What does it take to be an outstanding store associate?

In any undertaking that requires skill to perform well, some seem to be naturals and those who do not, but both parties can benefit from improving their skills – it only takes the desire and commitment to do so. That said, there are also character traits, without which no amount of skills development can help you perform well in a certain role. For example, you can struggle hard academically and still qualify as a doctor, but if you have no interest in caring for people, you’re not going to be a great physician.

In retail there are a couple of character traits that are similarly critical to the successful performance of a retail associate, even if the stakes are not as high. First and foremost is a desire to help others. A store associate with a desire to help others is more likely to have the grit to overcome the many barriers that can come between a customer and the product they need. These include uncertainty about what product would be best, ignorance about what products are available and, most of all, trust in the store associate themselves. Furthermore, the desire to help others can play a big part in the motivation required to develop other skills that could improve how successful they are in actually helping customers.

The second character trait very helpful to a store associate is a desire to make a good impression, not just with their personal appearance, but with that of the store. A well-visited store needs constant tidying, as customers inspect products while knocking over others and not returning anything to where it is supposed to be. So being ready and willing to keep a store’s presentation in the right shape to impress customers when they walk in the door, is an important thing for a store associate.

The qualities needed to shine as a store associate

While the above character traits are the descriptions of things you either come with or you don’t, there are some personal qualities, which might be called character traits, and which some certainly possess more of than others, that can be improved with a bit of effort. Qualities such as patience, empathy, friendliness and resilience. 

Patience on its own is extremely important for anyone who wants to succeed as a store associate. Anyone can walk into a retail outlet off the street, so the combination of problems, personalities and senses of urgency they can walk in with is unlimited. In approaching you for help with their purchase customers can very often be their own worst enemies, with social awkwardness that makes it hard for you to build a rapport and an inability to describe the product they are looking for that makes it impossible for you to know what they mean, as well being very unsure if that is the product they need.

While patience will help you with the clever sales trick of not getting cross with your customers, empathy will help you to understand where they are coming from, and help you make them feel more connected to you. Leading to the kind of rapport that makes a customer want to buy a product from you, almost regardless of what it is. Although empathy comes far more naturally to some than to others, it can be developed with practice.

Friendliness is arguably a combination of empathy, patience and a warm predisposition towards others, and is possibly the hardest quality to be consistent with – you can be patient and have empathy without being especially friendly. One of the most challenging things to get right with friendliness is to find the ‘Goldilocks’ zone. To not be over-friendly and not too cool, but ‘just right’. What makes that more challenging than it might be is that ‘just right’ can mean different things for different people. Empathy can help you here, by helping you to mirror your customer’s emotions as well as their body language. And mirroring is worth cracking, as studies at Stanford and Northwestern University show, in which, “sales negotiators who mimicked their partner reached a deal 67% of the time, while those who did not utilise mirroring only achieved a 12.5% close rate.”

The other quality that’s invaluable in a job where you have limited control over your success rate, and 67% is excellent, is resilience. Everyone’s ability to succeed in life depends heavily on their resilience, or their ability to learn from and bounce back from failure. But in any sales job, because only a fraction of your prospects become customers, you experience a lot more failure to bounce back from than if you were, say, a plumber. That said, the only way to get better at something is with deliberate practice, so even if you aren’t super resilient when you start as a store associate, the job will give you plenty of opportunities to practice.

As well as the above character traits and qualities, certain skills are needed for a store associate to perform well. Skills that, once again, some people will have a greater aptitude for picking up than others, but everyone can learn if they are determined to. Skills like prioritising, communication skills, tech skills, and product knowledge.

However, while a new store associate might take six months to develop the skills they need to provide truly inspiring service to a customer, with modern Clienteling software like KIT and a small amount of training, a new hire can knock their customer service out of the park in their first week. They can delight customers with their tech skills and product knowledge while their customers are in the store, then send messages using the app to impress them with their communication skills after they have left. 

The app enables all store associates to provide a smooth tour of the product catalogue and make well-chosen suggestions for products a customer may be interested in, based on previous purchases or expressed needs. The whole process of completing a sale can be streamlined using KIT, and it can be used to prioritise customer needs according to their situation. The backend of the app can be securely locked so that a customer who is not in a hurry can look at product comparisons on one tablet, while a retail associate uses KIT on another tablet to arrange for someone to fetch a product from the stockroom, or to complete a sale for another customer who is ready to make a purchase.

Of course, KIT can be used even more effectively by experienced retail associates, but it can work like invisible training wheels on a bicycle for those who still have a lot of skills and product knowledge to learn. That can help to build their confidence and more importantly, while they are still learning, their customers’ confidence in them. For a full demonstration of KIT just contact the team by calling +44 203 691 2936. You can also email info@instore.technology with any questions or to request more information, or if you prefer you can also complete the short form on our Contact page.

 

At the core of your customer experience should be a super smooth sales process

The reason why you have to win a potential customer’s trust, if you have something to sell, is that there is no doubt you will gain from the sales transaction, but your potential customer has no such guarantee. They need to trust you to believe that the value you are attaching to the thing you’re selling is genuine. Conversely, when a satisfied customer, who has nothing to gain from enthusing about your product, shares their delight with their friends, it is much easier for those potential customers to believe in its value. That is why no one can sell your products as successfully as your satisfied customers.

However, today the competition in retail is no longer just between the perceived value of one product versus that of another, it is between shopping online and spending at least three hours driving to the town centre, finding parking and possibly a long walk to your store. Luring people out of their homes, where they can shop online in warmth and comfort, means leading them to expect to be delighted in your store. Your satisfied customers’ friends may be persuaded that your product is worth having, but if your customers can’t also share some excitement about their visit to your store, given the alternatives their friends may not feel sufficiently inspired to go and get it.

Providing store associates with access to instant knowledge  

There are many ways of delighting customers in your store. There are many tricks, visual, auditory and even olfactory effects that can enhance the customer experience. You can also engage the intellect, emotions and imagination with interactive experiences that stimulate these senses, and they can be simple yet still effective. A London mobile phone store recently broke the unstoppable social media meme of two girls screaming at a disdainful cat into a triptych spread across three phone screens in their store window. One girl was on the left-hand phone, the other girl was on the middle phone and the cat was on the right-hand phone. But whatever creativity a store puts into their customer’s shopping experience, at the core of it must be a simple process that involves identifying the right product for the customer, locating it in the store or the stockroom and completing the transaction. The quicker and easier this process works for a shopper, the more delighted they will be.

Until fairly recently, identifying a product and locating it in a store depended somewhat on a given store associate’s experience and knowledge of both the retail outlet’s catalogue of products and where each is located on the shop floor and in the stockroom. This situation was fraught with problems. Most obviously new store associates could take a long time and have many customer interactions before being able to offer a smooth, never mind delightful shopping experience. And regardless of experience, a store associate’s knowledge could easily go out of date fast. For example, a product seen by a store associate in the stock room in the morning, could easily, unbeknownst to the store associate, have sold out by the afternoon. Leading the store associate to misinform a customer of the product’s availability, leading to a long wait while they double-check their mistake, and eventually disappoint the customer with confirmation that they were wrong.

Similarly, not long ago a customer could easily encounter a store associate incapable of understanding their description of a product, or not knowing if the store sold it, or unable to confirm whether it was currently in stock. At best a customer could frequently experience tedious delays waiting for a seasoned sales associate to locate a product or check the stockroom for it.

A modern solution to an age old retail challenge

Contrast that with the situation today, that is if a retailer has invested in the right Clienteling tool. Now a customer can enter a store and be greeted by a store associate, in their first week on the job, already capable of delivering a first class service. The customer presents the store associate with a picture that a friend posted on social media of some shoes that they recently bought. The store associate reaches for their tablet or smartphone running an app called KIT and uses it to scan the aforementioned picture. An image recognition algorithm identifies the shoes and calls up the page in the electronic store catalogue, giving both the store associate and the customer several illustrations and all the information they might want about the shoes, including whether or not they are in stock.

If the shoes are in stock the store associate can tap a button to request that a runner fetch the shoes. Previously, the customer would have had to wait for the store associate themselves find the shoes, and most people who have ever done that can recall waiting long enough to wonder if the store associate was ever coming back. Now, instead of leaving the customer in limbo, KIT allows the store associate to continue tending to the customer while the shoes are retrieved. KIT further assists by showing the store associate the customer’s purchase history and suggesting another pair of shoes, similar to a pair bought previously, that are now available in several new colours. By the time the shoes the customer came in to buy are in the customer’s hands, KIT may have helped the store associate sell them a second pair.

That isn’t the end of KIT’s usefulness in this customer interaction – it is equipped to let the store associate complete the purchase there and then, saving the customer from time waiting in line at a checkout. Thus a process that once could have taken half an hour and still failed to produce the shoes the customer was looking for, can be reduced to several minutes of quick and easy sales support, with unexpected delights thrown in. Even if the shoes the customer came in to find were not in stock, KIT would have been able to locate them in another store and help the store associate complete the purchase with various fulfilment options – pick them up from either store or have them delivered.

Any data your store holds in electronic form that can help a store associate provide sales assistance or complete a transaction can be surfaced in KIT, enabling store associates to personalise their customer interactions and ensure that not only are customers’ purchasing needs met but that their experience is satisfyingly smooth, efficient and convenient. The kind they would rave about to their friends.

It is easy to arrange a demonstration of the software with the KIT team. They will also be happy to simply answer questions or give you the information you need to decide if you are ready for a demonstration. They can be reached on +44 203 691 2936 and by email at info@instore.technology, or if you prefer you can also complete the short form on this website’s Contact page.