How Your Retail Employees can Create Exceptional Customer Experiences

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I was consulting with a new luxury client. I was going to be working on their sales floor, and they told me I would have to wear the old school uniform of a dark navy suit, tie - the works.

I went to the closest Nordstrom to buy a suit. A salesman approached and focused just on me.

He wanted to know what type of retailer my client was and where else I might be wearing the suit, and he spent a good thirty minutes helping me pick out a suit and several conservative shirts.

When I tried on a light blue Canali shirt, I felt like I was a four-year-old boy; my shirt covered my wrists and palms and went beyond my fingers.

I said, “I don’t think this is going to work,” and turned around to show him. He laughed and told me he could have the sleeves cut,  and it would be ready in a day and at no charge.

“Really?” I replied. “In all my years shopping here, I never knew that was possible.”

I happily purchased several shirts and ties.

The secret sauce of an exceptional experience is to make it all about the customer.

But that’s an evolved state. You have to be taught somewhere to focus on your customer, that it’s not all about you.

When we’re young, it is all about ourselves...

  • I’m hungry!
  • I need feeding!
  • I’m so bored!

And that’s fine when you are a toddler or an adolescent because you’re not having to think about anyone else. You’re not concerned with someone else. And no one’s paying you to be anything else.

But when you went to work in a shop, you needed to be normalized to society.  

From training, you learned the world didn’t revolve around you. You first learned it revolved around a boss, and eventually, you learned it revolved around customers.

That's where the concept of customer service originates

Many deride having worked in a retail store. However, if they looked back, they would credit that experience to have taught them it's all about the customer.

It wasn't something that was said but something we practiced.

Even if you started out in a high-end-commission-only boutique, you soon realized that the moment you looked at customers with dollar signs in your eyes, you lost them.

You learned that bonuses and commissions were nice, but they weren’t why you did what you did. 

Whether you worked on an hourly, salary, or commission basis, you learned it was about making someone else's day.

You learned you could get everything you wanted if you helped someone else first.

You evolved from it’s all about me and expecting someone to make your day into it’s all about them and making someone else’s day.

"The problem in retail right now is few are normalizing employees, so many employees are stuck being Me-Centric."

At the same time, retailers using Big Data are adopting technology to count shoppers and identify them, hoping to learn everything about who’s walking through the door and their behaviors while looking around.

But analytics shows what happened. They are passive; they can't juice sales.

Neither can the Me-Centric employee who has never been shown, guided, or held to the standards of making someone else’s day. Their evolution must be guided, or they remain stuck as order-takers.

Me-centric employees are almost underperforming.

Employees are chatting behind the counter with each other, talking about their kids and how they act up.

Or they’re talking about their relationship problems, frustration with the lottery, or whether the rain will cancel their weekend plans.  

These employees look into their smartphones as they escape on social media or stand out in front of the store looking so bored.

The party, so to speak, is with them; the customers are an interruption.

And your conversion rates stay low.

But it’s not those employees' fault.

Sorry, those of you blaming the Millennials in particular - the fault is yours.

Unless you own your role of taking a Me-Centric person and training them to be Customer-Centric, you will endure low conversion rates.

Your Big Data will show shoppers spend less time lingering in your stores. Customer satisfaction and customer retention will decrease.
Big data doesn't sell merchandise retailers

Your RFID will show your merchandise isn’t turning.

So you’ll mark down more.

You’ll coupon more.

And cut both employees and their training.

Thereby assuring that those you left in charge are few and far between and still Me-centric.

How to escape the vicious cycle

Retail sales training budgets were slashed after 2008 and have never recovered.

The bean counters moved from accounting through to the C-Suite. On their path, they took on everything - merchandising, marketing, and employee operations.  

Everything was seen as a cost that could be cut. They hoped no one would notice.

That was eight years ago. Customers started noticing...

Retailers have cut past the fat, past the meat, and deeply into the very marrow of their organizations.

To be customer-centric, you first need to train your employees. Period.

It takes having a retail sales process and holding them accountable for what is taught. It takes training certifications, and if employees can’t or won’t engage strangers, build rapport…

And if they can’t or won't make their day like they were taught to...

Then it takes letting those untrainable employees go.

Now I know some of you will decry the turnover in your store as having grown exponentially in the past few years and are afraid of such standards. I get it.

But dumbing down to whoever can pass a drug test, fog a mirror, and accept whatever low wages you offer only leads to you hiring more of the same type of employees who leave quickly anyway. 

This is why turnover is growing for all types of retailers.

As a Haas School of Business paper stated:

"One of the main reasons employees leave is their co-workers' poor quality. And if the business sometimes has to be run short-handed, the best way to ensure that customers do not suffer is to ensure the hands available are helpful."

See also: The 7 Essentials of Exceptional Retail Customer Service

Empower your employees to empower your business.

Yes, every retailer faces the challenge of serving more informed customers, connected and empowered than ever before.

Now is the time to assert the party is in the aisles regarding customers.

When employees can discover the unique person in front of them, every interaction is different:

  • Boredom is rare.
  • Turnover is lower.
  • Conversions are higher. 

Those employees care about the shop. Trash is picked up, displays are straightened, and fitting rooms are cared for.

When they don’t care, it all goes to hell in a handbag, as my aunt used to say.

Genuine customer service engagement sets retailers apart and makes shoppers eager to shop in their brick-and-mortar stores.

  • Those shoppers want to be noticed.
  • To be encouraged.
  • To look better.
  • Feel Better.
  • Sleep Better.
  • Get the guy.
  • Get the girl.
  • Lose weight.
  • Gain confidence.
  • Feel alive.

They’ll get that when someone honestly notices them when someone makes their day.

The ability of your employees to give every one of your customers an exceptional experience rests solely on your shoulders.

When you train them to do that well, your employees feel loyal and safe, take risks, and create exceptional experiences without being prodded.

You will have employees who have evolved.

No longer Me-centric, but Customer-centric.

When that happens, your customers notice and buy more.

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