Want to make it out of the retail apocalypse alive? It’s time to stop blaming Amazon and start focusing on your customer experience. If any part of your business is brick-and-mortar, there is a threat facing you that could tank your sales — if it hasn’t already. And it’s not Amazon. It’s employees who were never trained on how to interface with customers and who ignore the people who walk through your door. It’s managers who complain and berate instead of demonstrating the behavior they want to see in their people. It’s teenage workers who bury their faces in their phones instead of straightening up or asking customers if they need assistance. It’s employee disengagement.
Sure, Amazon worsens these issues—but it didn’t create them. When customers don’t have a reason to go to a physical location, especially if they don’t feel valued by the employees they interact with, they’ll buy online. Cue the retail apocalypse.
After working with many large, consumer-facing companies and noticing what makes the successful ones successful, I have realized this: There is no branding more important than the employee-to-customer experience. Yes, innovation is important, but it’s secondary to hiring and training great people.
While the word apocalypse is hard to spell, the simple steps to improve most retailers are not that hard:
Invest in your frontline employees.
In order to rise above the competition, many brick-and-mortar-based companies are investing in new buildings, marketing and advertising, gorgeous new websites and a compelling brand story.
This is the very same brand story that will have a tragic ending if your customer is met in the store by an employee who simply doesn’t care. And soon, Yelp reviews and word-of-mouth will quickly cancel out all the hard work of your marketing team. It’s time to tell a different brand story, and this one is about your employees. Because here’s the bottom line: Employees who feel cared about will care about your customers.
Establish clear expectations.
It happens all too often that minimum-wage employees get minimum training, which results in minimum effort on their part. Wonder why products and services aren’t selling the way they should? If managers allow people to hide in the corner of a store and look at their phone, you have your answer.
Every minute that your employee spends on their phones, money is lost. This is plaguing every industry. In my travels alone, I’ve seen teenagers leaning on the concessions stands at movie theaters where they work (selling nothing), employees at coffee shops on their phone by the blenders (ignoring customers), and even security guards at airports watching videos on their iPhones (protecting no one.) Employees should be asking customers questions, solving their problems and writing down ideas for store improvement when there’s “nothing else” to do. Often, frontline employees have the best ideas for how to make more money and give customers a better experience!
Make it personal for your customers.
Once your employees are engaged and invested, you can go back to thinking about creating the best possible customer experience. Look at your own preferences and the preferences of those close to you to determine what makes an amazing customer experience. What makes you feel appreciated without feeling pressured to buy? What quick fixes make all the difference? For example, I love that at Starbucks, instead of writing the name of your drink on the cups, they write your name. Even in an increasingly digital world, Disney won’t be filing for bankruptcy anytime soon. Why? Because they know that the magic happens in real-time and space.
In a world that is loud with digital experiences, it can be surprisingly effective to go to the quietest place. Do a physical mailing. Host a live event. Interact with your customers face-to-face. There’s never been a better time to handwrite a personal note. I think you’ll notice that the things that make for an amazing customer experience all boil down to human interaction.
And that’s one thing that Amazon can never take over — no matter how personable Alexa may be.
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level. There is no sector more critical than retail and our Zimmerman team is proud to partner with Curtis Zimmerman’s team at times.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.