• February 27, 2024
  • By Gary Stonell, senior vice president of sales and operations, Opterus

Prepare In-Store Employees for Tough Shoppers and Situations

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A scroll through TikTok can present video after video of unhappy retail employees recounting stories of difficult customers with unreasonable expectations. It always ends with the employee warning viewers of the terrors of retail employment, and that is bad news for retailers. In fact, the quit rate for retail workers is more than 70 percent higher than in other U.S. industries.

It is increasingly difficult for brick-and-mortar stores to keep up with consumer expectations, as 32 percent of retailers strongly agree that consumer expectations are simply higher than what many can deliver in terms of service. At least weekly, 32 percent of retailers also say staffing shortages limit their ability to adequately care for customers. Given that, it is no surprise that retail is understaffed.

It should also not come as a surprise to learn the leading reason for the staffing shortages. While in past years it has been attributed to health and safety concerns, in 2023, 41 percent of retailers cited increased exposure to aggressive shoppers and other adverse situations. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where more than half of customer-facing employees experienced increased hostility from shoppers, employees now have a new retail environment to brave. 

The good news: Task management and store communication can equip employees with confidence in facing unreasonable shoppers and adverse situations, which in turn can help remedy staffing shortages. The ways in which this helps include providing employees adequate training, establishing clear policies, and making it easy for employees to collaborate across teams.

Adequate Training Prepares Employees to Diffuse Situations

Having a foundational understanding of what to do when the unexpected happens is integral to ensuring success. This is where proper training for retail employees comes into play. With training modules that offer clear guidance, retailers can teach employees how to identify signs of aggression and respond appropriately. For example, training can offer education on conflict resolution, customer service, and de-escalation techniques.

Say a retail employee is at the checkout counter and their customer is trying to use an excess number of coupons, but the store has a policy that only one may be used per transaction. When the customer starts raising their voice in protest, because the employee was taught what to do in this situation, they now know that they can offer a half-off discount on the customer’s next purchase to de-escalate the situation and save the relationship.

Clear Policies Help Employees Set Boundaries

Sometimes an employee won’t remember every training from when they first onboarded, but policies and procedures can still be accessible. Retailers can offer portals that house those documents in the case an employee needs somewhere to refer. With policies clear and available from the get-go, employees won’t have to question their right to set boundaries with customers.

This is especially useful when the employee can sense an unhappy customer before the situation escalates. When that happens, they can refer to the standard operating procedures (SOPs), communicate policies to the customer clearly and confidently, and nip the situation in the bud.

Accessible Communication Ensures Employees Don’t Face It Alone

Sometimes all an employee needs to know is that support will be available at the moment they need it; it is difficult to face a tough situation without backup. Retailers should offer employees the ability to report incidents to management immediately to foster a strong collaboration between employees and security staff, giving employees a sense of safety and control. They know that no matter how adverse a situation becomes, they always have the option to bring in the higher-ups. From there, the incident can be reported to headquarters and documented to mitigate future issues. Knowing adverse situations are unavoidable, the more information a retailer collects on past incidents informs how they can respond in the future, especially on how they can better educate in-store employees.

Understanding when to escalate is key, which is where other resources like clear policies and training come into play. With a grasp on which situations can be handled alone and which situations need additional support, the ability to communicate directly with management and headquarters is that much more powerful.

Prepared Employees Are Confident Employees

To be clear, sometimes an employee choosing not to get involved is the solution. Take the Black Friday crowds for example; employees are wise to stay at the checkout counter and not try to manage the aisles. However, when it is necessary to engage, having tools like direct lines of communication, clear policies and intentional training sets the employee up for success. Not only that, but the retailer reaps the benefits, too; prepared employees are confident employees, and confident employees are more easily retained. Amid retail staff shortages, that is invaluable.

Gary Stonell is senior vice president of sales and operations at Opterus. Stonell has 20 years of sales management and business development experience in CPG and SaaS, having worked for Kraft Foods, Philips Electronics, and SunRype Products fostering partnerships with retailers and managing various aspects of the sales and marketing processes. More recently at Sysomos/Meltwater, a SaaS based social media content management platform, Stonell led the enterprise sales team responsible for managing existing clients and new logo acquisition. 

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