I promised in my last post titled, “In the Beginning…,” that my next post would be about what needs to happen before your first customer walks in the door. You must hire the right people. I also spoke to the idea that the customer experience starts the minute a customer enters your business, and perhaps even a few seconds before.

Employees will not greet customers if the expectation that they do so has not been clearly articulated to them and they have been trained to do so. Often they will not even then – if they are working unsupervised. So when I write “It Starts at the Beginning…” I am not just talking about when a customer first steps foot into a store, I am also talking about ensuring the people who you hire to work in your store are the kind of people who will look up and offer a genuine, friendly smile and greeting regardless of whether their supervisor is in the vicinity.

But really, before you even start considering staffing your business or filling an opening in an existing business, you have to very seriously think through the kind of experience you want your customers to have when they walk into your store. This will of course inform what qualities and/or personality traits you are looking for in the people you hire to drive your business. Working with a client a few years ago, I helped them think through, then put into words and finally put together a power-point presentation for top leadership and ultimately to use as a training tool, articulating in fairly specific terms what kind of experience they wanted their customers to have when they walked into their shop. The experience you want your customers to have may vary greatly depending on any number of factors, from what you are selling, your location and your expectation and vision for how you want to grow your business. Although the client I mentioned above would be considered a luxury brand, most with whom I have worked in the past have been upscale, but not luxury. Regardless of what you are selling some vary common themes come through again and again.

I was directed by a friend to the website of Martin Shanker, www.shankerinc.com. Martin is a veteran of helping best in class retail brands grow their business through developing their people. He offers some great info on making the interaction between customers and your sales people as productive as possible, presented in a very knowledgeable, nuanced and sophisticated way. The key words I took away from the white paper available for download on the site were “genuine” “authentic” and the term “authentic communication.” I think this gives us a great place to start in building a vision for what we want our customer experience to look, sound and feel like – no matter what you are selling.

Questions to ask yourself:

Do I want immediate and attentive assistance the minute a customer walks through the door – or just a sincere greeting and allowing the customer to acclimate and browse? What does that look like?

If “genuine” and “authentic” are critical elements in the interaction between employee and customer, what does that sound like? I think you have to start with something as simple and basic as setting a standard that every customer must be greeted within a certain amount of time with a genuine greeting, eye contact and an authentic smile. First impressions do count.

What are your expectation for your employees “building the basket” or suggesting additional items that would complement what the customer has already picked out? Is clienteling a part of your expectation? That definitely requires a genuine rapport and a level of trust for the sales person to ask the customer if they would like to be added to their customer database, and for the customer to give out their private information.

Building a friendly, genuine rapport with customers is really the key. It’s not that customers are looking for any excuse to be turned off or put off by sales help, but most customers are in a hurry – they have also been conditioned to expect indifferent customer service as the norm, and consequently are extremely sensitive to any semblance of a sales person “just going through the motions” and not demonstrating a genuine interest in them and what their needs are.

Whatever you decide are your expectations for the experience you want your customers to have when they enter your business must be clearly articulated and then taught to your employees – and then of course managed. In the end, whatever your expectations, keep them as simple and basic as possible. When I was doing research on “mystery shopping” a tactic some retailers use to evaluate how well they are doing delivering “good” customer service, I found established retailers with 8 to 9 pages of instructions for the mystery shopper for what to look for and/or listen for when actually doing a shop. No kidding. By making our expectations too complicated and not just focusing on the basics – at least in the beginning – we are putting a stumbling block squarely in front of our sales people who we expect to establish a genuine, friendly and comfortable rapport with our customers.

So it seems that hiring the right people for your business is fairly complicated and starts with first doing some homework on what your expectations are for the kind of experience you want for your customers when they enter your business and then deciding what qualities you need to look for when interviewing candidates that will (hopefully) get you to your expectation. Hiring is complicated, but so, so many retailers give it so little attention. We will continue to explore this topic in upcoming posts.

Roman Schreiner

September 2017

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