Is your sales team destroying your customer experience?

As a small store owner, you likely have some sales assistants on your team to help you through the week. Maybe you have a few stores now and a growing team of sales personnel to train and schedule and manage.

On a recent shopping trip through Soho & 5thAvenue in New York, I was reminded of an old retail issue that I believe a lot of retailers are faced with, whether they realise it or not. The issue I am referring to here is the loud conversations that retail sales assistants have between each other when on the shop floor.

My examples recently were actually in big box fashion stores, but this happens in all types of retail stores. The first one was a conversation between 3 assistants at the entrance of the fitting room whilst I and a few other customers were in the fitting rooms. One was complaining about her hours & mentioning her hourly salary, the other was asking what happened to a colleague of theirs who had left the team abruptly last week. In the 2ndstore, a slightly more senior sales person was instructing the junior team member how to greet clients, how to merchandise her area of the store and generally what to do. This was taking place on a busy Thursday afternoon, at the front of the store, with no regard to clients in the store listening.

In my opinion, none of these conversations should be heard by customers. They reflect badly on the store itself and should be kept for out of hours or over lunch breaks. A customer in a store doesn’t want to hear gossiping between sales assistants or feel they have stepped into a training session by mistake.

I am not being completely unreasonable about sales assistants talking to each other, but the context of what they are talking about should, in my opinion be both positive & professional and be focussed on serving customers, not their own agenda. From being a store owner, I know the amount of effort & investment that goes into the store environment, the store branding & marketing, the products themselves & the overall experience for the customer, but all of this can be wiped out by one negative conversation from a sales assistant, even if it is not aimed at the customer.

Sales assistants generally get trained around how to speak to customers, how to talk about the products and what processes they should follow in-store but are retailers highlighting the necessity for professional behavior at all times and training the team to be aware that they can always be heard by customers in the store?

Sometimes I believe retail sales assistants innocently forget that their workplace is actually a stage and it is open to the public. Unlike at an office, when a store is opened, the stage curtains are figuratively drawn back, and the assistants have to act in an appropriate manner for their store image. It is up to you, the store owner, to set those standards that you want in place. Maybe you are uncomfortable setting those types of rules for your team but if you don’t say anything then you can’t expect the team to know your boundaries.

On a similar subject, I also believe small independent store owners need to respect the boundaries of turning their stores into their workplaces and are often in danger of becoming too relaxed about that. I was definitely guilty of this by the way! I had to catch myself many times putting my laptop down on the cash counter to work and I have walked into small stores having employee team meetings, supplier buying meetings, even more recently an employee sat in the middle of a café having a meeting with their company medical insurance rep! Talk about killing the atmosphere!

Act as you want your team to act.  When the store is open, a client could walk in at any time and therefore the best way to tackle this subject is to create an atmosphere where the team and yourself included, are consistently keeping conversation happy, professional and low volume. The customer experience starts the minute they walk in the door so if they feel they have just interrupted a team gossip conversation they won’t feel comfortable.

“Frequently taking note of the little things is the key to our success.” – Sir Richard Branson, Entrepreneur and Founder of the Virgin Group.

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