We all crave connection.
If that’s not a cliched piece of marketing copy, we don’t know what is. It’s a slogan that fuels apps and algorithms and ads, as trite as the very platforms it supposedly stands against.
The sentiment, however, is accurate. In the midst of this digital soup we’re all forced to swim through every day, we’ve lost our ability to connect, and so many of us harken back to the days of true connection with a nostalgic sigh. Trying to recultivate that sense of connection is integral to not just our industry’s success, but to our personal wellbeing. Unfortunately, most retailers are trying to foster connection via the very routes that compromised it in the first place.
The reason we’ve lost connection with our customers—and as a result, their allegiance and sales—is because we’ve prioritized accessibility over connection. So many retailers, right down to Amazon, have mistakenly identified new aspects of retail as a form of connection, like convenience, personalized marketing, or infinite hours of operation. But these seemingly “innovative” retail techniques do not foster connection; being easily and permanently accessible does not make your customers feel heard, understood, or genuinely catered to. Instead, it feels like a cheap, catchall, impersonal attempt to snare customers based on their stats or needs, not on their personal wants and unique desires.
Often, it’s technological tools and innovations that stand in for genuine connection. Take, for example, Amazon’s suggestions feature. In theory, this should be a modern form of connection: Amazon marks your purchase and makes personal suggestions based on that purchase. But in reality, it’s a feature that often fails because it’s based in data, not true connection. If you research and purchase a toilet seat on Amazon, Amazon’s algorithms will continue to market toilet seats to you, despite the fact that a very singular need has been met and you have no further interest in toilet seats.
Retailers misinterpret being constantly connected to their customers—via technology and algorithms like Amazon’s—as connection. But the truth is, despite tracking your buying habits and “knowing” you, Amazon doesn’t know you as a shopper at all. It may seem like an example inapplicable to your store, but we’ve seen retailers large and small make the same mistakes of trying to reconnect to their customers via newfangled technology, social media, new departments, data-driven marketing campaigns, extended hours, and a dozen other modern retail evolutions that still fail to foster true connection.
The question remains: how do you revitalize genuine connection in your store? Via your employees, of course.
The only way to connect on a human level is, well, human to human. Your customers can’t ask opinions of your digital kiosk or ask your newsletter for insight into your recommendations. True connection is cultivated only through person to person interactions.
Many retailers assume that if they have people on the sales floor, they’re prepared to talk to customers—but that’s just not the case. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your employees naturally have the tools for cultivating relationships with customers. This is just another example of how many retailers mistake accessibility for connection: just because your customers have a host of employees at their fingertips, it doesn’t mean your employees are ready to connect with them.
Just like you do with technical product knowledge, it’s your responsibility to teach your employees how to connect with your customers. Every employee should be trained on everything from the basics—like how to greet a customer—to the more nuanced aspects of communication and connection—like catering their questions to the mood of each customer.
Intentionally outfit your employees with the tools to give your customers the connection they crave.