While the critics of brick-and-mortar stores seem to grow ever louder, the reality is that we’re undergoing a renaissance of the experience-focused shopper.
Traditional retailers are revamping their in-store experiences at a surprising rate and online-first brands — such as Warby Parker & Untuckit — are opening physical storefronts to meet changing customer preferences.
This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for retailers dealing with the first wave of multi-channel shoppers. Customers today expect a tailored experience where they’re fully immersed in your brand. Their expectation is that retailers can anticipate their needs, know their habits and provide them with personalized, on-brand experiences at every turn. As a result, the demand for highly trained frontline retail workers is on the rise.
Brands that win in this new retail landscape are ones that choose to invest in training that goes beyond knowing the basics of the products they’re selling — they’re coaching an experience. Here are five ways you can start shifting your training to shape the customer experience.
Focus On Your Internal Brand
Employee experience should come first. You’re not just training employees to sell things. You’re selling an image. Chances are your employees chose to work for you because something about your brand resonated with them. And, just like customers, your employees expect their in-store experience to match their interactions with the brand on your website or Instagram. Successful customer-facing retail employees are true ambassadors of your brand.
So what happens when you hand them a photocopied training packet, or HR information that doesn’t look or feel anything like the brand they’re representing? It creates a huge disconnect and is bad for your retail training efforts. And if your employee feels a brand disconnect, this will inevitably seep into customer interactions. Ensuring that the brand experience is as much of the training process as the in-store experience will create a cohesive end-to-end experience for your people and your customers.
Time and time again, we hear about the importance of helping your employees find meaning and purpose in their work. The closer they feel to the mission of your company, the more impactful their work is to them. Whether it’s selling tractors or t-shirts or retail training, it’s important to understand the “why” in the work that they do.
Helping everyone — from corporate employees to retail associates — connect to their community of workers is key for creating a culture that is sustainable and mission-driven. People at every level of an organization want to feel like they have something valuable to contribute.
Patagonia has built a reputation for corporate responsibility initiatives, but they do an exceptional job of translating their company’s mission into something that their employees can practice daily.
“Patagonia is so much more than a workplace. It’s a family, it’s friends, it’s community—and that comes from doing purpose-driven work that has meaning and, at the end of the day, makes a difference in this crazy world in which we live.” says one Patagonia employee.
Inspire Confidence Through Knowledge
Chances are your most effective retail employees are also the most knowledgeable. Not only does this help when explaining the ins and outs of your products, but arming your employees with the knowledge they need is the fastest way to build their confidence and comfort in talking with customers.
For retail workers today, however, knowledge building doesn’t necessarily end at product specs. Today’s shoppers develop intimate relationships with brands before even setting foot in a store. They follow brands on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Customers hear about new products in real time. They’re learning about you through influencers, bloggers, and ambassadors. They know more about your brand promise than ever before.
In order to ensure this carries over into customers’ in-store experience, it’s more important than ever to educate your employees on what’s being shared on social media, what campaigns or products are being pushed and what brand promises are being made through your retail training. This way, your front line workers are able to anticipate questions before they’re asked and formulate sales strategies based on what shoppers are experiencing online.
Autonomy & Latitude to Own the Customer Relationship
“Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”
It’s rumored that this is the only line in the Nordstrom Code of Conduct. While this isn’t exactly true, the sentiment is overwhelmingly applicable. Employees at Nordstrom are not only encouraged, but expected, to find creative solutions to challenges, to operate outside the lines, and act with the customer’s best interest in mind. Beyond creating an exceptional customer experience, it fosters a sense of ownership for employees. They have the authority to surprise and delight their customers without having to run it up the chain of command every single time.
If employees haven’t operated in this type of environment before, it can be challenging to get them to start thinking creatively about solutions. It’s likely they’ve been discouraged — probably even reprimanded — from improvising or going off-script in the past. This can be incorporated into your retail training program. But, in order for this to work, it’s critical to reinforce this way of thinking from a leadership position. Recognizing employees who have created exceptional experiences for customers is a great way to build morale and share creative ideas amongst your team. Impressed with the way an associate handled a tense situation with a customer? Share this during a shift meeting or through your internal communication channels.
Coach Listening, Not Just Communication
More and more retail companies – from Macy’s to Walmart – are investing in more progressive interpersonal and soft skills retail training for their employees. Spoiler alert: it’s not about creating the perfect sales script.
Active listening skills can be taught and practiced just like any other skill set. Coaching your employees to listen while avoiding preliminary judgements can go a long way in creating an amazing customer experience. Do they truly want information or are they looking for affirmation? Are they having a bad day or do they simply want to vent? Good listening skill can help uncover more subtle details like these and help shape their interactions.
This resurgence of the experience shopper is one of the biggest competitive advantages available to retailers today. It’s a matter of understanding that the brand experience is just as important for employees as it is for customers. Because when an employee understands the “why” of their work and the ways in which they can make valuable contributions they’re able to go above and beyond, to truly hear what customers are saying, and provide them with the exceptional experience that inspires brand loyalty.