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It is important for retailers to look after their employees, especially during the busy holiday season

With the festive season upon us, shopping centres and stores anticipate an influx of feet through their doors.

Millions have been spent on advertising, product placement and merchandising but human resources professional Laure Schonfeld says this is not enough. One of the most overlooked aspects of the retail industry is staff and, over the festive period, poor customer service can get worse as malls introduce extended shopping hours.

“Staff who have long commutes home become irate and they are not willing to assist customers optimally, let alone smile. The millions spent by brands, retailers and malls to woo prospective customers can be lost in a second by incompetent and unhelpful staff employed to work in the stores,” she says.

Technology has breathed new life into customer insight, and retailers are getting to know them better, but research argues hidden risks are being created by not doing the same for employees.

Schonfeld – who is also an entrepreneur, training development specialist and self-proclaimed “global shopper” – says it is “entirely possible” by failing to hire the right sales people to engage and build great relationships with customers, retailers are compromising the investments they are making to help put them first.

She offers the following points for retailers and brands to consider when hiring retail staff:

* Recruit for attitude and train for skill: Candidates with the right attitude, who are open to learning and who share and believe in the company’s values, are better to recruit than “excellent sales people” with a negative attitude.

* Align with employees’ and customers’ needs: Front-line employees are key in retail and need to be moulded into the company’s corporate image, as they are in direct contact with customers.

Human Resources must establish and maintain an open-door policy to allow all employees access to information, assessments and feedback.

* Incentive programmes to boost motivation: Employee retention is important. Management should identify employees with potential and skills and come up with incentives to retain them.

* Training and development: It is important to create training programmes to strengthen the quality of customer service within an organisation. Encourage employees to grow in the company via regular performance reviews and employee awards programmes.

* Legalities: The fast-paced environment in many retail businesses could result in non-compliance with employment law practices. It is the duty of Human Resources to address common issues, such as excessive hours worked, fatigue, discrimination and harassment. These could not only result in costly lawsuits but impact on the well-being, health and safety of employees, which in return could have a direct negative effect on customer service.

Earlier this year, the SA Council of Shopping Centres hosted neuro-scientist Ian Rheeder, who shared his research findings at the Gauteng Chapter Networking Breakfast. Echoing Schonfeld’s points, he said: “Retailers can market and advertise till they’re blue in the face but if the people on the floor are not happy, trust me, your customers won’t be happy either.

“Start on the floor and encourage staff to smile.”


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