With the unfortunate continuation of many traditional retailers shuttering stores and declaring bankruptcy, combined with the evolution of digital pure-plays expanding their channels into the physical space, there are many perspectives about why these two seemingly opposing trends are occurring. Consultants and the media talk about pricing strategies, assortment planning, new store layouts and designs, channel dynamics, customer behaviors, real estate alternatives, and more as some of the challenges – and opportunities – that today’s retailers are facing. However, one key element that is often overlooked is ensuring store associates are properly trained to handle this continuously evolving retail world.
I recently read that 63% of shoppers aged 18-35 see store associates as extremely important to their retail experience (click here for the full article published by Chain Store Age on September 11, 2017). Further, about half of Baby Boomers view store associates as extremely important – possibly a lower figure due to prior negative experiences or perceived associate apathy that unfortunately still permeates many store environments.
Your store associates can make or break the experience shoppers have with your brand. There are plenty of studies that show that consumers who transition between channels end up spending more with a retailer. Here are some additional compelling statistics that speak to why the in-store experience and a solid focus on ensuring your associates resonate your value proposition is so critical:
- 94% of all retail sales still take place in stores
- 2/3 of shoppers research online, then purchase in-store
- 72% of young customers research online before purchasing in-store
- 30% of customers prefer to see or feel an item and ask for instant advice
These are only a handful; more stats can be found at: https://www.retailtouchpoints.com/resources/type/infographics/retail-vs-e-commerce-trends-a-match-made-in-heaven).
In this week’s post, we provide excerpts from a Parker Avery point of view entitled, “The Experience Manager, Laying the Foundation for Exceptional Customer Service,” which focuses on why store associate training is such a critical factor for retail in-store success.
The Socialization of Customer Experiences
When customers have experiences that do not meet their expectations, there is a high degree of probability that they will not return and they will not purchase products from your store. Even worse, they are likely to not tell you about the bad experience, but others instead. Mobile technology easily allows customers to post and share their experiences with your brand instantly via text messaging, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) and online review sites (Yelp, Google Places, CitySearch, etc.), potentially going viral to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.
According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research in April 2013, 95% of respondents who have had a bad experience said they told someone about it. This is in contrast to 87% who shared good experiences. In fact, bad experiences were more likely to be shared across each social circle identified in the survey:
- Friends or family were most commonly told (81% in person)
- Coworkers were next most likely to be told (57% in person)
- Respondents were 50% more likely to share a bad experience on social media and 52% more likely to share it on an online review site
- 86% of respondents who have read negative reviews claimed that the information impacted their buying decision
It is critical to understand that the amount of focus, resources and investment in training has a direct impact on customer experiences. When combined with a solid career development program, training also helps your employees improve trust, loyalty and job satisfaction, which greatly impacts turnover rates, recruiting efforts and staff management costs.
Proper training can have a dramatic and positive impact on how sales associates approach and interact with customers (as opposed to leaving it up to an employee’s own judgment or “best guess”). As an example, training that incorporates a clear understanding of pricing policies and how to handle customer inquiries regarding pricing is critical as retailers increasingly implement differential pricing strategies. In such a scenario, the sales associates should (1) be knowledgeable about possible differences in online vs. in-store pricing, (2) be able to politely and plainly explain such discrepancies to the customer, (3) understand how to mitigate possible customer negative reactions, and (4) fully empowered to quickly make adjustments if appropriate. Training for these types of situations can dramatically reduce customer confusion and abandonment – and may even improve customer loyalty.
Training as a Customer Experience Enabler
Exceptional employee training is the key to improving your customers’ experience across all touchpoints. A solid training program must be much more than task-oriented and has to include an understanding of the fundamental role each employee plays in achieving the company’s vision, mission and customer experience value proposition.
Additionally, a clear understanding of downstream impacts of proper process execution and handling of all types of customer interactions is absolutely critical. As a very basic example, if a sales associate does not properly scan a product when processing a customer sales transaction, the downstream impacts are inventory inaccuracies and replenishment issues. These types of actions not only create merchandise management issues, but can also negatively impact customer service and satisfaction by creating out-of-stocks or inability to locate products that are supposed to be on-hand “in the system.”
Proper training allows you to improve the performance of your employees by enabling them to see the “bigger picture” of your retail operation and how every action they take in the store can have a direct impact on success of your company. Ensuring your staff training is comprehensive in content and solid in delivery, feedback and follow up also puts you in a better position to meet your business goals. In today’s world of instant social-media sharing, choosing the appropriate combination of methods to train your employees is more important than ever. [There are] several different training methods, which should all be evaluated as possible approaches to meet your training goals. Typically a blend of these training methods is used, but the best combination of training will be dependent upon your unique retail environment and customer service value proposition.
Simply put, your employees are a critical component of your brand; they represent your company at every touchpoint – most prominently in the physical store – and can be the difference between a positive customer experience and a negative one. Employees are the key to creating exceptional customer experiences, and skilled employees who are well trained are imperative to your brand’s success. It is your employees’ responsibility to ensure customers have their ideal shopping experience, but it is your responsibility to provide the exceptional training and tools in order to best prepare them. Your employees are The Experience Manager – they own your customer’s experience.
To read the full point of view, please visit: http://www.parkeravery.com/pov_Experience_Manager.html