The Retail Power of Suggestion

April 4, 2009

DISCUSSION TOPIC

Retail Customer Experience: The Retail Power of Suggestion 4/3/09

TOPIC SUMMARY:

Just down the road from my house is a great, locally owned, independent comic book shop that used to be one of my frequent haunts. Recently I’ve gone back in to reconnect with a hobby that I once loved.

The owner, an unassuming and quiet fellow named Doug, is there virtually all of the time. He has a deep love for and knowledge of his product, and is always happy to make suggestions about what to read next, based on what you’ve previously enjoyed.

Doug does something else that I didn’t notice at first, a powerful little trick of language: When he’s handing you your purchase and change, he leaves you with a phrase that, for lack of a better term, is a command to come back.

He doesn’t say, “Come see us again!” or “Thanks, please come again!” or any of the common parting shots. No, he says, confidently, “You’ll be back” or “You’ll enjoy” or “You’ll come back for more soon!”

It’s a tiny semantic difference, but a major psychological one. Like I said, I didn’t notice this at first – but when I bought the first volume of “Queen and Country” and Doug said “You’ll enjoy that, and be back soon for number two,” I immediately formed a mental picture of myself doing exactly that. About a week later, that’s precisely what I did.

Notice the level of specificity in his parting shot. He planted the seed for my next purchase by spelling it out for me. It’s not some nebulous idea of future business; it’s a description of a specific product that I’m going to buy in the coming days.

Visualization is one of the cornerstones of any flavor of self-improvement; it works because the human brain is so incredibly good at taking the things it sees and carrying out the next steps needed to make them real. This is precisely why Doug’s method is so powerful – it paints the brain a picture of the customer’s next visit, the next purchase, the next satisfying experience.

Fortune favors the brave, and business goes to the bold. A timid plea of “please, come back and see us” reaches out for pity, and sometimes that works. Much more effective is a simple and direct statement of what value the customer received, why they will want to receive it again, and what they will come back for.

Discussion questions:  What do you think about the “power of suggestion” at retail, especially around product endorsements and goodbyes? Have you experienced any similar winning suggestive practices by sales associates at retail? Is there a downside to suggestive selling strategies?

My post: 

A couple points here:  First, the key for all retailers is to keep trying various techniques for effective customer communication.  Will suggestive statements psychologically impact future customer behaviors?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  To dismiss this as a “trick” is shortsighted.  To rely upon the technique to be the solution is naïve.  The sales associate must be able to determine appropriate ways to greet, interact with, and end each interaction, based on the experience with each customer.  Which brings me to my second point.  Retailers must, even in difficult economic times, invest in leadership development and effective staff hiring and development efforts – including the psychology of communication and human interaction.  None of this is easy either for the managers or for the associates.  It must be hired for, developed, encouraged and rewarded.  And then, watch the magic happen.  You will go try it now, won’t you?  (How was that for the power of suggestion?)

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! TM strategist

www.OsorioGroup.com

What do you think?  Please add your comments and add to the discussion!

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Go to the full discussion at RetailWire.com:
http://www.retailwire.com/Discussions/Sngl_Discussion.cfm/13654

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The Brilliance of The Container Store

March 20, 2009

DISCUSSION TOPIC

The Container Store: The Employee as an ‘Extension of the Brand’ 3/20/09

TOPIC SUMMARY:

In the retail industry, a 100 percent plus annual employee turnover is not uncommon. And, in these tough economic times, that statistic doesn’t tend to be of greatest concern to operators. More likely, they’re preoccupied with determining if they can get away with one less person on the floor; cutting back on training; or increasing the commission portion of the compensation.

There is one retailer, with 46 stores and 3,500 employees, which seems to have a very different philosophy. The Container Store experiences just 10-to-15 percent annual turnover. How does the retailer achieve a number virtually unheard of in the industry?

Perhaps the most eye-opening place to start is on the interview process for a “transition team.” The transition team at The Container Store is a group of associates hired for a five-day or so tenure to transition a store between themed selling seasons. There would typically be transition teams before and after Christmas, Spring Cleaning, Back-to-School, etc. At The Container Store, the selection process for this short-term associate is more involved than what most retailers would have their full-timers go through. It consists of two interviews: one in a group setting; and one face-to-face lasting an hour and a half. If there is a next step, the candidate is taken for a walk around the store with a group of other candidates and asked “what if” questions largely oriented to customer interaction. (Note: This is for associates who are being hired to change displays, fixtures and move merchandise – not to sell product.)

Karyn Maynard is The Container Store’s director of recruiting. When asked about this process, she said this type of attention to detail is not unusual for The Container Store. “We believe each employee is an extension of our brand. The staff in the office can write all day long about how great we are, but it is our associates on the floor who communicate it by action with the shopper.”

The evaluation process is very deep regardless of the position. “We want to hire great people and we want to retain great people,” said Ms. Maynard. “We have part-timers who have been with us over 15 years.”

The evaluation process also goes both ways. As with any screening process, The Container Store wants to be sure the future employee is the right fit. But, The Container Store also wants to be sure the company is the right fit for the employee. The company considers it symbolic that their very first hire was a customer.

“This process has been an evolution,” recalls Ms. Maynard. “When the founders started the company in 1978 they wanted to have ‘the best retail organization in the country.’ We are certainly more sophisticated now than they were then, but even our first hire started us in the right direction.”

Today, in fact, most employees are former customers. Many are approached on the sales floor when they are shopping. (“Have you ever considered…?”) The other source of talent is online through The Container Store website, where every application is reviewed and replied to.

When asked what mistakes other retailers make, Ms. Maynard quickly answered, “They are not making a commitment to time.”

(By the way, Karyn Maynard did not come up through the Human Resource department. She came up through the stores, like everyone else at The Container Store.)

Discussion questions:  The Container Store seems to be an outlier when it comes to hiring in the retail industry. Do you know of other retailers with unique hiring processes? Why do you think many (if not most) retailers accept an annual turnover rate of 100 percent? What does The Container Store gain from such an extraordinarily low turnover rate?

My post: 

I’ve watched the Container Store for years and have always been impressed that they have never wavered from their “commitment to time” in talent acquisition, education, and ongoing improvement of these processes.  They are simply maniacal about this.  We all know that having extraordinary people outweighs any temporary lack of extraordinary products, services, or strategies.  But few companies focus on the people side with the same level of intensity that The Container Store executes daily.  Why?  It started at the beginning with the founders’ personal focus on hiring and educating the best workforce anywhere.  For any company wishing to emulate The Container Store’s success, it must start at the very top.  The leader must ensure their lieutenants share their maniacal focus and stay on this literally forever.  Any relaxation in this focus will allow slippage.  There is no shortage of information on developing excellent hiring, education, and retention processes.  There is, however, a terrible shortage of leaders willing to make this the company’s #1 priority.

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! TM strategist

www.OsorioGroup.com

What do you think?  Please add your comments and add to the discussion!

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Go to the full discussion at RetailWire.com:
http://www.retailwire.com/Discussions/Sngl_Discussion.cfm/13624

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It is time to celebrate the craft of the front-line worker

March 16, 2009

DISCUSSION TOPIC

Secrets of a French Checkout Operative 3/16/09

TOPIC SUMMARY:

There are some people that many of us take for granted and never even notice. We either ignore them or use them as a target on which we can vent the frustrations of the day. Amongst these, frequently, are checkout staff. Checkout staff who many of us only greet, let alone thank, on the rarest of occasions.

But one of that category has decided to vent her own frustrations. Anna Sam, who worked in a French supermarket for almost a decade, has written a book about her experiences with customers and employers alike. Since its appearance in France last year, Les Tribulations d’une Caissière (The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl) has been reprinted 19 times and sold 100,000 copies, according to a report in The Times. The film rights have also been acquired, a musical comedy based on it is planned and a comic-strip version is to appear this year. English is not one of the ten languages into which it has been translated.

Ms. Sam claims that despite smiling at shoppers, she received “little besides insults and disdain in return. She witnessed behavior ranging from the loathsome to the lustful – queue-jumping, cheating, thieving, moaning and sometimes a quick fondle between the meat and the cheese counter.” Self-important managers watched from behind a one-way mirror.

Described by the paper as “the voice of the voiceless, and the witty observer of a place that seems to bring out the worst in us all,” Ms. Sam often said “bonjour” 250 times a day but received few responses. She needed authorization to go to the toilet from managers who kept her waiting. When greeting families at the cash register, parents warned their children, “If you don’t work hard at school, you’ll end up like that lady.”

A blog to let off steam eventually led to the book. Her advice is now sought by politicians, retailers and even a cash register manufacturer developing a training course for his products’ use. But her main advice to retailers is that both managers and checkout staff would benefit from training in how to deal with people as well as products. “You can’t educate shoppers to behave better but you can train employees to handle them,” she said.

Discussion questions:  How would you rate working conditions for retail cashiers and sales associates? Are retailers doing enough to teach managers and checkout staff how to deal with people?

My post: 

The key reason for apathetic front-line workers and the resultant poor service is the poor level of leadership skills in front-line managers – usually due to poor leadership skills of the senior management.  Please read the full article in the Times to understand the experience the author writes about.  

This passage is a great example:  At a retail trade conference in Luxembourg, Sam suggested to executives that they should greet checkout staff every day. “It was as though they had never thought of it. Oh yes, that’s a good idea, they said. They all made a note – ‘say hello in the morning’ – to remind themselves.”  Pathetic, but unfortunately common. 

The message:  Retailers must invest in understanding and hiring for the talent that make effective front line workers and leaders:  empathy, customer focus, high energy, etc.  Provide significant training on people management:  personality types, conflict management, etc.  Then, ensure that senior management consistently models people-centric behaviors:  saying hello to front-line staff, asking their opinions of product, procedures, store design, customer service initiatives, etc.  Treat front-line staff as professionals engaged in an important craft and see how quickly they begin to behave as such.

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! TM strategist

www.OsorioGroup.com

What do you think?  Please add your comments and add to the discussion!

————————————————-
Go to the full discussion at RetailWire.com:
http://www.retailwire.com/Discussions/Sngl_Discussion.cfm/13614

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Thank you for visiting my blog!  Please subscribe using the RSS button and comment on my postings.