Consumer • Digital • Growth

A smile can make all the difference

Store staffers should be more focussed on their customers
The decision by the Jet Airways management to sack thousands of customer-facing staffers justifies the perception that the Indian service industry is driven by sheer numbers rather than competence and aptitude to deliver quality service to customers. When service sectors face growth challenges, companies begin to focus on quality and go through a process of correcting numbers.

I believe global retailers have remained profitable only by maintaining the promised level of service standards to their consumers. More than 75% of employees of any corporate retailer are in consumer-facing duties. That surely makes retail a service business.

Following my last articles on consumer experience, this time I decided to visit some big food and grocery brands, and chat with the store staffers to find out why they are not focused on their consumers.

I discovered that customer service associates (CSAs) working on the floor are only instructed to move merchandise from the back office to the shelves, and to occasionally settle the shelves. The rest of the time they are free to go on a tea break.

I observed that though they operate in the consumer environment, they hesitate in making eye contact with shoppers. This trend, which tends to be even worse in the case of sub-contracted staff, is primarily due to a lack of confidence and motivation, and results in failure to deliver every time a consumer seeks help.

All of us have occasionally seen smiling, enthusiastic faces – invariably the result of training and motivational sessions – but too few. If retailers sincerely address this essential gap, they are sure to see results. Till then, it’s only the occasional CSA who has a different energy level because he/she is ambitious or has his/her own initiative.

Ganesh at Spencer’s told me that he enjoys talking to customers who need his help, and this has helped him practice and improve his English. With these efforts and attitudes, Ganesh is sure to go far.

I casually asked several CSAs what sort of training they had received. They all confessed to having been put straight on the floor without much explanation about the job. Some had been assigned a senior colleague whom they could ask for help. However, these senior colleagues were often just a few days older on the job, and had had no training either. Basic training on shelf management, product identification, and regular briefing on promotion and schemes can make these new recruits very effective.
Cashiers are seen as seniors by the floor staff. The position is considered more dignified and many aspire to it. However, most stores face a shortage of trained cashiers, making it difficult for all the point of sale (POS) terminals to be manned at a time.

Training all CSAs in the check-out process and rotating their duties between POS and shop floor would have multiple benefits. The check-out queue would move faster. Staffers would experience parity, enhancing their motivation. In addition, cashiering gives exposure and understanding of store merchandise, and once staff build POS experience, they will be able to supervise some sections and assist shoppers.

I have always advocated that store managers are like ship captains, with all types of resources at their disposal. Proactive store managers should list the consumer touch points they wish to address, and regularly sensitise staffers on them. Shuffling these resources between consumer touch points and back-office activities such as unloading, sorting, labelling, packing or shelving based on consumer traffic can be very effective.
A daily brief by the captain on sales targets, promotions and schemes, and assigning targets for the number of consumer smiles they can produce would be a fun way to get the best out of each one.

From a series of articles commissioned by DNA (Money) dated 23 October 2008.


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