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Six Training Tips to Grow Your Greatest Assets

Basic ways to make your employees more effective.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (January 19, 2009)

(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants, Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment. Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their "Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the media, including the ABC National News special report, "How Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne & Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in 2006.)

These days it's easy to get too involved working IN your business, instead of ON your business. Yes, inventory is important, daily store operations are important, planning events and promotions is important, yet none of them matter if your people aren't up to snuff. Consider a recent retail study that looked at why customers leave a store and never return to shop there again:

Fifteen percent of customers leave because if price; 15 percent of customers leave because of product; and 70 percent leave and never return again because of the quality of the interaction with the people who work there.

Pretty scary stuff.

The good news is that the 70 percent statistic is fully in your control – you alone decide how customers will be treated in your store. You may have a store full of wonderful people who are good at what they do, but could be even better if they attended training sessions on a regular basis.

On the other hand, you may have a few associates who are doing your business no good at all, yet you allow them to stay. As unpleasant and uncooperative as they are, it's easier to keep them than it is to deal with letting them go and starting all over again with a fresh face. Don't ever let this happen – it's a proven fact that when four positive people work along side just one negative person, sooner or later, all five will have a negative attitude.

We once met a retailer who had lost his number one associate. He was stunned when he heard customers say, "Thank goodness that guy's gone, he was such a jerk!" and "I heard so-and-so left; I'm so excited that I can shop here again!" The retailer hadn't a clue how negatively this particular associate was affecting his business. Now, he has a strict set of customer service standards and he has an on-going training program in place. You should, too.

How important is consistent training in your store? How much do your people know about what's really involved in running your business? Associates want to do a good job, and they want to be involved, yet in focus groups 80% claim they have no idea what the owner's or corporation's goals for the business are. They aren't even sure what's really expected of them, so they make it up as they go along. Mission statement? If they've seen one it's because it's hanging on the wall in the lunch room or lobby, but that doesn't mean they understand why it was written or what it stands for. Look at it this way: If 80% of your people could make the same claims, then eight out of ten people working in your store have no clear idea of what you have in mind when you open for business each day.

Training Strategy # 1. Every Associate Needs to Feel Comfortable from Day One

Start each new hire off on the right foot with a New Associate Orientation Program. This lets your trainees feel comfortable and productive from their very first day on the job. Assign the trainee a simple task that he or she can do well, and turn them loose. Set aside 10 minutes at the end of the shift to review how he or she did on their first day. Let your trainee know that you appreciate his/her hard work – a sincere "thank you" and a "job well done" from the boss goes a long way in making a new hire feel comfortable. Continue your ten-minute meeting each day of your trainees first week.

It's also a good idea to implement a Buddy System where each trainee is assigned a buddy – a partner the new associate can go to ask the so-called "stupid" questions they may be too embarrassed to ask you. The Buddy System not only takes pressure off of the new hire, it elevates the Buddy to the new status of trainer, so it's motivating to both associates.

Training Strategy # 2: Every Associate will Benefit from Continuous Training

Obviously, you will need training classes for your new hires that include just about every aspect of working in your store, but don't forget about your seasoned associates. It's easy to assume that someone who has been with you for a number of years knows all there is to know about a particular product or technique. Trust us, they don't, and assuming that they do will only hurt your business. Regardless of skill level, everyone in your store, yourself included, will benefit from continuous training.

Each month devote one store meeting to associate training. Provide books, DVDs, and CDs associates can study on their own is a good idea as well. Some retailers allow their trainers and top performers to attend classes offered at trade shows. (If yours can't attend, then you buy the CDs while you're at the show.) Others have set up an in-store university where associates are rewarded with raises, and even promotions, each time they earn a new "degree" in their in-store training. However you decide to structure your training classes, these customer service topics need to be at the top of the list:

1. How to "break the ice" with greeting techniques that make customers feel at home. Focus on how to greet customers without ever saying "May I help you?" – a greeting that almost always invites a "No-thanks-I'm-just-looking" response from the customer. (It's okay to ask that question only when you sense the customer is in a hurry.) Instead discuss questions that are sure to get the customer talking.

2. During the ice-breaking stage it's okay to talk about anything but the store. Ask about the customer's kids, the weather, or a current event. This schmooze time is important because it makes the customer feel welcome. After a little schmoozing, you can move onto why the customer came to the store.

3. Demonstrate how easy it is to offer your hand and introduce yourself in a manner that encourages customers to volunteer their names. Continue the role play with the proper way to use the customer's name: If the associate says, "Hello, my name is Mary." and the customer says, "I'm Mrs. Alice Scott.", then she must be called Mrs. Scott until she tells you that it's okay to use her first name. If the customers says, "I'm Dr. Smith" or "Captain Smith," then that's what he should be called that until he says otherwise. Encourage associates to offer their hand and introduce themselves to at least five customers a day.

4. Every customer should be acknowledged by every associate each time the associate comes within seven feet of the customer. We call that our "Seven-Tile Rule™". A simple smile or nod is often enough; with proper ice breaking training; your associates will know when more conversation is needed.

Training Strategy # 3: Every Associate Must Have a Working Knowledge of Everything the Store Sells

Every person working in your store needs to have some knowledge of everything that you sell so they can intelligently answer customer questions. Some will need to be experts. We know that not everyone can be an expert in every product or technique, but they do need to know where, and who to go to, for help when they need it.

We've all experienced poor customer service due to lack of product knowledge at one time or another. How many times have you entered a store, with a specific purchase in mind, only to find that you knew more about the product than the store associate? Don't let this happen in your store.

1. Make product knowledge an important part of your monthly training. Focus on new product, but don't forget about favorites and basics. Choose a particular item or product line, and then discuss what's important about the product.

2. Take your training out onto the sales floor and conduct product training right in the aisle. Here you will be surrounded with an entire product category, plus all the additional items the associates can add-on to the sale. Hold up an item and ask what could be added-on to increase the sale. Remember that add-ons are not a cheap attempt to sell more; adding-on is a service to the customer. Add-on selling saves a customer valuable time because they don't have to run back to the store to pick up the things they need to complete a project, but forgot to purchase on the first trip to the store.

3. You don't have to do all of the training yourself. If an associate knows a product line or excels at a particular technique, let that associate teach the session. Likewise the associate who is good at presentation and display, or store operations. Give yourself a break and let them learn from their peers.

4. Splurge on fancy pastries and gourmet coffee and make one session a quarter a "Brag Session" where associates get to brag about cool things they did for a customer. This is also a good time to share the notes and positive comments you receive from customers. The first Brag Session might start out slow with associates hesitant to brag about themselves, but soon your team will begin to store up things to share at the next meeting.

5. In addition to your more formal monthly meetings, hold ten minute "JOG" (Jog Your Memory) sessions every other morning, and during slow times of the day. JOG sessions can be held in plain view of customers right on the sales floor. Use them to discuss one product or policy at a time. JOG sessions can also focus on current and upcoming classes, crops, and special events and what's involved in each one. There should never be a time when a customer knows more about what's going on in the store before the associates know, yet we see it happen all of the time.

6. Video tape your training sessions and make them a part of your in-store university training library. They will be invaluable for both new hire training and refresher courses.

Training Strategy # 4: Every Associate Must Feel a Part of the Team

Your commitment to training will ensure that your associates are all on the same page in the same book; still, it's important to create ways for them to interact with one another. If your associates are used to working independently, then team interaction may be a big change, and people generally do not like change when it is dictated to them. They will be far more accepting of change when they are involved in its creation. Here are some team building ideas for you to try:

1. State a goal, or name a situation that the store is currently facing, then ask your favorite employees this question: "What would you do if you owned this joint?" List all of their answers on a flip chart and discuss the merits of each one. Together, eliminate the ones that are not workable, then discuss how you will implement the changes you've agreed upon. Divide your associates into teams and charge each team with a unique set of changes and goals to implement the changes.

2. Dub one team the "CDIB Team" – that's short for "Customer Driven Idea Bank". This important team's responsibility is to interact with customers to find out what they would like to see happen in the store. Customers will share amazing ideas when sincerely asked, and your CDIB team will work like mad to implement their suggestions.

Training Strategy # 5: Every Associate Must be Up-to-Speed in What it Takes to Run the Business

Set aside a few minutes each morning to make a "Pre-Opening Checklist" that shows everything that's planned for the store that day. This list should include the daily overall store goal, departmental goals, item of the day, in-store specials, classes and crops, up-coming sales, events, and promotions. In short, anything and everything associates need to know. Make additional copies to place at each checkout and service counter.

Training Strategy # 6: Every Associate Must Feel Valued

According to a Gallup Poll, "The number one reason most Americans leave their job is because they don't feel appreciated. 65% of the people polled said they received no recognition for good work last year." Associates who feel appreciated have been proven to be more productive, stay longer and attract better co-workers. Only you can praise your people to success.

1. Give every associate a stack of business cards printed with his or her own name and title. Cool titles. Instead of "Cashier" try "Customer Service Specialist." You can buy five hundred business cards at most instant printers for around $12.00 and VistaPrint.com will give them to you for free. Your associates are worth the investment. Encourage them to pass out their cards - each one is a mini-advertisement for your store.

2. Our C.I.T.A. Card is a great way to show your appreciation. CITA could be the first four letters in the word "citation" or it could stand for "Caught In The Act", as in "You've been Caught In The Act of Delighting Customers!" CITA Cards celebrate an associate's going above and beyond the call of duty. Each card has a place inside for you to list what the associate did for a customer, plus a place for you to add a personal message.

Make a big deal when you present a C.I.T.A. Card. Do it on the sales floor in front of everyone. You'll see grins from ear to ear, and a renewed enthusiasm. Don't be surprised to find that even years later, the associate still carries her C.I.T.A Card. Drop us an e-mail and we'll send you our C.I.T.A. Card template.

Make training an important and on-going part of your business. Don't be like the retailer said, "Why should I bother to train my people? They're just going to leave anyway." Yeah? Well what if you don't train them, and they decide to stay? The customers who walk in your front door each day are counting on your associates to be nice people who know the store and product inside and out. And the competitor down the street, who wants to steal your business, is counting on them to be just average or worse.

So, what's it going to be? How good your associates are is completely up to you.

(Note: KIZER & BENDER are also well-known for their unique and intensive consumer research. In addition to focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and intensive in-store studies, KIZER & BENDER scour the marketplace each year posing as every kind of customer you can imagine. The result of their research is literally "straight from the customers' mouth" – solid, ground-level intelligence that you can use today to better capture and serve your customers.

Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender. KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 103 N. 11th Ave., Ste. 206, St. Charles, Illinois 60174. Phone 888.215.1839 or 630.513.8020; Fax 630.513.8098; E-mail info@kizerandbender.com ; Website: http://www.kizerandbender.com ; Retail Adventures in the REAL World™ Blog: http://www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com.)

They are conducting two seminars at the CHA Winter Show. 1. The Inside Secrets of Fast Track Retailers: Real-life Strategies That Create Success! (S119), Mon. Jan. 26, 12:00-1:00 pm. 2. How To Kill Your Retail Business Without Even Trying: 10 Fatal Mistakes and How To Avoid Them (S122), Mon., Jan. 26, 2:00-3:00 pm. For more information and to register, visit www.chashow.org.

To read their previous article, click on the title in the right-hand column.



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