"In a retail culture where the customer is king, it's no wonder that staff can sometimes play second fiddle," says Duncan Bannatyne, business specialist and Dragons' Den star. "For some retailers, investing in training is not a priority and combined with high staff turnover and part-time employees it can, at times, seem like a waste of resources."
However, motivated and well-trained staff can play an active part in ensuring customer satisfaction and great customer service can make a noticeable difference to a retailer's bottom line. In fact, staff friendliness ranked number one in the HIM autumn customer tracking programme survey, demonstrating how important it is for retailers to regard their staff as assets worth investing in.
Here are Duncan's top tips on how to get the best from your staff:
Hire the right people
Ensure you get the very best people in the first place. You can do this by advertising in the right places. Consider placing ads in the local newspaper or on local radio and if you are willing to train up a school leaver then why not consider a local college journal as an alternative route to recruitment?
The internet is also a useful tool that retailers are yet to fully utilise. It can save time and money to advertise online and is an efficient way of screening applicants.
Successful recruitment takes time. A 'they'll do' attitude doesn't equate to a long-term solution for your store. From the start, make sure you set yourself clear criteria about what you want from your staff to help you decide suitability. This will make the interview selection a lot easier.
Don't be afraid to ask each candidate plenty of questions, either. This is your chance to extract what really matters to you and your business. Equally, don't be afraid to take on people with little or no retail experience - personality and customer relations can often be worth a lot more.
Once you have recruited your staff, you must ensure that they are doing the best job possible. Training ensures that they always deliver the best possible service.
According to a recent National Opinion Poll survey commissioned by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, 85% of shoppers would walk out of a shop when faced with a member of staff who didn't understand the products on sale. With so much choice available, consumers can vote with their feet and aren't shy of choosing one store over another, which makes customer service even more key.
External training can often be expensive and difficult to arrange as it means your staff will have to take time off from the store and you'll have to find cover. Yet staff training can be as simple and straightforward as on the job support.
If you can, spend time with each of your staff members. Invite them to shadow you and watch how the business operates. Encourage them as they go about their day-to-day job, giving advice and tips as they go. Show them how their contribution has an impact on the business overall so they understand the importance of the role they play.
Set clear expectations about how you like things done and always stick to these. People perform best when given a structure. You may even want to consider creating training programmes for your staff so they can see what skills they will be developing and when.
If you need additional external advice, you can always access training modules from industry bodies such as the Association of Convenience Stores, which are useful tools when training your staff. The internet is also a great source of advice.
Welcome ideas and feedback
According to hrlook.com, a retail job application is made every minute. The industry's staff turnover levels reflect this, currently at 27% in the retail sector. So it's clear that staff retention is an issue that needs to be addressed.
One of the top reasons for leaving a retail job is having a boss who doesn't show interest in staff. One way to increase loyalty is to get staff involved in your business from the start and create a team approach so they understand how they can benefit from their own hard work.
Involve staff in decisions that will affect them and if possible hold regular team meetings, inviting feedback and ideas. This will demonstrate how important their opinions are. And don't forget, staff may well have experiences that you can learn from.
Set up an ideas box in the staff room and reward those employees who see their ideas implemented. If your staff have access to the internet, why not set up an intranet with a message board on which feedback can be logged.
By creating an open and honest environment in the store, your staff will feel valued and integral to the success of the business.
Incentivise to maximise
Nothing will motivate more than offering extra benefits, so try to make your employment package as attractive as possible. You may not be able to offer a higher hourly rate, but there are ways to add extras that will incentivise staff.
Simple ways to improve staff attendance and retention are by rewarding long service with cash bonuses or extra holiday allocation, or by encouraging staff to avoid days off sick with quarterly incentives.
Establish regular team socials or relationship-building events that are partly or wholly subsidised by the store. These could vary from an after-work meal to a day out. Make sure part-time employees feel as much a part of the team by including them in these events.
Setting up Employee of the Month awards can make staff members feel particularly valued and encourage them to strive to deliver a better
make sure you're approachable
If your store is big enough, it is advisable to have a designated person who takes on HR duties full time. Often it is the store owner, but equally it can be someone in the business with a sociable personality.
Whoever it is, they need to be approachable and someone whom the other staff feel comfortable working with and have no worries about seeking advice from.
Regular appraisals or 'health checks' with staff will allow you to uncover any issues at an early stage and should provide each employee with a forum through which they can confidentially feed back their concerns. It is important to act upon employee problems or issues once raised, otherwise respect will be lost and your staff won't want to confide in you again.
Above all, lead by example. Employees are more likely to be loyal, motivated and happy if they feel they are being looked after. A positive working environment breeds productivity and this must be initiated from above.
Alex MacHutchon, Communications Manager at The Wrigley Company:
"With increasing competition in the retail industry, it is easy to let investment in your people fall down the priority list. But, as we can see from Duncan's advice, it's imperative to take even the smallest measures to improve staff training and install simple HR procedures. Staff are your most valuable commodity so take time to look after them - and remember, they are your ambassadors both in and out of store. At Wrigley, we strive to provide retailers with the most useful advice to help them create a happy and efficient workforce - which is why we are working with Duncan Bannatyne on these training modules."
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