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Monday, July 26, 2010

Passionate Employees Differentiate Retail Experience

Apple Retail Experience where passionate employees differentiate the retail experience
The Apple Store, SoHo, learning sessions
As consumer expectations for the retail experience - and more specifically for how social it is - increase so, too, does a company's ability to attract, train and retain competent, brand enthusiastic and customer-focused employees become more critical.  Let's face it: passionate employees differentiate a retail experience.

Here are two perspectives.

First, from the perspective of an employee as described in this Fast Company article from November 2007 titled Magic Shop - Apple Employees. The author, Alex Frankel, experienced life on the retail front line at several prominent retail brands.

Only the Container Store and the Apple Store were consistent in identifying potential employees who were passionate about what they were to sell.  Apple's approach to selling consisted of "position, permission, probe."  In the author's words, "when employees become sharers of information, instead of sellers of products, customers respond."  The results at Apple: "Apple employees help sell $4,000 worth of product per square foot per month."

Highlights: Apple treats employees like adults; it teaches employees how to work together and requires that employees wear signature t-shirts and lanyards.  Employees also hand out business cards.  They enjoy working at the Apple Store.

Next, from the perspective of the retailer as described in Three Good Hires? He'll Pay More for One Who's Great from the 3/16/10 issue of The New York Times in an interview with Kip Tindell, chief executive of the Container Store.

Kip refers repeatedly to the importance of Foundation Principles for capturing the essence of the Container Store experience for employees and developing a cohesive team. "We believe in just relentlessly trying to communicate everything to every single employee at all times, and we're very open.  We share everything. We believe in total transparency."

Furthermore, "one great person would easily be as productive as three good people." They are paid 50 to 100% above the industry average. In the interview, Kip explains how destructive to the company culture and retail experience hiring people who aren't "appropriate culture fits.. We were just hiring anybody...It wasn't the same culture or the same customer service level..."

In both cases, the resulting retail experience is one that customers truly enjoy -- all because employees are passionate and genuinely care about customers.  It is differentiated.

How do you attract, train and retain talented employees so your retail experience remains truly differentiated?

PS: The Container Store Foundation Principles remind me of Zappos' Culture Book.  See Zappos: Where Happy Employees DeliverZappos Embodies Customer Service and Zappos and Service.]


Pablo Edwards said...

There is no reason to hire someone who is not excited about what they are selling or what they are working with. When it comes to retail, I go where the service is best and the people are most knowledgeable.

Andrew said...

Finding passionate employees is hard but I can say that offering employees a commission or some kind of incentive really creates the difference. In my industry it's hard for anyone to get excited about what they are selling so this reward makes them more motivated to provide a quality service knowing that they get a piece of the pie.

CB Whittemore said...

Pablo, I agree. And it seems obvious. Why then are there so many lousy retail experiences where the people within act as if they were desperate to be elsewhere?

Like you, I've gotten a lot pickier about where I go to spend my money.

Thanks for commenting.


CB Whittemore said...

Andrew, compensation definitely plays a role in rewarding employees. What I found interesting in the interview with The Container Store CEO was how valuable an investment he considers paying significantly above market value to attract and retain the right employees. Makes a difference.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.


Bruce D. Sanders, PhD said...

An employer providing business cards to a salesperson—as Alex Frankel notes was done by his Apple Store employer—is part of acknowledging the salesperson as a significant individual. Moreover, whenever a salesperson such as Mr. Frankel would hand his business card to a shopper, this told the shopper that the shopper was talking with a significant individual. “If a problem comes up, it’s not ‘They at the store did this to me,’ but rather, ‘I will make it right,” the handing of the card says. It works best when the salesperson briefly glances at the business card and then extends the card toward the shopper as a gift to be accepted. That prompts the customer to look at the business card, too, which could occasionally provide particular extra benefits: A conversation starter and feeling of commonality with the salesperson. Researchers at University of British Columbia and INSEAD-Singapore found that patients who believed they had something in common with their dentist were more likely to rate their care highly and to schedule future appointments at that clinic—as long as the dentist was not seen as rude.

CB Whittemore said...

Bruce, what's astonishing is how powerful that business card is in transforming expectations about the retail experience.

Have you seen what Lululemon does in its stores? It has a wall showcasing each store employee and his/her longterm goals. Another way to communicate professionalism AND highlight opportunities to find commonalities with employees for customers.

Thanks for sharing these marvelous insights.


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