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.