It’s no secret, times are tough for retailers. Not only are smaller independent stores struggling to survive, with many closing their doors but we’ve seen some big names disappear too.
That’s why when I visited an independent ladies apparel store this week, I was totally surprised and mortified by the experience I was offered. There was a complete lack of service, even border lining on rudeness on the part of the sales assistant. It made me question, with how tough things are out there, do certain retailers even want to be successful? When I see this type of poor or non-existent service, I want to shake them and say “wake up”. You can’t treat your customers in that manner and expect to be successful, particularly in today’s retail climate.
My experience on this particular occasion couldn’t have been more disappointing. Upon entering the store, the female assistant, who I suspect was the store owner, looked at and almost through me, with zero acknowledgement and an intense scowl on her face. She then proceeded to walk straight past me to continue carrying out a task. After I wandered around the store for a few minutes perusing the racks of dresses, I walked past the counter where the woman was now standing. She once again looked straight through me, failing to say thank you or farewell with a look of annoyance on her face. I left the store flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. I almost felt guilty for being in the store, like an unwanted guest trespassing someone’s private property.
Over the years during my regular visits to this reasonably large suburban shopping centre, I have never actually seen a customer in this store, nor walk in or out. My mind boggles as to how this business still exists. Perhaps the ‘50% Off All Stock’ signs plastered all over the window and walls, is an indication business isn’t going so well. I can’t imagine why!
Over the last twelve months, I have seen numerous stores in the centre close down with many retail spaces remaining empty for months on end. With sky rocketing rent and reduced foot traffic, businesses can’t afford to get lazy in the customer service department. They need to be doing more in order to provide their customers with positive shopping experiences, inspiring them to purchase and encouraging them to shop there again. Unfortunately many retailers haven’t worked this out.
When I hear retailers complain about profit loss, impending staff cuts and store closures, of course I feel sad at their demise however, I think back to my shopping experiences in many of these retail stores and can recall nothing but disappointing, unsatisfactory and deterring experiences. You can’t expect to survive, if you are not winning and retaining customers.
Stores and their employees can actually drive customers away through the lack of or, the poor quality service they offer. As with my recent experience, staff may subconsciously be sending the message to customers, ‘we can’t be bothered serving you, it’s too hard, go somewhere else’.
Today customers have a great deal of choice in where to purchase their products and services. Not only the choice between various retailers but also the option of shopping online. We hear story after story regarding the increase of online shopping and the death of bricks and mortar stores. One of the major differentiators retailers have over online shopping, is the shopping experience they provide their customer with. Therefore, it’s vital for retailers to ensure the customers experience is exceptional otherwise, they may do nothing other than drive the customer away, prompting them to consider purchasing online or from a competitor.
The service experience is also a huge factor that sets retailers apart, with similar products at similar prices available from numerous different stores. If a business wants to encourage customers to choose to shop with them, they need to provide customers with a valid reason to do so. Unfortunately, too often we are presented with reasons not to shop in a store, to choose never to return and ultimately tell everyone how terrible they were.
Business owners large and small, before it’s too late, must put the focus back on customer service. It takes a long time to build a positive service reputation through consistently providing each and every customer with quality service. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad experience for that news to travel fast and impact your business in a negative way.
A retail store relies on customers to be successful or to merely survive, they are what keep the doors open. The focus and priority therefore, must be customers and providing them with exceptional and memorable experiences. To do this, provide your team with customer service training, implement and hold your team accountable to customer service standards, with owners and managers leading by example. If you don’t do these things, you might find yourself having to display ‘50% Off Everything’ signs and become another one of those empty stores in the local shopping centre.
I recently read an article, where the author was of the opinion group training sessions attended by employees in a business, is a waste of time and money. The author argued, knowledge and skills taught during these sessions are quickly forgotten and systems introduced fail to be implemented.
I acknowledge, there are many businesses who have invested in training programs only to experience little uptake, therefore have seen minimal return on investment. However, it is not the training itself that’s the issue (assuming the training is reputable, professional and of high quality), it’s what happens after the participants leave a training session, that determines if the training will be effective and worth the time and financial investment.
The benefits of group training sessions are many. To start with, it’s a great way to see all staff are provided with the same information, in the same manner, ensuring they are all on the same page. It is also a fantastic way to introduce new systems, procedures or guidelines and explain the reason or value behind them. Another benefit of group training is the opportunity for team members to come together and share their ideas and thoughts, through the discussions and activities that are often conducted during group sessions. This often leads to invaluable self-discovery and reflection. Group training can definitely be an effective way to engage, inspire people and share a common vision.
Of course group sessions are not always the most effective means of training people. One on one training is generally going to get a better result, due to the trainer being able to adapt to the learning style of the individual. Unfortunately however, this isn’t always the ideal or most efficient way to roll out a training program or deliver a message to a large group of people. This is where group training comes in, being more time and cost effective.
Any training, whether it be group or one on one, must absolutely be supported and followed up on. The responsibility to ensure the skills learned are executed and the implementation of any system or guidelines are carried out, comes back to the business and its leaders.
Whether it be sales, management, leadership, product knowledge or any other instruction or teaching, the only way to ensure the training is applied, effective and lasting is by doing the following:
The downfall of group training sessions is when they are not followed up on. Employees often leave training sessions with new ideas and renewed motivation however, that momentum can be lost if it’s not nurtured.
As soon as any employee returns from training to their usual work environment, their immediate manager should follow up on their learning. For example; asking the trainee questions such as; “What did you learn?”, “How will the training impact your work?”, “What part of the training are you going to work on or apply today?”, can encourage the person to recall what they’ve learnt and prompt them to apply it.
Follow up however, doesn’t stop there. The manager must continually refer to and focus on aspects of the training during one on one coaching sessions, store meetings or any other relevant opportunity.
Training materials such as workbooks or job aids, should be used and referred to and not left in a draw or on a shelf gathering dust. Finding creative ways to continually bring attention and refocus on training, can make it fun for the team and encourage lasting results.
As they say ‘practice makes perfect’. To ingrain new skills in order to become second nature, means to practice, practice and practice again. Repetition helps people become comfortable with a new skill whether it be a technique or process.
The repetition method is useful during regular coaching sessions. The coach has the trainee practice a skill or new behaviour repeatedly and is there to support and provide feedback. The more the person practices the newly learned skill, the more likely it will become a habit in which they carry out automatically.
Commitment from the Top
With any roll out of training, a new program or project, there needs to be commitment from the entire organisation, from the service or sales team to admin, the first line supervisors to the CEO.
When only certain people are committed to a training programs success, the momentum can be lost. It can be difficult for those trying their best to implement and use the training, if they are not getting support from other people or departments and can even cause roadblocks hindering progress. Consider having the whole organisation attend a training session or an overview of its key points, even if it’s not directly related to their role. This way everyone is aware of the expectations of trainees, the possible challenges they face and how they can personally be of assistance to ensure the training is successful for the benefit of the entire organisation.
When we hear the word ‘accountability’, we automatically think negative. We picture someone being ‘pulled up’ when they’ve forgotten or neglected to do something. Accountability however, can also be positive and a way of reinforcing training by acknowledging a person for doing something correct. There needs both consistent corrective and positive accountability for training to be implemented and lasting.
Trainees must be held accountable for the areas they have been upskilled in. This means if they neglect to apply the training, the manager must at least mention it when it’s a once off or, works with the person to correct the behaviour if it is an ongoing issue. This is opposed letting it go unnoticed, which sends the message it’s ok for the training not to be applied. When trainees know they will be held responsible for applying training, they will be more likely to be conscious of doing the right thing.
For accountability to be effective, people must also be acknowledged when they have applied the training and used it correctly. When positive behaviour is recognised, it is reinforcing and the person is more likely to give a repeat performance. Managers must be aware of the importance of providing positive feedback and accountability, as people quickly lose commitment if the manager only provides negative feedback and only catches people out doing the wrong thing. They also need to catch people doing the right thing.
It is extremely difficult for managers or supervisors to hold their team accountable, if they are unsure of the skills, behaviours and expectations themselves. In other words, they also need to be fully trained in what they are asking their team members to apply. When managers do not receive the same training as their team, training programs are destined to fail.
Managers need to lead by example or walk the talk. Team members look to their leaders as a model or an example of the behaviours to emulate. If they are not capable or willing to utilise the training themselves, it will be very difficult for them to hold others accountable or expect team members to continue to utilise the training when they have no correct example to follow.
Live & Breathe
For training to become ingrained and lasting in the day to day operation of a business, it needs to be lived and breathed by the entire organisation. It becomes part of the culture, and just the way things are done.
Not only should training be followed up on immediately but there must be a structured approach to its ongoing follow up and refresh. There must be accountability when people don’t apply the learning and positive accountability to reinforce when they do. Managers must lead by example and be trained and competent in what they are asking their team to do. The training must be practiced and coached until it becomes second nature and people are confident in its application. Without this, training programs are doomed from the beginning.
In summary, it is an ongoing commitment from a business, to ensure when participants leave the training room, the leaders, managers, trainees and in fact the entire organisation take over to see the training is implemented and lasting and reaches its potential.