How coaching retail staff can help the high street survive

Marks & Spencer announced this week that it is to close 100 shops by 2022
DAVID HARTLEY/REX/Shutterstock

With Marks & Spencer the latest high street brand to announce widespread store closures, with perhaps Homebase to follow, the onus is on retailers to improve customer service. Benoit Mahé from retail training specialist CapKelenn explains how coaching can ensure customers’ experience is positive and help the high street survive.

The pace of change is perhaps more acutely felt in retail than any other sector. Amid the well-publicised closures, emerging new brands are challenging established shop-fronts, changing the face of the high street.

Big brands like M&S, Mothercare and Carpetright have just announced store closures. All 100 stores of Toys R Us are to be closed. The list goes on. And just as quickly as stores close, new brands are growing.

It would be wrong to assume that customers are all moving online. Missguided, which started as an online retailer, has begun to open bricks and mortar stores. Online fashion retailer Farfetch says it is committed to physical retail.

At the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, Farfetch founder and CEO Jose Neves, said that the next stage in the evolution of the fashion industry would be “the connected store, which uses technology to enhance the luxury retail experience to become even more customer centric”.

Building relationships

With the rapid evolution of retail, and customers choosing how and where they shop, the relationships and added value created on the shop floor are eminently more crucial today than ever – if retailers are to survive and grow.

Today’s retail is highly dependent upon customer relationships and so it stands to reason that coaching in the retail sector should be aimed at where the greatest return on investment is evident. That’s with the sales assistants on the shop floor.

About 15% of the world’s population is employed in retail. Yet retail is characterised by high churn, low wages and a lack of training and support for shop floor sales assistants.

At recent conferences, we’ve asked the question, “Would you dream of seeing your child work in retail?” Only one person has ever raised their hand. It’s time this changed.

Interacting, engaging and selling to customers in an omnichannel environment requires tremendous skill.

Sales assistants need to connect with and sell to the customer in store and then help the customer pay at the till, via a card on the floor, or online.

The customer might choose to take their purchase with them out of the shop, or have it delivered free of charge to their home address, sometimes even the same day.

Coaching culture

Retail sales assistants need to be coached to develop these skills, and to have a culture where they are accountable. This requires a coaching culture to be established and maintained on every retail shop floor.

I’d argue that the sales assistant of the future needs to have 12 key characteristics to secure the future of physical retail stores.

Each of these needs to be supported, developed and appreciated. Coaching on the shop floor is the perfect methodology to achieve a real step change in retail.

Here are 12 characteristics for retail employees and managers that I believe can be coached:

  • The ability to provide a unique and unforgettable client experience. Each sales assistant aims to generate fans, ambassadors and promoters who give a 10 out of 10 in customer feedback and a 100% net promoter score.
  • The recognition that they are the cornerstone of the physical, digital and omnichannel brand strategy. The person who embodies the brand in the customer’s eyes, training themselves to keep up to date, knowing more than the customer and aware that they are just one step in the customer’s omnichannel journey.
  • Be comfortable being connected to the digital tools in store (tablet, smartphone, booth) in order to access stock information, sales records, product information and social media. All this information should be included in the sale to the customer while keeping eye contact (not as easy as it sounds).
  • Transfer big data into small data, and into human data. This is how we understand what really matters to that customer in that moment.
  • Support the retail manager in the daily team meetings, individual coaching sessions, and yearly and individual plans. These rituals are even more important in a world of digital distractions.
  • Be autonomous and be credible and responsible in the customer’s eyes. This might mean that their manager’s style needs to evolve to empower their team to take individual decisions.
  • Take responsibility for the emotional climate in the store, solving personal conflicts and tensions that the customer would notice.
  • Optimise their intelligence using their right and their left brain by developing emotional empathy and commercial intelligence.
  • Be open about what drives them and have a manager that supports them. This is more than financial reward; it’s an individual’s sense of purpose, contribution to particular causes, sense of service etc.
  • Have energy to play – gamification through retail games and tactical games in store all help to maintain daily positive individual and collective energy.
  • Understand their personality preferences. Being self-aware they can develop their non-preferences, growing personally and professionally. For instance, an individual might be extroverted and need to learn how to be quiet and listen, qualities that are appreciated by the customer (and the team).
  • Keep fit. Retail is a demanding job. Taking personal care and improving fitness levels increases positivity and wellbeing.
Benoit Mahé

About Benoit Mahé

Benoit Mahé is founder of international Retail Coaching company CapKelenn and author of “The Connected Salesperson: Restoring the boulangerie smile in the omnichannel era” and “Retail Coaching: How to boost KPIs with emotions”.
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