Working in retail takes a special type of person, someone who can assess people as soon as they come in the door. What is the customer’s body language saying? How should I approach them? What should I say? Not only do you have to be good at making a quick, instinctual assessment, you also have to be nimble and flexible; every day is a different experience with new people coming into your store with curious desires. And to top it all off, you have to be in good health to stand all day long interacting with people or inventory.
You are Psychologist, Mastermind and Athlete.
On top of these various roles, you’re also responsible for creating a comfortable culture in your store, sustaining an enthusiastic energy, and providing an incredible experience for every customer. And at the end of the day, if you’re doing your job right, you should still feel good.Being in retail should be fulfilling for both the retailer and the customer. The short film Validationepitomizes this idea of mutual fulfillment (trust us, it’s worth a watch): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao.
The Summary: A gentleman is a parking attendant who validates parking passes with a stamp. He chooses to take his job to the next level by expressing validation to every person whose ticket he stamps. As you might expect, there’s a romantic twist which influences his behavior, impacting the customers he’s servicing. In the end, there’s a positive effect for everyone.
Fast forward to present (non-movie) day and a story based in fact. It’s a tale that takes place in that coffee mecca, Starbucks. I would not say that Starbucks has the best service; I would say Starbucks has become a mere vendor; we visit because we want coffee, not an experience. I recently found myself in a Starbucks on the precipice of an 8-hour road trip with my daughter (16), niece (11) and nephew (7). It was 6:30 am and I knew espresso in my venti coffee was the only way I was going to make it.
Of course my sweet niece and nephew had to come in with me. I was incredibly groggy and I am not sure the teeth had been brushed. The barista Ashton read the signals of our group like morse code; he waited patiently, listening attentively, as we began our harried order. Ella Grace and Jackson carefully dictated their breakfast and drinks to the barista. I ordered my daughter’s tea. It was now my turn, and I really couldn’t decide between my regular double espresso, regular coffee, or combining the two. As I stood there shell-shocked, Ashton said, “I’ve got your coffee.” I smiled and said, “But I’m not sure that I want coffee.” He smiled and said, “Ok, I’m taking care of your coffee.” Agitated, I said, “But I want espresso.” Ashton calmly said “Great, I will take care of your espresso.”
Finally, I realized he wasn’t just preparing my coffee—he was going to buy my caffeinated beverage. My whole morning shifted from dread to gratitude. Gratitude for someone with the adroitness to recognize and validate my situation, and to recognize that gifting a coffee to a clearly disoriented woman was a priority. My total bill was $35; my coffee cost him $5; my mood, his mood and the ripple effect, well: Priceless.
Training your staff the skill of assessment followed by validation will actually grow your business, but can you truly teach your staff the skills of assessing and validating? Of course! Like all things, it takes Practice. Practice. Practice.
1. Assessment. Take time during a slow day or a staff meeting to intentionally watch body language. If it’s during a staff meeting, pull aside two or three staff members and assign them a customer role to enact. Both the actors and the rest of the staff will benefit from this exercise; the actors will associate action and body language with an emotion, which is then defined through their actions by the staff. If you want to practice on a slow day, have your staff observe customer’s body language: how are they walking, what is their facial expression, do they make eye contact, in what position do they rest their arms. Ask them to report back so you can talk about these assessments and discuss what they mean. As we know, reality based training is critical to adult learning, and it doesn’t get more “reality” than that.
2. Sherlocking. This term is used a lot at The Mann Group. “Curiosity” is essentially a synonym, and we want you to have it. In order to understand fully what brings people into the store, we must train our staff in the effective ways to gather information. The key to this is timing and listening skills. If your employees are asking the right questions and genuinely listening and analyzing the answers, they’re on the quick path to success.
3. Validation. Now, my example is extreme. I’m not suggesting you give away product or discount items. If your staff has done a good job in assessing and observing, they will know the appropriate validation. It could be as simple as a compliment or as considerate as playing with kids/dogs while mom shops. That simple acknowledgement of the customer’s situation and an intentional move to recognize or alleviate it is enough to make their day (and a sale).