5 Best Management Practices For A Customer First Focus

customer first retail store quoteWhen I was selling cowboy clothes in the Santa Monica Place mall back in 1982, I received a call. “I’m Kris Kristofferson’s manager, do you have a Frye men’s boot model 3946 in a 9D?” I scanned the boot wall, saw a pair of the tan suede boots in the middle of the hundreds of boots in the size nines section and answered, “Yeah, I’ve got a pair.”

The voice on the phone asked, “You’re sure?” I replied, “Yes, I’m looking right at them.”

He then said, “Great because we’ve called everywhere and you’re the only ones who have ‘em. Kris will be there in about 15 minutes; have ‘em ready and he wants some kids boots.” Click.

I went over to the boots, picked them up and noticed they were a 9 1/2. I started to sweat. I checked every box in back stock, I checked the displays, I checked every pair in the store but came up empty.

We too were out.

A customer-first focus would have made sure I checked to make sure while the shopper was on the phone but I was lazy. Kris was not amused.

A lot of times, we know what we should do as retailers to create a great customer experience but don’t. Other times, we do the wrong things because there’s no one there to tell us otherwise.

It sounds so simple. When the customer comes first, the customer will last but how do you make that the centerpiece of your store culture?

For the past six months, I’ve offered a free Retail Assessment Tool on my site to help small businesses understand what it will take to avoid the retail apocalypse affecting the big boys.

With big chains like Sears, Macy’s and others downsizing, we’re hearing the benefactors will be smaller retailers.

It’s important to note that retail store owners with just one location still make up the majority of brick and mortar’s $3.9 trillion sales.  And according to a Rutgers’ infographic Why the Brick and Mortar Store Still Matters consumers spend six times more in a store than online.

Furthermore, Rutgers said the average consumer spends $247 a month online versus $1,710 in physical stores.

That’s seven times as much as online.

No wonder why so many online retailers are opening their own brick and mortar stores.

But what does it take to compete in brick and mortar stores?

Yes, an omnichannel brand that people can shop any time they want and anywhere they want is becoming the new norm – the base level – of retailing in 2018, but is success assured even if you have that?


Most retail businesses don’t have a culture centered on the customer, they’re centered on tasks.

Well trained employees can provide retailers’ biggest differentiator- they can deliver a feeling.

It’s simple…

People who feel that they matter are going to buy more.

In spite of silly studies like this one that purport 95% of shoppers want to be left alone while shopping …

Don’t write off your customers as wanting less customer service.

They want more.

Manager Training Program Pitfalls – Why Your Retail Business Needs An Upgrade Now

Survey after survey over the past two decades reveal the inability to receive a greeting, prompt service, or finding an available associate are the frequent causes of frustration for shopping in a brick and mortar store.

Combatting that takes retail sales training.

When you pay attention to the customer first and properly train the people working in your store, you make customers happier. Shoppers walk into your doors hopeful to make a purchase, to discover something new, to meet someone who genuinely seems to care about them.

Hopeful people are the ones who enter a store ready to buy at 11am; people who are depressed are in a bar at 11am.

But leveraging shoppers’ hopefulness doesn’t just happen, you have to have a selling system.

If you have Millennial employees, and I’m sure you do, they have a different learning style than GenX and Boomers. When confounded with a problem, Millennials grew up searching the answer on Google.

And while they can get the results from a spreadsheet answer online, they haven’t worked the spreadsheet to get to that answer.

That lack of figuring it out on your own is the very reason retail sales training is so important.

Most retailers have let their employees figure engaging-a-shopper out on their own and what have they come up with? Mimicking the same crappy greetings, Can I help you? and Looking for something special? that everyone from McDonald’s to Big Lots to Nordstrom employees say.

What’s really interesting is in a survey by Euclid that says Millennials are more than twice as likely than Boomers and Gen X to say that interacting with knowledgeable sales staff influences their purchasing decisions.

But you have to give your employees voice lessons to be able to connect – even if they are of the same generation.

I get it, your employees are not students of psychology or selling. That’s why they need a logical process to build a sale.

Even Millennials, the most social generation ever, need a process to actually be social in public. And that takes a lot of work. And in your retail establishment, a lot of training.

And if they could do it already, they would.

Your retail sales training is less likely to stick though when you aren’t connecting an employees’ performance to their pay.  In the Retail Assessment Tool, the results from 1700 respondents show that 63% do not connect employees’ pay to their performance. The person selling the best items at full price makes the same as the one hiding behind the stacks.

connecting performance to retail pay

If you don’t reward employees for taking what you’ve taught them and mastering it, what will make them want to do it?


And while many retailers do have some type of incentive program for their employees, either commission or bonus, 40% do not. Those 40% are just expecting employees to give their all and be grateful for a job. That doesn’t work to get them to make a shopper’s day.

paying bonus or commission in retail

Product knowledge used to be the one thing in many retailers’ operations they prided themselves on. It used to be required to know everything about a product, whether it was how to play the game you’re selling, how the luxury watch is built from scratch, or even how the use of space-age materials made the tool half as heavy as the cheaper one.

Yet 50% of respondents answered no to the statement You have product knowledge training on your top 25 items.

product knowledge in retail

So when it comes to the top products – the ones most shoppers buy – 50% are assuming the merchandise can do the hard work of convincing a shopper to purchase. That just isn’t so.

And after you’ve given your employees retail sales training and they still can’t or won’t do the job – see my post about the difference here – you have to have an employee warning process. Yet here again, many are missing the boat…

To the statement, You have an employee warning process and termination policy, while 70% of respondents said they did, on another survey question, 60% answered no to the question Have you given them at least one written performance review with a deadline when you want specific changes made that they have had to sign to acknowledge the consequences of their actions, attitude or performance?

chart for giving written employee warnings

What this means is many retailers are not holding their employees accountable and are putting up with bad behaviors, even when it comes to basics like customer service and dress code. That often comes because they don’t want to be seen as a mean boss.

Bosses are supposed to make the hard decisions – she gets a raise, he gets his hours cut, she’s gone if it happens again, etc. It’s not mean, it’s what you are paid for – making the hard choices for your business’ health.

5 Management Practices to Bring a Customer-First Focus to Your Retail Store

1. Provide Retail Sales Training

2. Connect Employee Performance To Their Pay

3. Pay A Bonus For Exceeding Goals

4. Give Product Knowledge Training On Your Top 25 Items

5. Give Written Warnings If They Are Not Performing

The only way you can have a culture centered on the customer is to rigorously train, mentor, reward, hold accountable, and cull your employees.

See also, Retail Management: 10 Things To Never Discuss In Front Of Employees

In Sum

When Kris came in that day, I had to tell him I’d found his boots at a competitor’s store on the top floor at the mall. I told him they didn’t carry kids boots but we did. He left, came back with his boots, and then purchased some boots for his kids from me.

After the Kris incident, I made sure I always verified anything before making assumptions.

When it comes to managing your retail employees, you have to verify your training and standards if you want to be a customer-first store.

Retail isn’t dead but taking the customer for granted is.

You’ve been told.

After you complete the Retail Assessment, I’ll send you several tips to help explain and improve your results. It only takes about five minutes.

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