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In Tune With Training

Different retailers have different visions—and the message each sends to its customers varies accordingly. That’s why, says Jim Bunn, partner and managing director of Hillsborough, N.J.-based retail consultancy Clear Thinking Group, retail employees must be advised of the chain’s message—and be trained to deliver it.

“Time-pressed customers need to know what to expect from a shopping experience,” said Bunn. “When they enter a store, they want an experience that is in tune with their expectations.” Those expectations have generally been set by the retailer—whether through advertising, in-store presentation, signing or product—who then is dependent upon the store-level associate to properly deliver exactly what the customer expects.

“What a customer expects from Neiman Marcus is entirely different than what she expects from, for instance, Big Lots,” Bunn said. Ensuring that associates understand the company message and deliver it consistently requires a comprehensive, and rigorous, training program.

“Key to setting performance standards and expectations is training,” said Bunn, “and to train effectively, you need the right tools.”

Bunn is a supporter of training videos—particularly those that include a message from the retail chief.

“A retailer’s vision starts at the top, with the senior-most executives, and is disseminated through the ranks,” he said. “Showing a video to newly hired associates that features the CEO explaining the company vision and what the company expects from each employee is an effective way to encourage employees to focus on the vision, and then deliver it to the customers.”

Tips on Attaining Optimal Performance From Store Associates

What basic measures can retail chains take to attain the best performance from store-level associates and other employees? For starters, Jim Bunn, a partner and managing director at Hillsborough, N.J.-based Clear Thinking Group, recommends they take the following steps:

Define your vision of what customer service is, then define how employee performance achieves this vision;

Establish how you measure success for customer service and employee performance;

Develop incentives for those associates who achieve the desired levels of performance;

Communicate expectations to your associates and how they can meet those expectations;

Develop training materials and tools to support your vision of customer service and employee performance. E-Learning tools can be especially invaluable in this area;

All levels of management must embrace the vision and practice that vision so that associates realize it is expected of everyone;

Reward those associates who achieve your expectations and ensure they are acknowledged for their performance; and

Continually stress the importance of employee performance through company communications.

Besides videos, e-learning tools provide an effective training experience, said Bunn, as do manual checklists that allow district managers to properly evaluate in-store performance. But, he cautioned, proper evaluation requires the means to quantify success, and then reward it.

“I’m not as much a fan of singling out an individual for a reward,” said Bunn, “because associates then tend to focus more on their own individual performance than on the store’s goals as a whole. I prefer group incentives, which promote working together and foster a sense of teamwork.”

However employees are rewarded, recognizing good performance is a way to reinforce what they’re doing right, and to reiterate the company’s vision, ensuring a consistent message to the consuming public.

Bunn pointed to two retailers that have, in his opinion, successfully conveyed their distinctly different visions to their associates, and trained those employees to reliably deliver those messages to customers.

“Neiman Marcus is about high-level customer service surrounding high-level merchandise, and store associates know how to deliver,” he said. “Selling a totally different product, but with an equally high degree of service, is Lowe’s.

“Establishing standards and procedures facilitates this kind of experience and creates an environment in which the customer wants to return to your store.”

© 2014