Every retailer knows holiday sales can make or break your entire year. But for many, a selling strategy focuses simply on having the right products on the shelves. In today’s retail environment that just isn’t enough to draw a consumer into a store when online shopping can be so much easier. Winning retailers instead focus on elevating the interaction consumers have with every retail employee. Select individuals who naturally engage consumers with great questions, gift-giving ideas and small touches will make the entire experience memorable. Try to go beyond selling your products by asking customers; “Who else are you shopping for today?” Then offer a suggestion where they might find that gift. For many retailers it’s a chance to have a new customer in the store and having the right employee who makes that customer feel significant and appreciated is key to making them a loyal customer.
But is this just a good idea in the retail industry at the holidays? Actually it’s an opportunity for every industry to consider how they are taking care of their customers. The holidays brings a frazzled customer into a bank or credit union and a guest seeking a break in the action for hospitality providers. Anyone who goes above and beyond during the holidays has an opportunity to create a loyal guest, customer or member during the holiday season.
Beth Zurn, a retail business consultant with Talent Plus, furthers this conversation that employers can expect a shortage of seasonal help this year; due to record low unemployment. “Your best employee source is to recruit individuals who work full-time and want some extra money for their holiday shopping.” Or, consider someone who is a super customer or shopper in your business, perhaps someone who is even unofficially selling your business to others. In fact, for The Container Store, that’s a long-standing suggestion says Chairman and Co-Founder Kip Tindell, “How do you find a great employee? We spend a lot of time thinking about that question, because as important as motivating and retaining talent is, the ability to identify and develop talent really is where it all starts. The first place we look is among our own customers.”
“The recipe for an exceptional in-store experience to keep consumers coming back for more begins with great people and combine that with a clearly defined brand experience that becomes the retailer’s hallmark. Neither happens by accident, but the most import ingredient is people. Employers who carefully select individuals who describe great service experiences combining personalization, empathy and expertise are more likely to get fulfillment from a career in retail,” concludes Zurn.
Garth Lienemann, a new business consultant, also with Talent Plus, Inc. and works with a number of small businesses in very tight labor markets and offers these tips: “A lot of individuals in small businesses say they just need a warm body. However, the smaller the culture, the more important it is to hold out for talent. Each hire you make is critical and just hiring to fill a spot can, many times, do more harm than good. Especially during the holidays when service aptitude wins the day.”
Continues Lienemann, “We know not all job candidates are created equal. Every individual has ‘aces and spaces,’ to varying degrees, and it is highly recommended that an employer use not only an application and resume in their hiring process, but also include a pre-hire assessment to determine whether or not a candidate should even be brought in for an in person interview. Business owners are busy and should only be spending time with the candidates who have the natural talent to do the job. Then an in person interview can be used to 1) target those areas of the application and resume you’d like additional information about and 2) consider all aspects of fit: will the person fit with their manager/supervisor? Will the person fit within the team? Will the person fit the organization’s culture (stated or aspired to)? The best interview questions, we have found, are those without a right or wrong answer; ones that will get the candidate talking candidly about specific times or instances in which something they did resulted in success. Questions like, ‘What type of supervisor do you work best with?’ and ‘What excites you about being a part of our organization?’”
Jason Chambers, a financial business consultant thinks about the process you need to put into place on the candidate side, knowing that engaged employees create amazing customer engagement. “Though the application process, equip candidates with positive feedback and an opportunity for them to learn about themselves. We deliver candidates a Talent Card after taking an assessment which captures people’s strongest talents for the role to which they are applying and provides them with a pathway to help them understand their potential and how to leverage their strengths for their own growth. A recruiting process that offers this kind of service to all candidates will especially be encouraging to your candidates that are also a customer/member. Treat your candidates like consumers. Having a culture that provides a warm welcome and fond farewell, often used in the hospitality industry, provides candidates with a positive brand awareness and overall opinion of the company.”
Though brick and mortar stores are changing, the best of the best are surviving and even thriving. Customers – more than ever – want an experience that is unforgettable. Customers remember how they feel when they leave a place of business that puts them first – they feel important and elated. In a digitized world, customers crave human interactions that are meaningful and significant. Only the most talented team members can provide that unique experience. A customer greeted with an authentic smile and a sincere, warm welcome; being made to feel they are the most important customer in the world, a place where they forget about the chaos of the holidays will win the battle for a loyal customer. For the holidays, and frankly all year long, hire for a smile and a friendly, warm, positive attitude, and then train on the skills needed to accomplish a role – whether it’s folding clothes, checking in a guest or completing a customer transaction on a teller machine. A winning service experience, especially during the holidays sets the pace for the year to come and then you won’t need 2020 vision to take those learnings into your future.