Training Retail Staff

Training Retail Staff

One of the major reasons for the high degree of customer dissatisfaction and resulting lost sales in the retail industry is poorly trained employees who do not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. 

Let’s take a moment to think about this statement.

It may be that retail is in a sad state and that consumers are coming to accept the current service levels as the norm. 

We may believe that the nature of retail positions and the relatively low wages paid are the reasons for the problem and that until the industry goes through some major transformation, which is not likely to be seen in the near future, this will continue to be the case.

Then again, a far more interesting and optimistic view is that this problem presents an incredible opportunity for those Managers who have the skills and the perseverance to correct it.

Think of the sales volume increases to be gained by focusing on your people.  Think of the competitive advantage this Manager would have over the competition. 

If the high degree of customer dissatisfaction and resulting lost sales is due to poorly trained employees who do not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them then the flip side would be that well trained employees who clearly understand what is expected of them would play a major role in increasing customer satisfaction and increasing sales.

It is, without a doubt, an incredible opportunity.  Focus on this and build your business way beyond your expectations.

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”Lee Iococca                                                                    

Employees require knowledge and training on:

  • How to do their job.
  • How to achieve their performance objectives.
  • How to conduct themselves in an exemplary fashion.

It is the Store Managers’ responsibility to ensure employees are properly trained and that expectations are clearly understood.

Some training can be delegated to other individuals but, in the final analysis, the Store Manager must follow-up to ensure that the training has been effective. 

Companies spend millions of dollars on training programs only to find out later that they were ineffective.

In the retail industry, that is usually discovered during Mystery Shopping campaigns where the entire point of the exercise is to ascertain whether or not a new program has been implemented successfully.

Very often the reports are unfavorable.

The reasons for this are many:

  • The program is not workable or practical
  • The training program was not properly targeted to the audience
  • Staff turnover
  • Lack of management follow-up
  • Lack of management buy-in
  • Lack of staff buy-in
  • Too much information at once
  • Unclear expectations

It is wise to remember that, even when training does not require an expensive, formal meeting, it still requires the commitment of resources and it always pays to strive to make training as effective as possible.

Getting Started:

  • Review the job description with the employee
  • Monitor the employee to determine skill level
  • Construct the Training Plan
  • Devise a checklist based on the Training Plan
  • Set up the Buddy System
  • Assign homework
  • Follow up

Many companies provide a job description for each of the different positions held by store staff.

If you have a job description to guide you, the training process is simplified to some extent. 

It will outline the tasks that the person in the position must be able to perform.

After reviewing the job description with the employee, spend the day monitoring the employee to determine their skill level in various areas:

  • Customer Service
  • Sales Skills
  • Knowledge of Operations
  • Operation of POS
  • Product knowledge

Based on your observations, construct the Training Plan.

Once the Training Plan is ready, complete a training checklist that covers all of the functions listed on the job description, with particular emphasis on the areas of opportunity that were identified in the Training Plan.

Set up the Buddy System:

  • Assign buddies who are strong in areas where the new employee is not
  • Schedule the buddy and the new employee for the same shifts for one week

For example, if Mary is very good at keeping up to date with product knowledge and Paul tends to get behind occasionally then it would be advantageous to have Mary spend time with the new employee showing him/her how to keep up to date. 

The new employee will be learning an important part of the business from a person who excels in that area and will probably learn more than just a method.

They will learn the method and how using that method contributes to success.

The new employee is capable of performing worthwhile functions while they work their training shifts. We can assume that the new employee brought:

  • General Retail Knowledge
  • Common Sense
  • Customer Service Skill

This means you do not have to double up on the schedule to cover as if the new employee weren’t there. 

You just need to be sure to schedule these buddy shifts during quieter times.

Even with the best intentions and scheduling practices occasionally your stores’ traffic may increase during a time which is known to be a quiet time. 

If this happens, make sure the trainer and trainee both understand that the training checklist is to be set aside while customers are attended to.

The key here is flexibility on the part of the trainer and the trainee. This is something you should discuss, at length, with all employees. 

If training is going to be successful without investing a large number of hours it is crucial that employees understand their roles. 

All existing employees should take some responsibility for the new employee. 

Even if not put into an official trainer role, seasoned employees can be asked to assist the new employee whenever necessary and to provide instruction on anything that the new employee requires assistance with. 

All of this requires that the Store Manager has made his/her expectations clear to all employees, both new and existing.

The following example is an illustration of a situation where there were no expectations that customer service would take precedence over training of mundane tasks.

Or, possibly those expectations were not clearly understood by the employee.

A new Night Cashier was hired by a large grocery retailer.

The new employee was told that she would not be very busy with customers between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and, therefore, she was assigned a number of small tasks during that time. 

On the first night of training, the new cashier was introduced to another Night Cashier who had been with the company for a long time.

The training progressed throughout the night and, on several occasions; both employees were completing tasks a good distance away from the open cash desk. 

A customer approached the open cash desk and found no cashier ready to ring his purchases through.

Fortunately, the new cashier immediately spotted the customer and, as she started toward the cash desk, commented that she would be back after serving the customer. 

The seasoned cashier said, “Don’t worry, they’ll come and find you when they really need you; we have work to do here.”

The training checklist, and the task, had taken precedence over the customer.

And, worse, the new employee may think that what happened was quite acceptable in this store. 

After all, the offence was committed by a long-term employee who was thought of highly enough to be given a training assignment.

Are you sure that this could not happen in your store? 

Assign Homework:

  • Information on company procedures
  • Visual Presentation Manual
  • Product Information
  • Merchandising Manual
  • Human Resources Manual

Follow up:

  • Check on progress in each area, including home study
  • Determine if skill level has improved appropriately
  • Discuss expectations

During the training process the Store Manager should have a follow-up process in place in order to check for full competency in job functions. 

During these follow-up sessions with the new employee the Manager should take every opportunity to make their expectations known to the employee. 

Sometimes a job function can be performed competently and still not meet expectations. Clear expectations will help the employee to determine the difference.

A simple example:

The employee competently handles all transactions at the cash register/POS. However, he does not consistently thank the customer or invite them to return.

It is up to the Manager to tell the employee that thanking every customer and inviting every customer to return is the expectation.

Make it clear that there should be no exceptions. 

Mastering the ‘One on One’ Method

This method of training/informing/coaching is seriously underutilized.

One may make the argument that it would be a waste of the Managers’ time but that could not be further from the truth.

It is the Managers’ duty and responsibility to ensure that all employees are properly trained and informed.

What better way to ensure that they are trained/informed according to your expectations than to work with them ‘one on one’?

Think of the benefits.

  • The employee will receive top notch training and accurate information
  • The employee will feel like a valuable member of the team
  • The Manager will have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what took place
  • The Manager will have endless opportunities to impart knowledge

It is not a waste of the Manager’s time. However, it may not always be practical for the Manager to do regular training with new employees.

It is very practical and beneficial to use the ‘One on One’ method to:

  • Provide accurate information to employees
  • Coach an employee on sales skills or other required skills/behaviors
  • Evaluate the performance of an individual
  • Solicit feedback on various topics
  • Verify an employees’ understanding
  • Provide moral support
  • Discuss scheduling and availability
  • Make expectations known
  • Increase competency
  • Correct misunderstandings
  • Provide guidance on a variety of topics
  • Explain detailed procedures

This method requires that the Manager keep a record, preferably a notebook, with the names of each employee and notes on discussions that have taken place and on future planned discussions.

The ‘One on One’ method works with your schedule and your hour or wage cost control plan.

You schedule the ‘One on One’s’ according to the needs of the business and the availability of the employee. It’s a simple plan and it works.