Your Front Line Is Your Bottom Line: Why It Pays to Prioritize Your Retail Training

cordell_riley.jpgYears ago, someone asked the legendary hotel owner J.W. “Bill” Marriott, “How do you train your hotel team members to be so friendly?” In his famous reply, Marriott answered, “We hire friendly people.”  

There is wisdom in that but of course, there is more to building a great front-line team than simply hiring outgoing people. Training is critically important too, which explains why Marriott has created Marriott University, a program that recruits college students and teaches them the skills that Marriott employees should have.

Marriott, like so many other successful businesses, recognizes this simple truth:

Your front line is your bottom line

In other words, your retail employees determine how profitable you can become. The place where they interact with your customers means everything. Stop for a moment and think about it. Most of your customers will never meet your CEO, but they will meet your hourly retail workers who staff your cash registers, the salespeople who staff your selling floor, and other employees who interact with them directly. And the impressions those employees create become what those customers will think of your brand.

What gets noticed by customers, pleases them, and makes them loyal customers? Your people do. And to have great people, you need to follow three steps.

Three Keys to Great Training for Your Front-Line Retail Personnel: Hire People that Fit Your Company, Culture, Products and Brand

Some retailers hire salespeople who look a lot like their customers, and who share their interests.Some specialty retailers like stores that sell auto parts or golf equipment or skis, for example, hire knowledgeable enthusiasts to staff their selling floors. But there is more to hiring than that. Culture is the key, meaning that your employees should share the values, outlooks and attitudes that are the heart of the way you do business.

One key to finding the right employees is to be creative and resourceful in your recruiting. If you already have the right kind of people working for you, for example, you can ask them to refer people they know to you. If you are looking for college students, you can recruit from college career placement offices. The more targeted you can get in looking for employees in the right places, the more successful you will be.

Another key is to screen and interview applicants strategically, by asking questions to evaluate whether their attitudes reinforce the customer experience you are striving to create. Also follow up with simulations to evaluate how they greet customers, resolve complaints, and more.

The harder you work to hire the right people, the greater your success can be.

Have a Great Onboarding Program

Key focuses during onboarding include teaching new hires about your company and its history, your brand promise, your products and your values.

Team-building is also an activity that motivates new employees to excel. However, simply creating team spirit is not enough to assure that new employees will be successful. I recommend going on to the next step as well.

Provide Role-Specific Training for Your Retail Associates

When new hires start their jobs without a deeper understanding of what is expected of them, they make mistakes that quickly become costly habits that must be corrected later on. I recommend using DACUM to make sure you identify the right skills that you will teach. DACUM, which stands for Developing a Curriculum, starts with carefully defining job content.

As you plan your curriculum, work with current employees and other stakeholders to identify the key skills that are needed to perform the job exceptionally well. You then map those skills and abilities, prioritize them, and decide which should be taught first, which second, and so on. You also decide the most effective delivery method for your learning – whether in-person live training, training in your company learning center or training on mobile devices.

The final part of the DACUM process is defining metrics that you will use to evaluate your training. Will you measure the effectiveness of your training by measuring the change in the rate of repeat business that your salespeople generate, in improved Net Promoter Scores, or something else?

There is an old saying in business, “If you can’t measure it, it isn’t happening.” That holds especially true for training results. But remember – you can’t measure how much training is improving performance until you delve deep to define the customer experience you would like to create, and understand the role that every job function plays in creating it.