Over 30 years ago, when I started my career in retail as a sales associate at a JCPenney store, the opening screen on our CRT computers showed the company name and the tagline: “Customer Service is our #1 Priority”. I took that phrase to heart. I worked hard to learn what the company’s standards and expectations were. I approached every shift with a commitment to deliver good customer service.
I worked my way up the ladder and landed a buying job at the corporate office. The opening screen on the CRT computers at the corporate office all had that same tagline too, but I felt a different vibe. The tagline was the same, but it was rarely talked about at the corporate office. It seemed the farther away we were from the customer, the less we spoke about them.
It wasn’t until I took a job at Coldwater Creek that I learned the difference between having a tagline that spoke about a company’s commitment to customer service and a culture that focused every decision through the filter of how the customer would be impacted. My first boss at Coldwater Creek taught me the difference. He was amazing at challenging me to look at my decisions from the viewpoint of our customer. He was the first one to introduce me to the concept of doing what was right for the customer, in the moment, and figure out the operational logistics that would be needed, after the customer was satisfied and on their way. He did not preach the flawed concept that “the customer is always right”. He simply expected me and my team to do everything we possibly could to satisfy our customers.
In today’s challenging retail environment, where self-service, online shopping and every automation conceivable, is dramatically changing the industry landscape, one may argue that focusing on the training and empowerment of a retail staff is outdated. I say that thinking is the kiss of death.
Today, more so than ever, retailers must be hyper-focused on what the customer experiences in their stores. The customer crossed the threshold of your brick-and-mortar location for a reason. As time-crunched as we are today as a society, it is rare that anyone goes shopping with the intent purpose of “just looking”.
If you are an owner, or a supervisor, what standards and expectations have you communicated to your sales team? Do they know how to make customers feel comfortable in your store? Do they know what the guidelines and guardrails are to going above and beyond to deliver exceptional service? Have you empowered them to make the right call, in the moment, to save the sale, satisfy the customer, and probably secure that customer’s loyalty?
Or are you having trouble just finding qualified employees, let alone customer service gurus?
I hear this lament all the time “We can’t find good employees”. If you are in that boat, I would challenge you to ask yourself some tough questions. What is it like to work for you? How do you treat your employees? Are you constantly having to do or redo the work yourself because your team “just can’t get it done right”? Or maybe you do some delegating, but then hover over their shoulders to make sure they are doing their job.
Whatever stories you are telling yourself, they will often come true. Give expecting the best a try. Hire for attitude, then train the skills. Utilize the Teach, Test, Trust (but verify) method. You will gain consistency amongst your team, and you will be able to elevate your own work to be more focused on strategic tasks.
Change is never easy, especially when it comes to adjusting our own behaviors. In order for brick-and-mortar to survive and thrive in this new age though, change is necessary.
If you already have an outstanding sales team, congratulations! Keep up the great work!
If you are struggling to find and keep a good team of sales associates, start by looking in the mirror. The word gets out quickly about what it’s like to work at a location. As the saying goes “your reputation precedes you”.
Figure out what you need to change in your habits of how you communicate, delegate, and empower your team. Your secret weapon for success depends on it.