Be a survivor, not a statistic

Dr_M_Beedles__RGB_cropAccording to Dr Monique Beedles now, more than ever, retailers need to get back to basics and ensure they are delivering the best service possible to survive these tough times.

We all know retail is hurting. Earlier in January, Bloomberg reported that Australian retail sales had stalled in the month of November, with a significant part of the drop attributed to clothing. There's no doubt that the economic climate has a significant impact on consumer spending, which will affect sales in these industries. At these times it's more important than ever to offer a superior product and excellent customer service. When customers are reluctant to spend, you will have to work harder to persuade them to part with their dollars.

Given this context, I've been very surprised by a few of my recent retail experiences. Just before Christmas, when retail sales are traditionally at their peak, I was shopping in a major department store. Despite no service from any sales assistant, I had chosen two items that I wished to purchase. I went to three different counters trying to find someone who could take my payment. After repeated attempts to try to purchase the goods, I eventually placed the items on the counter and left the store.

Dr_M_Beedles__RGB_crop
Dr Monique Beedles

No matter what your business, one of the golden rules is that you have to make it easy for customers to pay you. Once the purchasing decision is made, making a payment should be the easy part. After a successful sales process, you don't want to end up losing the customer due to cumbersome or inconvenient payment methods, or simply an absence of staff to facilitate the payment.

Just after Christmas, in the very same major department store, I had another interesting experience. I was looking for a cover for my mobile phone and asked the young man in the relevant area to assist me. He showed me the wall where these products were displayed and asked me what type of phone I had. He then proceeded to pull his own phone from his pocket and said to me, "To be honest I got mine off e-bay for twenty bucks. It's better and will last longer. You'd be better off waiting and ordering it online."

I was naturally surprised by this and wondered two things. Firstly, is the young man's employer aware that this is the type of advice he is giving potential customers? Secondly, does he have any idea that it is customer's purchases that pay his wages? I feel confident that this young man thought he was being helpful.

I'm also sure the management and board of this company look at why their sales are slipping and probably blame the GFC, the internet and government regulation.

While these factors play some part, my two real life and recent examples of lost sales, could both have been prevented with effective staff training and good supervision. I eventually purchased the product from a neighbouring retailer where the staff greeted me promptly and cheerfully, helped me to select the appropriate item and allowed me to make payment quickly and conveniently.

While we operate in an ever changing environment with new challenges to face on a daily basis, the fundamentals of business remain the same. Good economic times in recent years may have made some businesses complacent and lead them to let standards slip. This won't serve them well in difficult times. Likewise, when sales are falling, the first instinct can often be to cut back on training and development, seeing it as a 'good to have' rather than an essential.

Reality is that now is the time when above average performance of your staff is critical, especially if you have had to cut back on numbers. It's also in the quieter periods that staff may have more time available for development. Don't let that time go to waste. Use it to review the basics, without needing to spend a lot of money on courses or equipment. Make the most of this time, so that you will be a survivor and not a statistic.

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