Once upon a time, the only sales process salespeople had to master, was for foot traffic or, customers who physically came into the business and possibly the occasional phone call prior to them visiting. However, the nature of customer traffic and what constitutes a sales opportunity has changed. More and more customers are using the internet to research and purchase products and services, including big ticket items such as a new car or building a new home.
The old school salesperson may struggle to see online customers as genuine sales opportunities, believing if the person was legitimately interested in purchasing, they would take the time to visit the store or showroom. However, for a variety of reasons this is not necessarily the case. Today, people are time poor and shun the inconvenience of going from store to store to make a buying decision. With the amount of information now at people’s fingertips, many are choosing to start and continue a sales conversation from the comfort of their own home by browsing websites and submitting online enquiries.
This means, a shift in mindset for some salespeople is necessary, to not only see an internet enquiry as an opportunity but being open to learning a new process on how to handle them effectively and with confidence.
When a customer enters a store or showroom, a salesperson is able to greet, answer questions and chat with a customer to build rapport. With an online enquiry however, they are required to engage customers and build a relationship and trust without even meeting the customer. This is usually done through a combination of email and phone calls, depending on the nature of the business and requires a whole new set of skills.
Many businesses have mastered this process by bringing their procedures, systems and salespeople up to speed on engaging, nurturing and converting online customers. Those that haven’t, are running the risk of burning potential customers, not to mention the negative impact on their service reputation if online enquiries are being ignored, not responded to promptly or handled ineffectively.
Traditional foot traffic in many industries, is on the decline and large sums of money is being invested by businesses into having a website that attracts customers and encourages them to make contact or interact. These leads should be seen as potential customers or as opportunities that need to be maximised just like any other.
The question “Would you like fries with that?” certainly has negative connotations, with the notion of someone trying to sell us something we don’t need or want just to make an extra dollar. However, it can be viewed from another perspective. Let’s say, as you’re ordering a burger, the person behind the counter asks you if you’d also like some fries. It then hits you, that’s exactly what you feel like to complete your meal. All of a sudden that one question offers you a satisfying solution to your hunger.
There are plenty of examples where another product can compliment, enhance or even be a necessity to your initial purchase and it wouldn’t be good customer service if the person assisting you didn’t suggest it.
Take purchasing the latest toy for a child, which is to be that exciting Christmas present unwrapped first thing on Christmas morning. The excitement of that child is very quickly going to turn to disappointment, when they realise you’ve forgotten to buy the batteries that are required to make it work. A sales assistant, reminding you of the batteries at the time of purchase, is not just helpful but necessary to ensure you don’t go home without them.
This is also the case with complimenting items. For example, you purchase brand new large screen television and you can’t wait to get it all set up and watch your favourite action movie. The experience would be much improved, if the salesperson also recommended a sound bar or home theatre to ensure you get the complete experience and not be disappointed with the very basic sound that comes out of many of the televisions these days due to their slim design.
There are countless examples where a sales assistant would be doing you a disservice by not suggesting an additional related product; a hair straightener without a heat protector, a laptop without software, a barbeque without a gas bottle, a camera without a memory card or an expensive pair of suede shoes without the water and stain protecting spray.
Customers aren’t always aware of what else they may need or what is available to enhance their purchase therefore, it’s up to the person assisting them to bring it to their attention. Certainly when irrelevant items are recommended for no valid reason, this becomes a blatant attempt at adding on but good customer service is about offering customers the complete package or entire solution to ensure complete satisfaction. It is then up to the customer to say yes or no.
With the increased foot traffic of Christmas trade a distant memory, retailers are now in the process of reviewing store labour hours to achieve correct staffing levels for current traffic patterns. They are also looking at ways to maintain or increase profits by reducing costs.
With wages being one of the main costs of running a retail store, it’s regularly an area that undergoes intense scrutiny. Rosters are analysed, looking for any opportunity to save a dollar.
While there may be necessary changes with the fluctuating trends of retail, making unrealistic cuts to store labour hours can be detrimental to the businesses customer service offering.
A business must be mindful when adjusting or reducing hours, asking whether the number of staff on the shop floor, will be sufficient to not only serve the number of customers who enter the store but be able to serve them well.
Various factors including the nature of the products and services sold, will determine the ideal amount of time a staff member must spend with a customer to ensure complete satisfaction. When hours are reduced, the time available for each customer may also be reduced, forcing staff to rush or shorten their interactions. This may result in a customer deciding not to purchase at all or, the value of the transaction being reduced, due to customers not benefiting from a complete service experience.
Even worse, reduced hours may see customers go completely ignored, with insufficient staff on the shop floor to ensure every customer is acknowledged. This has a detrimental effect on the business, doing damage to its overall service reputation.
Often a business will have customer service standards in place, with certain expectations of staff in regards to how they interact with customers. Staffing levels should be realistic to be able to maintain these standards as well as meet the expectations of customers.
Keeping in mind, staff also have operational tasks to complete such as getting stock on the shelves. Reducing hours may put even more pressure on staff to focus on completing these tasks therefore ignoring customer service as a result.
Although reviewing labour hours regularly is necessary, it is imperative the ability of the staff to provide the level of service expected, is considered when making adjustments. Cutting costs of wages to ensure profit is a constant temptation but at what cost does this have on the level of service provided to customers and the service reputation of the business?
Acknowledging customers when they visit a store or a showroom, is an essential part of creating a positive first impression. Getting the timing of this acknowledgement right however, can be tricky to ensure the customer doesn’t feel they’re being ignored or alternatively, being pounced on.
This can be understood by highlighting the difference between actual wait time and perceived wait time. Actual wait time, is the time in which the customer has actually been in the store before being acknowledged. The perceived wait time on the other hand, is how long the customer feels they’ve been waiting.
It’s amazing how time distorts. Anything over a one and a half minute wait, feels a lot longer to a customer. It’s worth being mindful, the customers experience is based on their perceived wait time not the actual wait time.
Added to the challenge is the fluctuation of customer traffic. One moment things can be busy with customers everywhere, then the next, there’s not a customer in sight.
When you’re in the middle of a busy period, it’s easy to be completely focused on the customer in front of you and forget to acknowledge those who are waiting. Research shows, when a customer is acknowledged, they are more likely to wait and wait longer for assistance rather than walk out feeling ignored and annoyed.
Good queue management is also important. Many customers get frustrated waiting in a line. Some people even give up, leave the goods they were wanting to purchase and walk out. Being polite and thanking people in the queue for waiting, can go a long way in minimising frustration and encourage them to wait a little longer.
Times when there are fewer customers around, can be very intimidating for the lone customer who enters. They feel like they stand out and are being watched by the staff who are ready to pounce. These customers need to be acknowledged of course but not immediately approached as this can be too much too soon.
The key is for staff to look busy by undertaking cleaning tasks, rearranging stock or anything which makes them appear less threatening to customers. Simply looking up from the task, saying “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” then leaving the customer for a short time, can allow them to settle before approaching them.
Regardless of how busy a business is, a customer’s presence should always be acknowledged to make them feel welcome and appreciated. Because of its importance, it is vital staff are trained on when and how to do this appropriately, as well as making it a standard or policy that is followed by all consistently.
Being a top performing salesperson comes with its rewards such as higher commissions, accolades and praise from the executive team. Sometimes top performers are even rewarded with a promotion to a management role. While promoting someone who excels in sales to a leadership position seems like a logical idea, it isn’t necessarily one that results in success.
On side note, by promoting the top salesperson, you have most likely removed the person with the highest turnover from the sales floor, leaving a big gap that needs to be filled by the other salespeople combined or by a new comer. Those people may not have the same skill level, experience or ability therefore, you have just seen an instant drop in sales.
The skills that make a good salesperson, are not those that make a great leader. A salesperson is mainly responsible for motivating themselves and achieving their own goals. A leader on the other hand, has the responsibility for keeping a team inspired, motivated and focused to achieve a team or company goal. They must always have the best interests of the team and the company in mind and not just themselves.
Being able to communicate a clear vision to a team and getting everyone on board is also an important part of being a great leader. To obtain buy in, a leader must establish trust and credibility in the eyes of their team. While the team may respect them as a capable and successful salesperson, earning trust as a leader requires a completely different set of qualities.
Great leaders have qualities such as being innovative, forward thinking, honest and transparent to name a few. Having self-awareness to identify their own strengths, as well as any qualities or skills they may be missing, can help them become an even greater leader through continuous learning and development.
As well as developing themselves, leaders are also responsible for developing the people they lead. This requires the ability to train, coach and support people, demonstrating empathy and patience. Being able to identify unique qualities in others and developing them to reach their potential, can add enormous value to the individual as well as to the team.
While there are often big expectations of someone who has achieved great things as a salesperson, expecting them to automatically continue that success in a leadership role, the outcome may disappoint. The appointment of a leader should be made with consideration as to their suitability in the areas of leadership and where gaps are identified, training and support provided.
In sales today, there is a great deal of focus on price, both from the customer and the salesperson. Often when you visit a store or a showroom, the first words out of a salespersons mouth is “I can do you a deal today” or “I can give you a good price”. They offer a discount before finding anything about the customer and what’s motivating them to purchase. Contrary to the belief of many salespeople, price is not always the biggest factor considered by a customer when making a purchase.
Price is almost impossible for businesses to compete with these days, with the amount of heavy discounting that occurs. Alternatively, salespeople’s focus should be on what they do have control over, which is the value they build in the product and the experience they offer the customer, to help differentiate themselves from their competition.
What is the difference between price and value? Price is the amount of money to be paid to purchase something or the amount the customer is asked to pay. Value on the other hand, is what it is worth to the customer. It’s their desirability or, how much they want it.
A buying decision is generally made when the customers’ perceived value is higher than the price. If a customer does not see enough value in the product, they may deem it’s too expensive and raise a price concern. Therefore it is vital the salesperson builds personal value for the customer.
Value is a very personal matter. What is of value or importance to one person is not necessarily the same for someone else. A salesperson must discover what that particular customer values, by asking good research questions and listening for clues as to how they want to benefit from the purchase. Rather than focusing on the features of a product, the salesperson must focus on how the customer will personally benefit from those features. For example; how will their life be improved by the purchase?
Price becomes less of a factor when the salesperson has created a personal need and desire in the customer based on this uncovered information.
If a customer is presented with a ridiculous price, the salesperson might close the transaction today but the ultimate goal is to create customer loyalty. Selling on price generally won’t win a customer’s loyalty, but showing customers why a product is of value to them personally and providing an amazing customer experience is much more likely to.
Dealing with customer complaints is a part of sales and customer service. Complaints can occur for many reasons; a faulty product, expectations not met, poor service, lengthy wait time, a mistake and the list goes on.
Regardless of the issue, a complaint must be handled with sensitivity and professionalism. How the situation is handled, may very well determine the overall outcome and whether the customer will choose to do business with that company again.
Body language, facial expression and tone of voice of the person assisting the customer with their complaint, all have an impact on how the customer perceives the situation as well as the outcome. For example, the person should aim to keep their voice low key and slower paced. This tone is calming and makes it difficult for the customer to get wound up or angry. On the other hand, if the person speeds up and raises their voice, the customer is much more likely to match the tone.
It is also important to have a system or process for staff to follow when handling customer complaints, as this can see them resolved quickly and effectively. For example;
Step 1: Listen and don’t interrupt.
It can be tempting to jump in to reply or dispute what a customer is saying however, resist the urge and don’t interrupt. Give the customer full attention and let them finish before responding.
Step 2: Thank the customer and apologise.
Once the customer has finished explaining the problem, thank them for bringing it to the attention of the company and sincerely apologise. Many customers don’t take the time to make a complaint. They dwell on their frustration, tell other people about the bad experience and never do business with that company again. A company would much rather know of a problem and have the opportunity to rectify it and prevent it from happening in the future.
Step 3: Show empathy.
A customer needs to feel that the person assisting them is on their side and that they genuinely care. Show empathy by understanding the situation from the customers’ perspective.
Step 4: Offer a prompt solution.
No one wanting to take responsibility to find a solution and passing the customer from one person to another, will only frustrate the customer more. One person should be responsible for handling the complaint and follow it through to the end, finding a solution promptly.
Through having a clear process for staff to follow and providing them with training in how to deal with these sometimes difficult situations, it is possible to manage complaints effectively. It may even see an unhappy customer become a satisfied loyal customer, simply by the manner in which their complaint was received and handled.
For professional services such as accounting and law firms to be successful and grow, they continually need to source and obtain new clients. Few such businesses employ a sales professional specifically to do this. In most instances, opportunities come in the form of leads or referrals, in which the accountants and lawyers themselves must convert into business, requiring them to sell themselves, the business and its services.
These professionals often don’t like to think of themselves having a ‘sales’ aspect to their role. When they hear the word ‘sales’, they immediately picture the stereotypical pushy used car salesperson. Therefore, sales in professional services is more commonly referred to as ‘business development’ rather than selling.
The first step can be a shift in mindset, understanding that sales shouldn’t be about pushing products or services onto people they don’t want or need, rather it is uncovering a person’s wants, needs and ideas, then matching a valuable service or solution to suit.
Although sales is in fact a large part of their success, it isn’t common for accountants and lawyers to receive any training or formal instruction in this area. They undergo years of study in their qualification but receive little in the way of skills required to maximise opportunities in converting leads or referrals into new clients.
Professional services generally have a brilliant understanding of their industry, and are a wealth of technical information. Impressing potential clients with this knowledge however, isn’t enough for a client to see value in doing business. A big part of winning new clients is building relationships and establishing trust, through asking effective questions and actively listening to show understanding. Ultimately, a client needs to feel the professional is working with them to achieve the same goal.
As well as obtaining new clients, maintaining and nurturing relationships with existing clients is also an important aspect of business development. Adding value to clients through educating them of the other services offered, is a way of maximising the relationship for the business, as well as offering the client a full and complete service. The goal is creating loyalty where clients become a source of further referrals and leads.
No matter what you refer to it as; sales, business development or converting clients, professional services regularly wear a ‘sales hat’. Learning to wear that ‘hat’ well, can be a determining factor in the growth of their client base.
Working in a sales or customer service position, we come across all types of people. Sometimes we encounter customers who we instantly click with, making the interaction smooth and enjoyable. Other customers, we seem to clash with or are completely frustrated by them, making the interaction more challenging.
Much like people in the other areas of our lives such as family, friends and colleagues, the customers we interact with all have different experiences, characters and styles of behaviour. No two customers are the same however, there are generally four different types of customers we encounter on a day to day basis. Understanding these general customer types, can help us recognise them and adapt to their style of communicating and making decisions, to help make our encounters more successful for us and for them.
For example, there is the fast paced type of customer who tends to be very focused and doesn’t like to wait around to be served. They can be assertive and often seem demanding in their expectations of you and your service. The good news is, these customers make decisions very quickly and often know exactly what they want.
Then we see the customer at other end of the scale, who can be indecisive and take a long time to make a decision. They don’t like to be rushed and need a lot of reassurance. They also need to know you are sincere about helping them and if they feel you genuinely care, they will often become a loyal customer for life.
We are all familiar with the customer who loves to talk. They treat everyone like their new best friend and are more than happy to stop for a chat. They are optimistic and have great energy therefore, it can be fun interacting with them however you will bore them if you provide too many details, as they prefer to keep things light and upbeat.
On the other hand there is the customer who loves to know all the facts. In fact, they have often done a great deal of research prior and like to see that you know what you’re talking about. They sometimes ask a lot of questions but prefer to keep things professional and on task.
Because we don’t know what type of customer we are going to encounter next, it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. Rather than having, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, interacting with customers in a way that works for them, is going to provide the customer with a positive experience, as well as provide a better outcome for you and the business.
It is common to hear a top performing salesperson say “I’m the top salesperson, I don’t need sales training”. They blitz targets, rank as the number one salesperson in the company month after month and make themselves a bucket load of commission. You can’t blame them for thinking they don’t need to know anything else.
The top salespeople, might be number one in terms of sales turnover but are they building relationships with customers and creating advocates for the business? They may close a large number of transactions and put dollars in the till today but may do very little to create a positive lasting perception of the business.
In some companies, attending sales training is seen as a chore as just another boring training session salespeople are required to attend. Or, it’s seen as punishment for poor performing salespeople, only to subconsciously send them the message to ‘lift your game or else’. No wonder training gets a bad reputation.
There are benefits to having the entire team attend sales training, new or old, top or low performing. First, it ensures everyone is aware of what the company’s expectations are in relation to sales and customer service, leading to improved consistency in the experiences provided.
Sales training isn’t necessarily about overhauling a salespersons interaction with customers. For some salespeople, it may act as a refresher or a refocus. Perhaps they’ve been in the business for many years and just need a little inspiration. For others, it might be picking up one or two tips to help them improve certain areas they struggle in. For those newer to a sales role, sales training can give them a place to start, knowing what the expectations are and providing them with much needed confidence.
It’s also a way of remaining relevant. The sales and service industries are fast moving environments. Things are constantly changing; customer’s expectations, trends, products, the economy and so on. If one day has gone by, the whole game has changed. Therefore, if salespeople keep doing what they did five years ago or even six months ago, it may have been relevant then but it may not be as effective today.
For businesses who find themselves dragging their salespeople to sales training kicking and screaming, it’s time to shift the perception. Rather than communicating attendance at training as a task, promote it as an opportunity. Endorse it as a means of ensuring everyone is on the same page, refreshing and upskilling, leading to business and personal growth.
It’s amazing how often we place an order in a restaurant, a drink from a bar or a snack from a café and the person serving gets it wrong. We end up with something completely different from what we ordered or a variation of, only for us to complain and ask for a replacement which ultimately, costs the business money.
This isn’t limited to the food and beverage industry, it’s rampant with service providers everywhere. Although we are being asked “Can I help you?” our response isn’t completely absorbed with errors and misinterpretations common place. It’s mind boggling how often a person assisting or serving, doesn’t listen and gets it wrong.
Staff’s listening skills are a continual frustration of customers. One reason why this occurs, is our tendency of hearing, a physical process of perceiving sound, without listening which is a mental process of processing meaning. A classic example of this, is being asked at a checkout “Would you like a bag?”, even if we respond “no”, the person proceeds to provide us with a bag anyway. Although this can be partially linked to habit, the frequency in which this occurs, demonstrates a worrying trend. Our active listening skills, need some work.
Wikipedia states, active listening “requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said”. Increasing awareness and providing staff with training in active listening is one way in which businesses can improve this vital element of providing quality service. Taking this one step further is upskilling in reflective listening, where a person repeats the order or request back to the customer, to confirm their understanding. By repeating or paraphrasing, the person is more likely to remember what the customer has said and as a result, get the order or request right the first time.
Reflective listening also shows an intent to listen and understand. Too often, it seems there is a lack of desire to truly understand customers’ wants and needs. Assumptions are made, hoping it will be enough, to satisfy and allow them to move onto the next customer.
All of us as human beings have a basic desire to be heard and understood. Therefore, having a genuine intent to listen to customers and fulfill their request with accuracy, is a basic in customer service. Although we can train staff to improve these skills, largely listening is a choice. A person makes a conscious choice to hear, to listen, to understand and then to serve.
In the past week, I’ve read two separate articles regarding two very different national retail businesses in all sorts of trouble. One is having a massive closing down sale after going into voluntary administration and the other making record losses.
Both articles discussed various contributing factors to their downturn such as; the impact of online shopping, increasing running costs and international competition. When I saw the names of each of these troubled businesses, I realised there was another common theme, I’d had poor customer service experiences in both of them.
One of these businesses in particular, over the last decade I had seen a decline in service provided to customers in many of their stores throughout the country. A lack of staff on the shop floor, policies that weren’t customer friendly and service that was now almost non-existent.
The other store I’d been into on several occasions, each of which I recalled the staff busy chatting amongst themselves, ignoring customers and making it an unwelcoming place to visit. I’d therefore never actually purchased from the store, choosing to shop elsewhere.
That’s exactly what shoppers will do if you don’t give them a reason to shop with you. They will chose to go to a competitor or even shop online.
Online shopping is a growing challenge facing bricks and mortar stores. One of the major differentiators retailers have over online shopping, is the shopping experience they provide their customers with. Therefore, it’s vital this experience is a positive one otherwise, they may do nothing other than drive the customer to shop online.
The service experience is also a huge factor that sets stores apart. With similar products available at similar prices in numerous different stores, a business must give customers a valid reason to shop with them, rather than choosing the competition. Unfortunately however, too often customers are provided with reasons not to shop in a particular store.
When I read about profit loss, impending staff cuts and store closures, of course I feel sad at their demise however, I think back to 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.
A retail store relies on customers, they are what keep the doors open. The focus and priority therefore, must be customers and providing them with quality experiences. If they don’t, they too might be displaying ‘Closing Down’ signs and become another empty shop in the shopping centre.
There is a lot of talk in sales about the importance of following up with customers, yet so few salespeople actually take the time to do it. This is despite the significant amount of time salespeople can spend with customers, uncovering wants and needs, providing detailed information and building rapport. Therefore, they have the perfect opportunity to make a polite phone call a few days after the interaction.
There are two types of follow up calls a salesperson might make. One where a customer has made a purchase or buying decision. The other is when a customer has not made a buying decision and perhaps wants to think it over.
When a customer has purchased, the salesperson’s call should be made a short time after the customer has received or used the goods or service. The intention of this call, is to enquire how they are enjoying their new product or service.
One of the main reasons salespeople don’t make this call is because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear from their customers. They fear they’ll be faced with a complaint or the customer might tell them they are unhappy with their purchase.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time when customers are unhappy with a product or service, they don’t let the salesperson or business know. However, they complain to everyone else about their dissatisfaction and simply never return. Uncovering and effectively handling issues and complaints provides the opportunity to build customer loyalty.
On the other hand, if the customer is loving their purchase, the salesperson calling and asking for their feedback, can make them feel valued.
On those occasions when a customer hasn’t purchased, salespeople tend to shy away from making follow up calls because they don’t want to appear pushy. A follow up call in these cases, should not be about pressuring a customer to purchase. Rather, it’s a polite call, to enquire if the customer has any further questions and letting them know they are there to help, if needed.
The customer may not have purchased on this particular occasion but “today’s lookers are tomorrow’s buyers”. A follow up call may be all it takes for them to be inspired to contact that salesperson when they are ready to purchase or, the next time they are in the market.
Salespeople do themselves and their customers a great disservice if they don’t follow up and build upon the relationship and experience they have spent time establishing. Follow up should always be part of service, not only to maximise opportunities for the business but to complete the experience for the customer.
We are in an age where our social skills are under threat. The extent and ways in which we interact and communicate with people, is completely different to twenty years ago, or even five years ago for that matter. The need for face to face interaction is on the decline, largely due to technology. We are less and less required to interact with people as part of our day to day lives.
For example, it is no longer necessary to physically enter a bank to transfer or withdraw money, transactions can be completed by the click of a button. We can shop from the comfort of our own home, even our weekly grocery shop can be done online and delivered to our door. Even on those occasions when we do visit a supermarket, we can chose to skip the human interaction and self-serve. We send a text message instead of making a phone call, write an email instead of having a conversation and post our holiday snaps on facebook instead of verbally sharing our stories with friends.
This reduced need to communicate begins at a young age. Children are spending less time playing with other children and more time looking at a screen. Often they are more equipped to navigate the internet and interact through a computer, than person to person.
With the decreasing need for us to communicate with others on a face to face basis, the social skills we use to do so, aren’t being practiced and as a result decline or, never fully develop to begin with.
We are seeing the effects of this in the workplace, particularly in sales and customer service, an industry where social skills are vital. Staff struggle with the very basics of communication. Making eye contact is a challenge, let alone having a genuine conversation with a customer or other staff.
Unfortunately workplace training, rarely covers such basics, preferring to focus on work related processes and procedures. There is dire need however, to provide people with skills in areas such as body language, tone of voice and eye contact.
We can no longer assume every person we hire, has the level of skill required to interact with others sufficiently. It must be included in our inductions and training for all employees before we let them loose within the workplace, let alone on your customers. As the world evolves, so must our staff training.
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.