How Amazing Customer Moments Help Associates Survive Working Retail At The Holidays

By Bob Phibbs

retail store customer amazementI might have been a nut, but I actually liked working retail during the holidays. 

A lot of retail workers complain they can’t survive working retail during the holidays with the non-stop tis the season holiday music, the bad weather, taking a shuttle because they had to park offsite, unsupervised kids knocking over merchandise, belligerent customers who couldn’t find what they came to the brick and mortar store to purchase…you name it. 

But in the midst of all that chaos, I found that if I just created those small, amazing, spur-of-the-moment customer interactions, they helped the time go by quickly. Those customer moments were the ones that brought smiles to my face. 

I’m still smiling as I remember them because they were authentic and that’s why I’m sharing them with you...

As some of you know I worked with a group of western wear stores during the eighties, long before there was social media and online shopping.

Here are a few of those precious holiday moments I remember.

The successful investment banker who came in late Christmas Eve to pick out a pair of boots. He had to have a size 5 for his wife. I explained we didn’t have many in that size and he answered, “Oh, she takes a size 8, I just want her to have to come in and get fitted or they’ll stay in the closet.”

The young man who came in with his grandmother; they were visiting from Australia. The young man had tried on a bunch of boots, but they just didn’t fit. Finally, he picked a pair of the most expensive boots off the shelf and asked if he could try them on. “Sure,” I said, “but you’ll need to put some baby powder on your socks just in case they’re a bit tight.” He put them on and his face beamed. “How much are they?” I told him the price and his face sunk. After a short pause, the grandmother turned to me and asked, “Can he wear them out?” I said yes and the guy beamed all the way out the door…and so too did his grandmother.

The guy who came in a week before Christmas in what I could tell was a new goatskin blazer. I asked if it was a gift or he had purchased for himself. When he said he purchased it for himself, I told him it was always nice to celebrate yourself. I then told him I had just purchased the new Scully blazer I had on and asked him what he might be celebrating. He told me, “Well the book that I wrote just got opted for a movie. Have you ever heard of The Hunt For Red October? I’m Tom Clancy.”

The mother came in to get a size larger shirt for her body-building son whose new body wouldn’t fit his old clothes. 

The guy who wanted to just buy a gift certificate for his wife, but I convinced him to buy a pair of boots in the price range he wanted so she had something to open.

The time the square dance couple came in for matching outfits for their appearance at a holiday dance competition happening that night.

The wife who purchased a pair of cowboy boots to give to her husband because she was going to surprise him with a week on a working cattle ranch.

And my own customer experience…the time I was staring into a dirty shop window at a 10” tall glass jar.  Inside, peering out was a pinkish-grey, alien fetus with big bulging almond-shaped black eyes, like you’ve seen in the X-Files. Its bony little body had its arms and legs crossed like it had been forced into the specimen jar. I entered the dinky shop and found a friendly enough shopkeeper. I blurted, “Is the alien in the window for sale?” “Yes.”  I had to get it for my nephew. You can read the full account in my post Purchasing An Alien For Christmas

Stories are what makes being human human.

It’s why we watch so many movies.

Why we listen to music.

Why friends matter.

Stories are the currency of our lives...

Stories too are the gossamer threads that connect us to our friends, family, and community.

Unless associates have their customer service abilities broadened to listen for and look for the stories, they’ll treat working at the holidays as stressful and boring, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are my 3 tips for surviving the holidays by creating your own stories to share and remember:

  1. Take the bait. If you hear anything about who a gift is for, where they will use it, or why it has meaning, ask for details.
  2. Ask. If the shopper doesn’t offer to share the details, simply ask them why this item. Try to get just one sentence from them; don’t be nosey, just interested.
  3. Share something about a time you purchased something special for someone. This balances the conversation and gives you two a small bond to make both of you relax.

Yes, working the holidays in retail  has a lot of demands, but they lessen as long as the associate can mine the potential stories in every interaction, near a display, at the fitting room, or while ringing up a sale near your cash register or tablet.

Here are some other good tips for surviving the holidays including wearing comfortable shoes, washing your hands, and other ways to take care of yourself. 

And why do you want to encourage customer interactions like this?

Because when loyal customers feel they matter, when your shopping experience is second to none, they spend time in your store, they spend more and increase retail sales, and they do word-of-mouth marketing to their friends about your retail store on social media. 

See also, How Retail Employees Can Maintain Their Sanity During The Holidays

In Sum

Every sales associate you have gets easily bored with tasks. They wake up when their minds are engaged.  The easiest way to engage minds is with a story. 

Brick-and-mortar retailers have the advantage to connect with shoppers in a way retail marketing and online sites just can't. 

The better your associates can glean, share, and encourage customer stories, the better they will be at surviving retail during the holidays.

And of course, the more sales they will make.

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