In retail, it all comes down to people. Despite all of the changes that took place in the past decade – the growth of ecommerce, an expansive retail marketplace, wide adoption of new technologies, the rise of mobile shopping and increased sourcing transparency – customers still want a personal connection when they make a purchase. Beneath all of the products and technology, there is still room for companies to differentiate themselves by offering great customer service. In fact, excellent customer service matters now more than ever – although the role of the retail employee who provides that service is constantly changing.
Let’s take a look at how retailers can train their store associates and customer service representatives to respond to customers with excellent service, regardless of which platform they use to interact or of how customer expectations develop over time.
Staffing Stores with Brand Advocates
Let’s cut to the chase here…your store success depends greatly on hiring the right people. Retailers are coming to realize that spending a bit more time interviewing and vetting candidates to find the right person can save them onboarding costs down the line that would otherwise be wasted on bringing a dud hire up to speed. In fact, Harvard Business Reviewcautions business-owners to stop hiring “the person they would want to have a beer with” and instead look for the right match for their organization’s needs. In retail, this means finding a candidate with a different (but relevant) skill set and batch of ideas than everyone on the existing team.
While some think that implementing retail technologies in their stores means that their customers will have to settle for a less human shopping experience, the truth is that automating repetitive daily tasks can free up employees to focus on customers. Instead of technology replacing people, it can be a means to liberate hourly employees from performing mundane tasks – thereby making their jobs more human and boosting an organization’s aptitude for customer service.
The Evolving Role of Front-Facing Employees
The definition of a “front-facing” employee has changed. Instead of only being used to refer to store associates who interact with customers in-person, the term “front-facing” or “client facing” can now be used to refer to any employee who has regular one-on-one interaction with customers, including over the phone and online. This means that in today’s retail world a business’s customer service personnel, social media manager(s), floor staff and members of the management team all need to have people skills and tactics to effectively communicate with customers on their specific medium.
Retailers should consider each employee’s unique skill set when assigning front-facing employee tasks. While one employee may excel at written communication, for instance, another may be best at hands-on demonstrations and clienteling. Savvy business owners realize this, and in response delegate opportunities based on how each employee can put their skill set to work for the betterment of the company’s overall customer service.
Creating a System of Checks and Balances
Without regularly checking in with their staff and their customers, a retailer cannot be sure that their employees are representing their brand to the best of their ability. In fact, neglecting to check in and monitor staff performance tells front-facing employees that their job is not important; it may lead to sub-par customer service and disenchanted employees. Successful retailers hold regular store meetings and performance reviews, as well as inviting customers to follow-up about their in-store or online shopping experience on each receipt. In addition, retailers can monitor online customer service by regularly checking their social media accounts and inviting customers to rate their level of satisfaction with the responses and resolutions provided online.
Technology has not eliminated the need for excellent customer service. If anything, it has amplified it! Customer service needs to be top-notch for human interaction to be preferable to that offered by chatbots or automated phone services. By hiring brand advocates, understanding how the job description for front-facing employees is evolving and checking in regularly, retailers can strengthen their customer service to stand out from the herd.
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By Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, RetailMinded.com