The “raison d’etre” of a retailer is to delight their customers. Ranges are optimised down to the last product. Stores are designed to be welcoming and easy to navigate. However, there is nothing that delights customers more than great customer service -from all levels of employee.
This relationship between store staff and customers has long been symbiotic. Lonely old Mr Shaw always gets a nice smile when he comes in for his morning paper – that’s why he keeps coming. A busy Mum with twins is always waved towards a new checkout when the line gets a little long. Dad knows that they always give great advice on which wine to buy. Customers are grateful for great service. But whether or not they get it depends of the calibre of your people, of course.
Recruiting and training at all levels of retail and hospitality management is hugely challenging, especially for industries that can be known for being highly transient. You can hire for the soft “people” skills, but it still takes years of experience for someone to grasp the subtleties of a given situation. The disengaged employees can be quick to leave, and retention is often an issue. There is one obvious solution. Hire your customers!
Customers understand the retail experience. They know what is expected, and they make passionate and engaged employees. Their empathy makes them truly great recruits.
This “social recruiting” in retail is nothing new, but it is an area where hiring strategies have somewhat stagnated. There may be a “we are recruiting” message on every till receipt. There may be glossy leaflets gathering dust next to the checkouts about last years seasonal recruitment drive. That Mum of twins might be tempted by the thought of working part-time at her favourite store, but she assumes that the process is too hard and the competition too stiff. It seems too much of a step. In contrast with the rest of the store, the thought of applying for a job there somehow doesn’t seem very customer friendly.
So, what needs to change?
Well, existing staff need to see themselves as “brand ambassadors.” They need to understand that an engaged and productive workforce will make their jobs easier. Rather than working with a lazy and surly student, they could be working with that bubbly and talkative Mum. Staff retention would be higher, and they would develop a workforce of truly like-minded people. They need to see customers as potential colleagues – and react appropriately when during some small talk the Mum hints she might be looking for a part-time job.
Staff should be trained on making the most of these small exchanges – and empowered to do so. A business needs to make their customers aware that they are looking for great hires because if someone likes your brand enough to buy it, they probably also like it enough to work there.
Staff should be able to answer questions about a (hopefully) simple hiring process. Management should make time to answer the more in-depth questions should a customer show an interest. The pride in their work opens the door, and a simple and effective “social recruiting” process will do the rest.
Apple employees are empowered to do so – every employee is also an advocate for working for the company.
There is no bigger endorsement than when a customer becomes part of the family. And, for a business, there’s no better employee that one that uses and loves your product or services.