How to Design Effective Corporate Training for Customer Service and Retail Sales Associates
Corporate training best practices are often painted with a broad brush, highlighting those tried-and-true techniques that apply across all industries and employee roles. Yet every industry vertical and each type of role within the organization has its own unique “flavor.” One of SweetRush’s areas of focus is designing corporate training for retail sales associates. We’ve been fortunate to have long-term collaborations with several clients in retail, and together we consistently raise the bar on the training offerings provided to their store associates. Now, of course, even within retail operations, each company needs a custom approach based on the products it sells, its customer demographic and service approach, and the overall company culture. Yet there are some common strategies that work well in retail environments.So, without further ado, let’s take a look at five best practices we keep in mind when developing corporate training for retail sales associates.
- Reduce time away from the floor.
In a retail setting, sales are directly correlated to the amount of time an associate spends interacting with and serving customers. If associates are in front of a computer or in a training room, they’re not on the floor selling products. To meet this objective, we employ strategies that make training quick and effective and, if possible, keep them on the floor at the same time.One such strategy is iPad®-based (or other tablet-based), on-the-floor training. By using a mobile device, retail sales associates can take their training courses while staying on the floor. The best part? App-based training can double as a customer service tool, supporting consultative sales with customers. For one of our clients, we designed this very solution, in which learners can take their training courses and show customers important product information. These courses include videos and animations that show the features and benefits of the product, which can be used during the sale itself.Nano-learning, bite-size learning chunks of five minutes or less, is another very effective strategy for the retail environment. These quick bursts of learning minimize time away from the sales floor, while distilling content down to the most important facts sales associates need to know. (For more info on nano-learning, check out my colleague Kerri’s blog, “10 Things You Should Know About Nano-Learning: Less Is More”.)And finally, bookmarking allows associates to quickly end a session when a customer arrives, and then come back to the training when they have available time.
- Demonstrate the brand.
Every training event is an opportunity to communicate to employees about the brand and the brand values of the company. Good retail training infuses brand awareness and advocacy through every scenario and interaction. This is important within any company, but hugely significant within a retail environment because the training serves as a tool for reinforcing the brand and teaching employees how to bring the brand values to life when interacting with their customers. Training is an investment in your associates. How you demonstrate your brand to customers through your marketing and advertising should be consistent with how you demonstrate your brand to your associates. By giving the same level of care and attention to associates, they recognize the importance they play in promoting the brand, and they see that you acknowledge how important they are in bringing the brand to life.
- Take a blended approach.
Much of the corporate training that happens in retail sales environments, particularly for onboarding employees and rolling out new products, is self-study, whether it be e-learning, m-learning, or nano-learning. Yet it’s important to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of supervisors and team leaders, as well as opportunities for peer-based learning.For one of our retail clients, we develop “Meeting-in-a-Box” materials, which are designed to be short training sessions facilitated by a store manager. Rather than a straightforward lecture on new products or working with customers, the Meeting-in-a-Box approach uses role-plays and games to create an interactive, engaging experience. Face-to-face training also provides an opportunity to create a shared experience that bonds the team and reinforces the company culture.
- Use branching scenarios.
Customer service training and product knowledge training are excellent candidates for branching scenarios. The challenge is to make them realistic. So, when we develop branching scenarios for retail sales associates, we use real-life scenarios and responses from store associates. A question that often arises around scenarios is whether we should use video or animation. My answer is, like many things in life, it depends. Video can be very effective, assuming you have great on-screen talent and direction. Animation, however, can be more cost-effective, especially for training courses that are frequently updated. With either method, a realistic, well-written script is essential for engaging learners.
Too many companies offer generic customer service training. Most employees know the basics: greet the customer, be polite, offer to assist, etc. So why is there often a performance gap in customer service? Often it is a lack of understanding of how or when to apply the skills. An extremely effective strategy for retail sales associates involves customizing customer service (say that three times fast) by developing a company-specific model. What is it that differentiates the retail sales experience in your stores? Distill this down and define memorable steps. Use an acronym as a handy reminder and checklist. A customized approach creates a new model in the retail sales associate’s mind that can be followed with specific steps.
While these corporate training best practices may be invisible to customers, they will surely experience the results of effective training when retail sales associates are knowledgeable, consultative, friendly, and courteous. And every happy customer is a win for the associate and the company.Interested to see real-world examples of corporate training for retail sales associates? Head over to SweetRush’s Our Work page, showcasing e-learning, m-learning, animation, and video training programs for retail sales and customer service.