Who the Bleep Did I Just Hire?
Love them or hate them, it seems like reality shows are here to stay, including one called “Who the Bleep Did I Marry?” The show is about people who think they’ve met and married their soul mate only to find they aren’t exactly who they thought were. The show’s premise may seem light years away from any concerns you may have as a small retail owner, although there are certainly times you’ve most likely wondered, “Who the bleep did I just hire?”
It goes something like this:
You’ve just brought on a friendly, apparently enthusiastic person. Someone who dangled a personality in front of you that you just knew would have a positive impact on sales. During the interview they displayed quite a bit of passion for your niche as well as product knowledge. Personality, passion, and product knowledge – all ingredients for great sales success.
But you’re in for a big surprise. On her first day you notice that she might – or might not – greet a customer when they come into the store if she happens to be busy with another task, and her idea of selling a product to the customer is limited to pointing towards where it’s located in response to a customer’s inquiry.
You think you hired a retail sales person and you’re employee thinks they’ve been hired as a retail clerk.
Traditionally retail clerks were expected to spend most of their time working the cash register, stocking, and other general maintenance tasks on the floor. Retail sales people on the other hand, traditionally were employees expected to engage customers in a way that allows them to discover what problems buying from your store can solve for them or how buying from your store can meet their needs – and then sell that solution or need.
But times have changed. No matter what the title or job description, the success of your retail business depends on sales. Therefore, the first obstacle that has to be overcome when looking to hire in retail is to make it clear in the interview that the main focus of any position on your team is sales. And this needs to take place in during the interview. Of course, you can’t expect an applicant who is interviewing as a maintenance person to have sophisticated sales skills. But you can ask a few questions to determine whether or not the applicant has either experience in, or demonstrates the ability to be trained, to provide the superior customer service that motivates a sale. For example, you might give that applicant the following scenario:
You’re on a ladder replacing the bulb in a light fixture and notice a customer walking up and down aisles looking for something. The customer turns into the aisle you’re working in. What would you do?
The answer you’re looking for is obviously that the applicant would provide some sort of assistance. You are most likely to get answers all along the customer service spectrum. Anything from, “I don’t know, what would you like me to do?” to “I’d get down off the ladder and help the customer find a sales person on the floor to help them.” What you’re looking for by asking this question is a way to determine which applicant not only has the maintenance related skills necessary for the position, but who either possesses or exhibits qualities that demonstrate an ability to be trained to provide exceptional customer service.
A customer is bound to be impressed if maintenance personnel stop what they’re doing to help them. After all, the customer doesn’t perceive that employee to be “responsible” to help them. On the other hand, any difference between retail clerking and retail sales should be invisible to your customer. After all, your customers certainly don’t discern any difference between the two positions. Consider this scenario:
A retail sales clerk is behind the register. There aren’t any customers making purchases, so the clerk is dusting and generally tidying up the counter. A customer approaches and asks where an item can be found. “Sure, that’s on aisle ten” the clerk replies, and then goes back to her tasks. The problem is the customer has already walked every aisle in the store, including aisle 10. Feeling that they’re being ignored the customer leaves your store to go shop the competition where they hope to get better service. The clerk doesn’t even notice the customer leaving. At the same time, that employee also thinks they aren’t only doing “their job”, but doing a good job. That counter looks really great.
The point is that small retail owners must make it very clear to employees during the interview process that the success of your store, as well as the security of their position, depends on sales. In addition, during the interview applicants should be asked questions related to both sales and customer service in order to assess how successful they will be in a sales environment. If a retailer uses an outside source to screen retail employees they need to be sure to communicate this requirement to the provider.
More than ever, sales success depends on superior customer service and an exceptional customer experience – both of which depend on the performance of every employee, no matter what their title or job description.