This guide is intended to provide a basic understanding of the role of a retail sales associate or retail customer service employee.
If you understand the points you will be able to speak to a prospective employer in terms they relate to and, once hired, you will be capable of providing customers with a positive shopping experience.
Remember, most hiring Managers want to hire people who understand what it takes to be successful in customer service.
We can give you many examples of candidates’ responses which clearly indicate that they really don’t know what is required to become successful in retail or customer service.
For instance, when asked what customer service means many people, particularly beginners looking for their first retail job, respond with something like “it means helping people find what they are looking for” or “being friendly and asking them if they need any help”.
There is nothing wrong with these responses and, certainly, friendliness and helping people are a good start, but they simply don’t compare to these statements:
“making customers feel great about being in your store; so great that they tell others about their positive shopping experience” and “building rapport and asking questions to understand their needs so that I can show them something that they’ll want to buy”.
This guide gives you information to help you understand what is really expected of a retail/customer service employee and what will make you successful.
Remember, it’s all about the customer and it starts and ends with you!
It is important to understand, right from the start, that you must possess a strong work ethic in order to succeed in satisfying customers.
If you do not really want to put in the effort and work hard at your job, then it is going to be difficult for you to serve customers well.
You have probably heard the phrase, “Rule #1: ‘the customer is always right’, and Rule #2: ‘If the customer is wrong, refer to rule #1’.”
Some interpret this to mean that the customer is always deemed to be right, no matter what.
And if the customer is right then it follows that someone, or something, in the store must be wrong. Of course, that is not always true.
What the phrase really means is that the customer, right or wrong, must be handled with care.
S/he is the person who makes it possible for your employer to stay in business. The customer pays your wages and returns profit to the owner of the business.
If the customer does not buy whatever it is you are selling, the business will fail – it’s that simple.
Before we go any further it is important to understand that when we discuss the customer, we are talking about normal people who behave in a normal fashion, even if they occasionally raise their voice to get their point across.
We are not talking about abusive, nasty people who really should not be allowed to get away with treating you or your co-workers the way they do.
Nor are we talking about those people who will do just about anything to get what they want, even if what they want is wrong and is clearly aimed at taking advantage of the retailer.
These people all fall into the category of abusive customers who are not really customers you want.
Be cautious, however, when you are determining who is in this category. You will want to look to your Manager for advice on this.
Let’s move on….
Customer satisfaction ultimately determines the success or failure of any enterprise.
Everyone knows that providing a relatively high standard of customer service is essential to the success of a business.
The problem is that most people talk about it but fail to achieve any real results on the service front.
There is often a vast difference between what a company claims it delivers in the area of customer service, and what it actually does deliver.
Generally, the problem is lack of communication, followed closely by lack of focus, understanding and commitment.
So, what does it take for a customer to be satisfied? There are as many answers to this question as there are people out there. Everyone has different expectations.
What you need to do is to provide enough positives during the customers’ shopping experience to make them feel comfortable about parting with their hard-earned dollars.
They must perceive value in your offering – both product and service.
So how do you, as a retail associate, contribute to this? You may be asking yourself “If everyone has different expectations how can I possibly do it?”
And that would be a very reasonable question.
Here are the basics that are required if a customer is to have a positive shopping experience:
- Clean environment
- Orderly set-up
- Friendly, well groomed, knowledgeable staff
- A greeting and welcome into the store
- Clear signage
- Efficient check out
- Perceived value of merchandise or services
Let’s look at how these basics pertain to you:
As an employee of the store, it is one of your duties to maintain the cleanliness of the store. When you see dust, get rid of it.
When you see litter, pick it up and dispose of it. If something is spilled, clean it up. In many retail stores, there are no cleaners hired to take care of these things.
Each and every employee of the store must do their part to ensure the store is clean…very clean.
Do not walk past messy counters without stopping to straighten them out. If racks or tables get moved around by customers, put them back to where they belong.
Don’t leave ladders or extra fixtures lying around. Remove extra signage that is not in use.
Take a look at the store, from the outside, and ask yourself if it appears to be orderly.
If it is not orderly and actually resembles something closer to chaotic, something needs to be done to correct the situation.
Friendly, well groomed, knowledgeable staff:
This one is fully under your control. Hopefully you don’t need to learn how to be friendly – that one is pretty straight forward.
Being well groomed means that you must be clean and professional looking; your clothes must be clean and pressed, your shoes polished, your hair clean and tidy.
Being knowledgeable is something you must strive to be. You need to read about the merchandise available for sale in your store.
You must read and understand how your company operates its stores.
In short, you need to be someone the customer can count on for credible information. So, do your homework.
A greeting and welcome into the store:
Nothing says “you’re not important” better than ignoring someone who comes into the store.
That is simply not an acceptable message for any business to send to its customers. Always greet and welcome your customers.
As an associate, you may not have a lot of control of what signage is present in the store. You can, however, offer your opinion if you find that the signage is not clear.
Let your Manager know if you think customers may be confused by the signage. S/he will thank you for bringing it to their attention.
Sometimes, retailers run different promotions at the same time and signage tends to get a bit confusing. Nevertheless, be sure to point it out to management.
Also, be prepared to answer your customers’ questions should they become confused.
First and foremost, remember that, once a customer has decided to purchase something they consider it theirs – even before they pay for it – so treat the merchandise with care; place it on the counter carefully and pack it appropriately.
Next, you need to be aware that, at the time of checkout, the customer is finished shopping and no matter how much time they spent shopping, they may suddenly be in a hurry.
You must be respectful of their time.
Even if something goes wrong and the customer is held up at the checkout, let them know why they are waiting and how long they will likely have to wait.
This shows them that you are not committing the deadly sin of taking their time for granted.
Perceived value of merchandise or services:
Your store offers merchandise or services at a particular price and, usually, there will be value, real or perceived.
As an associate, the biggest impact you can have in this area is to make sure you always show great pride in what your store has to offer and never speak negatively about anything that is being offered for sale in the store.
The Importance of Greeting Your Customers
When you have invited guests to your home, you are expected to greet them when they arrive.
Imagine this scenario: your invited guest knocks on your door, enters the house, removes their shoes and hangs up their coat and then comes looking for you.
Don’t you think you would feel bad because the guest wasn’t greeted at the door and welcomed into your home? Of course you would.
You would never treat a guest that way. You would apologize profusely for not hearing them come in.
Now imagine a similar scenario in a retail store or restaurant. Do you really want customers to come in and be ignored until they need something?
Wouldn’t it be so much more desirable to say ‘hello’ to the customer as they walk in and offer them assistance and information regarding your store?
The greeting is very important. Don’t forget to greet each and every customer.
Success tip: Always position yourself so that you are facing the front of your store/workplace.
This way, no matter where you are in the store, no customer will enter without you knowing.
If you are engaged with another customer at least you can make eye contact with the customer who is entering.
This will make them feel welcome in the absence of a verbal greeting. Of course, you should greet them verbally as soon as possible.
Key Performance Indicators
You should know that there are certain key performance indicators, used by retailers, which measure the success of the sales associates, the management, the store, and the company overall.
They are usually referred to as KPI’s.
As you will likely hear these terms often, we have provided a brief description of the 3 most commonly used KPI’s that a sales associate would be held accountable for.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many others that you will come to learn during your retail career.
You would be well advised to learn as much about Retail Math and KPI’s as you can.
For now, get to know the following:
Sales per Hour (SPH)
This is calculated by dividing your total personal sales by the number of hours you worked in the period.
For example, if your sales for the day or shift were $900 and you worked 8 hours, your SPH would be $112.50. That’s $900 / 8.
Average Sale per Customer (ASPC)
This is calculated by dividing your total personal sales by the number of customers you personally sold to in the period.
For example, if your sales for the day or shift were $900 and you sold to 14 customers, your ASPC would be $64.28. That’s $900 / 14.
Units per Transaction (UPT)
This is calculated by dividing the total number of units (pieces of merchandise) you sold by your number of transactions in the period.
For example, if you sold 37 units and you sold to 14 customers, your UPT would be 2.6. That’s 37 / 14.
The KPIs explained above are very often used to determine whether a sales associate is doing the job well enough.
Lack of performance in certain KPIs could signal that more training is needed, the scheduling is incorrect, the associates are not up to standard, etc.
You should make a point of finding out what the standard expectation is for SPH, ASPC and UPT and possibly others that are not mentioned above.
Many stores will monitor more and/or different KPIs.
Whatever KPI’s are being monitored in the store, there will be standards set for them and you will be expected to meet those standards.
The point of monitoring KPIs, at sales associate level, is to help the Manager determine what steps to take to improve business.
If certain associates are not performing well, it tells the Manager where to invest some effort, training, discipline, etc.
Even when business is good, things can always be improved.