Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into a great discontent in the US right now.
This isn’t a political post but it is clear, while different, both Trump and Sanders are tapping into voters’ deep-seated anger.
Voters in both parties are acting like Howard Beale in the movie Network when he says, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Did retail have a role in spawning that feeling?
Retail employees are scheduled chaotically to either come in at a moment’s notice or more frequently, they are sent home without pay. This has led them to feel disempowered.
Retail interns who are working for free in hopes of getting a job that pays real wages leaves them bitter too.
Retail employees who receive zero retail sales training but are expected to sell credit cards or warranties and know that if they don’t they’ll be fired. Total disempowerment there too.
Retailers buy online, pickup in store programs have made employees more behind-the-scenes stock pickers than customer-facing ambassadors. It’s not what they signed up for - the good ones anyway.
And it’s not just retail employees who are being treated nonchalantly…
It’s customers who are left alone to wander aisles of merchandise with little, if any, human interaction except when it comes to check out.
It’s customers being greeted robotically with Can I help you? or worse yet, not being greeted.
It’s customers being treated as interruptions by employees focused on tasks. They’re just so tired of it that they no longer ask for help - even if they need it.
It’s customers judged by employees based on how they are dressed, look or talk and then summarily dismissed as lookie-lous.
All of these disenchantments show the retailer’s stunted ability to show they care for the very shoppers their livelihoods depend on.
In both of those areas, customers and employees, the overarching feeling is:
No one cares a damn about me…
No one respects my money, my feelings, or my work.
I’m all alone and I am powerless…
Isn’t that at the heart of voter frustration this year?
More to the point for readers of this blog...
Isn’t it that the real work of managing a business and making retail employees feel welcome, valued, and respected has been replaced with looking at them as expendable, a cost, disposable?
Isn’t it that the role retailing should be taking with employees who come in stuck on their own needs, their own lives, their own paycheck is retail employee training that it is their job to make someone else’s day first?
And show them that from that they also make their own...
Just like politicians, retailers have gotten away with treating customers as expendable and disposable for a long time.
Just take a look at the most recent year’s customer satisfaction index. Every retail brand is down across the board. Look at this month's earnings calls and you'll see most all were down significantly Q4 last year.
Everyone’s asking how did we get here?
Everyone’s blaming someone else for why they’re not happy.
Buying things used to make them feel good.
But it doesn’t anymore.
They settle for shopping online to avoid feeling judged or vulnerable.
They’ll trust a machine’s interactive mirror to tell them what cosmetics look best on them.
They prop up their self-image by only buying things on sale.
On top of, or as a part of that, they blame someone else for their unhappiness.
And in your store, employees blame you and customers blame them.
Outraged citizens vote for a political figure, outraged customers and employees vote with their feet.
So, it’s up to every single person who is part of a retail store to use the tools they have – whatever they have – to create a better life for themselves and their customers.
One that forces them to look for commonality with others.
To practice the hard work of treating a stranger either in their stores or on the streets with a modicum of civility.
To understand we’re all in this together.
Retail can help turn the tides of resentment and resignation as much as it helped foster waves of anger and loneliness.
It's not customer service, it's being human.
You can start right now in your own four walls with the person you work with or work for. You can choose to engage, to relate, to find things in common.
When a shopper comes in, you can be curious about their lives and play the game to get them to talk to you instead of nurturing every just looking as a personal dig.
And when you’re the shopper, you can go into a store and look at the employee as someone who might - might - have some way of helping you instead of just walking past them as if they were an inanimate object.
In short, people working in retail can make the world a better place.
That is, if we aren’t too angry to look at each other in the eye and realize we’re more alike than different.