With all the talk about big data and how it’s going to change retail, there’s something important we’re leaving out of the conversation: Customers coming into retail stores have already changed.
Gone are the days when customers walking through the door were blank slates, just waiting for your salespeople to inform them and drive them to choices. The combination of online and social media has created new categories of retail customers—let’s call them personas (seems to be the hot term these days). Salespeople need to have different kinds of skills (their own distinct personas) to bring satisfaction to these customers. Let’s pair up the various personas:
These customers have already shopped online and couldn’t find what they wanted. Perhaps something came very close to fitting the bill but seemed to be missing just one or two features or functions that could have completed the sale. Or maybe research simply brought them to the conclusion that what they want doesn’t seem to be available. These customers need help from two different types of sales personas. Customers who are missing the final piece of the puzzle need product detail geeks who can explain the product down to the serial number. Customers obsessed with a seemingly minor detail need to feel that their obsession is shared and justified. Customers who feel lost in limbo need problem solvers. Customers may have thrown themselves off the scent erroneously. They need someone who can listen to the problem and concoct a solution—whether that be skillfully showing why the product might work after all or suggesting another product or combination of products.
These are the modern-day variants of car shoppers who used to come into the dealership waving a buying guide froma magazine. They may know exactly what they want based on matching the online reviews to the specific needs they have. But they may also simply be following the crowd because they want to avoid making a bad decision. These customers need social butterflies, salespeople who are following the same conversations that the customers are. They should respond by digging into the specific needs of the customer and then going online (in the store) with the customer to look at the reviews through that more specific lens.
These are customers who have tried to reach out to retailers but have been ignored or rebuffed. They have come to the store because they want a resolution. These customers need aren’t looking for apologies (though that definitely helps); they’re looking for resolution. That means having connectors in the store who can cut through whatever roadblocks have been thrown up in customers’ paths. These salespeople need to have the right connections in customer service, repair, and the call center to resolve the problem in real time in front of the customer.
Of course, the new customer reality means that retailers need new skills in the sales force. One-size-fits-all training won’t cut it. Sure, all salespeople need a common base-level of skills, but then it’s important to recognize and create specialists. Everybody likes to make fun of Apple’s Genius Bar, but retailers should take that page (and the way Apple offers in-store training to customers) and glue it into their training manuals.
The new customers will also drive new store layouts and an unprecedented level of access back to the retail mother ship at many levels. We’re not talking about “self-service” internet kiosks here. The next generation is more about removing distinctions between call centers, customer service centers, warehouses, and websites.
Retailers need to move from “How can I help you?” to “Good to see you again.