training to the needs of
individual staff. The bank set up is European Legacy Currency Demise Programme
in the last quarter of 2000.

“We
want to managing the process with the minimum disruption to customers,” says
Mark Durant, project manager communications and training ELCD.

Essentially,
this means equipping staff with accurate currency and product information to be
able to answer customer queries. This makes it unlike most change programmes:
“Our brief isn’t to change behaviours,” Durant points out.

It’s
also different from previous programmes because it is affecting all areas of
the bank, he says.

The
ELCD programme consists of a dedicated team of about 10 people drawn from
across the business. There are five streams to their work including customer
accounts, payments and clearing systems and delivery channels – which in the UK
means the branch network. Durant’s role is to provide training and
communication solutions to suit the needs of each work stream.

He
divides the workforce roughly into two – corporate staff dealing with business
customers and retail staff in  branches.

Corporate
staff are fairly up to speed on how the euro impacts on customers. “They tend
to be more exposed to the euro already because they are dealing with businesses
that may be trading with European partners. We won’t need to do more courses
with them,” Durant predicts.

But
they will need a question and answer crib sheet to cope with customer queries.
For example, what if a customer wants to carry on using his French franc
account? The answer is no, but the bank is providing a means of redirecting
payments into a euro account.

“Our
aim is to encourage customers to convert to using a euro account before the
deadline and to get their trading partners familiar with their account details.
So corporate staff need this sort of product information,” Durant says.

Much
of this can be delivered through existing channels such as the intranet.

The
same is true of any training retail staff will need. Early morning training
sessions are a regular feature in the branches.

Educating
staff

“We
are planning to run a couple of sessions this year educating staff about what’s
going to happen and giving them the information they need to deal with
customers,” Durant says. They will start in June, although some of the
communication is already under way.

Retail
staff will have different customer queries to cope with. For example,
holidaymakers will want to know about the status of any left over francs or
lire.

Durant
predicts a certain amount of resistance among customers. “Hopefully people
won’t be too emotional about the loss of the French franc. But some people will
try to hold on to them,” he says.

Although
M&S and Barclays had earlier euro awareness programmes to draw on, both
firms are having to devise their current projects from scratch. There is a
certain amount of advice available from banking industry bodies. For example
banks have set up what’s called the Heathrow Group to deal with demise of
legacy currencies. And Apex – the association of payments and clearing services
– has issued some guidance on dealing with customers.

But
there is little help from the usual suspects. Employers’ bodies the CBI and the
CIPD have not looked at any of the implications for the workforce when dealing
with the euro. Even the Government’s euro website has little to say about
training, although it has plenty of more general business advice to offer.

And
the service set up by the European Central Bank – called the European
Partnership – has little to offer by way of advice, insisting its remit is only
to help businesses within the euro zone.

So,
if you think your business is likely to be affected – start networking with
other affected industries now or be prepared to go it alone next year.

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