The holidays are a special time both for retail businesses and retail employees, a time of great challenge and opportunity.
Having worked in retail for many years, I’ve seen how this season can test even the best retail teams. With Black Friday just around the corner, I wanted to share a few tips on how you can prepare your retail team for this holiday season.
This close to the beginning of the season, I’m going to assume you’ve done most of your operational preparation. Inventory was ordered months ago, signage is up, ads are placed, and seasonal hiring is in the rearview mirror. And by this point, you’ve probably already trained your team members on the basic operational aspects of the holiday season.
So what’s left to do?
It’s time for that last minute pre-game huddle, to make sure that your team is not only prepared operationally but also mentally. You want your team to be ready for the reality of what’s coming — particularly those seasonal employees who aren’t as comfortable with the systems and who have never been through a retail holiday season.
So, as we approach Black Friday, here are 5 tips to help you help your retail team survive the holiday season.
Do an operational review of everything you’ve (hopefully) trained them on already. Make sure they know how to apply discounts, how to sell gift cards, what to do when the queue backs up, and what to do when the shelves are empty.
Most importantly, because you’ve already covered much of this — give them the opportunity to tell you what they need. Give them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have.
You might be surprised how many questions they have about things you thought were thoroughly covered.
When I wrote Be Your Customer’s Hero a few years ago, I included a chapter called Everyone Is Rushed, Everyone Is Stressed. I added this chapter to help frontline teams understand the modern customer with whom they interact, the overall mental that customers bring to service interactions today compared to ten or twenty years ago.
And right now — for this particular holiday season — that principle has never been more true. To begin, people have only gotten more rushed and stressed in the past few years, and then, of course, compounding that, is the fact that the holiday season turns the dial up on this dynamic to 11. Even customers who normally aren’t rushed and stressed can be during this time of year.
Customers have only gotten more rushed and stressed in recent years. Train your teams on empathy.
Whatever stressors they have in their lives are magnified. Crowded parking lots, rush hour traffic at non-rush hours, crowded stores, family stress, financial stress.
It’s all real, but from a customer service perspective, it’s also manageable.
The first thing we as leaders need to do is not buy into the “crazy holiday shopper” idea. We need to help reframe this idea for our teams, to help our teams find the empathy in these moments.
For example, you could reframe the impatient customer as someone who is there because they want the best for their children, who is trying to make the holidays special and memorable for their kids.
Your team members can relate to that and can empathize with it as well.
And one extra tip, please be careful to not let the experienced hands who’ve developed negative attitudes about holiday shoppers after many seasons infect your newer and seasonal team members.
In our customer service training and my keynote speeches, creating emotionally resonant and impactful moments is a huge theme that we focus on, from frontline execution to executive-level experience design.
Your team needs to know that their job is more than just ringing up the sale, it’s creating a human moment; it’s making that customer — who we discussed is rushed, stressed, and most likely being treated like a number at many of the places they’ve shopped — feel special, or at the very least, valued and appreciated.
During the holiday season, the job of retail teams is more than just ringing up the sale; it’s creating a human moment.
Sure, your team needs to know that they can’t spend 20 minutes with a customer who is buying a nine dollar toy, but they also shouldn’t rush them through like it’s an assembly line. They should take those extra few moments to make eye contact, to give them a smile, and to make a comment about their kid’s cute hat, whatever it may be.
Even during the rush of the holidays, your retail team should be empowered to take a moment to create a human moment.
You as the leader have to set those priorities. You as the leader have to tell them that not only is it okay to take that little bit of extra time to create a human connection, but that it is as much a priority as keeping the queue moving.
The more your team can create these moments during the holiday season, the more likely you are to earn that customer’s business in the following year.
Your team needs to be ready for the inevitable problems that will occur. As a retail leader, one of the best customer experience exercises you can perform before the holiday season kicks in is to figure out the top three to five challenges you expect to have.
Use last year as a guide or, if you’re new, ask someone else in your company who went through the last season.
Then, apply the 80/20 rule. Figure out the most common things that are likely to go wrong, do everything you can to prevent them from happening (or to mitigate their impact), and then train your teams on what to do when these things happen.
This stuff is not calculus; you’ve been there, done that, got the tee shirt. The credit card processor goes down, your link to the corporate system breaks, a kid throws up in the produce aisle, there’s a misprint in your big sale ad… whatever the common challenges are in your business, prepare for them.
Give your team the tools to address those challenges. Give them the workarounds on the internal systems, give them options to present the customer, and finally, and this is how you become a true customer hero, give them some language to use when addressing the customers ahead of time.
Our customers aren’t the only ones that are rushed and stressed. Our teams have their own shopping to do, their own family drama to handle, and that’s after they’re finished working holiday retail. Help prepare them for the natural feelings they’re going to have.
Prepare your retail employees for the stresses they will feel during the holiday season and help them stay in a good headspace to help customers.
If you have experienced hands who’ve been through a few seasons — ones with a positive attitude — let them share how they handle the season with the team. Have an open discussion of what it’s going to be like. Have an open discussion about how you can grab a moment of peace in the middle of it.
And as a leader, please try to bear in mind that your team will actually perform better and deliver better service when they are allowed a moment to decompress. Sure, you have to pick your moments. Not every time is right. But you want to keep an eye out throughout the day.
Don’t be so focused on the chaos that you forget your people, because this will be a stressful time for them. And the way that they manage their stress is going to directly impact the level of service they provide to your customers.
So, there you go! Five tips for you as a retail leader to help your team be successful this holiday season.
Remember, that the support you give to your team will pay off multiple times in the service and experiences the deliver to your customers.
Remember, to not get so focused on the logistical and operational parts of holiday retail that you lose sight of the humans under your care, on both sides of the cash register.
Use these tips as a starting point to creating both a great customer experience and employee experience this holiday season
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