The engagement advantage and holiday sales results

By Jackie Sloane

Earlier than ever opening hours over the holiday weekend placed unprecedented demands on store associates. Whether full time workers or among the hundreds of thousands of seasonal employees whose services are required to cope with the peak demands of the holidays, one thing is clear. Energy and attitude can amount to retailers’ “engagement advantage,” arguably the most crucial differentiating factor when it comes to influencing purchase decisions, sales and long-term loyalty.

We’ve all experienced the engagement advantage. Searching for a pair of jeans earlier this year, it was the focus, skill and knowledge of one clothing saleswoman in particular that turned what would have been a fruitless quest into a very satisfying experience for me and Macy’s. As a result, Macy’s secured a $300 sale of business separates, and more importantly my evangelism and loyalty going forward.

Achieving an engagement advantage requires a strategic, versus compartmentalized approach, a learning mindset, and doesn’t have to require a huge training budget. Consider the following seven points a roadmap:

  • Clarify the desired customer experience outcome. This supports you with making key judgments. What actions on the part of your associates would support that experience? In the example above, I experienced attentiveness, zero pushiness, and being heard, listened to, and, frankly, cared about. As a result, this woman found me pieces that have become favorites. Articulate the experience you want your customers to have in your store, so it can be repeated, remembered and focused on by all your associates. Revise all your communication, management and training processes to support that.

  • Take a fresh, rigorous, look at how you hire. Focus on what the top three drivers of success are for each position. For example, extensive electronics product knowledge may be less important than warm, focused attentiveness, and enjoyment in helping people find a great gift. As an executive coach and consultant, I have noticed that leaders will often abdicate this crucial aspect of building a team to an over-burdened human resource professional. They can over-rely on gut feelings and the laundry list generalities of a job description as a hiring tool. What’s the mission of the role? When you discipline yourself to identify the three key non-negotiable criteria for success it can have enormous impact on results. Keep this in mind when you hire management as well since you need managers who bring out the best in people. Practice this throughout your organization, and you will find yourself with a more effective workforce.

  • Challenge your own comfortable communication practices and commit to learning how you might improve. People often assume expectations are clear when they are not. They can assume instructions, including emails and memos are understood when they are not. Communicate expectations clearly, confirm understanding, and set up a feedback structure to address and resolve any questions or issues, particularly early on as people begin their roles. Everyone processes information a little differently, so include that in your communications. Confirming understanding and a follow up loop are often dropped out, and they make all the difference in reinforcing what matters as well as effective teambuilding and leadership. I ask coaching clients: what really matters to your boss? What are your boss’s goals? How do you know your reports understand what really matters to you? It’s often not as clear as it needs to be. When people close this gap in understanding with superiors and those they manage, relationships and results improve significantly.

  • Take a tough look at the employee experience you provide. What’s the energy like among your people? Energy is contagious. Reporting on extensive study in The Loyalty Effect, consultants at Bain & Company found that maintaining customer loyalty is impossible without loyal employees, and that this in turn impacts investor loyalty. Focus on cultivating an excellent employee experience that is coherent with the experience you want for the customer. The investment saves enormous costs associated with turnover. In spite of all the information on this, it’s surprising how often this is not practiced.

  • Include the importance of the role, and what the customer experience should be in your comprehensive orientation program, as well as what people need to know to be effective. The onboarding process is crucial to providing the framework for employees to understand expectations and know what success looks like. Be willing to continue to improve it.

  • Make it as easy as possible for your people to do what you want. Communicate consistently and regularly with a minimum of last-minute demands. When the right people are hired, understand what is expected of them, and are given the time, tools and support to perform well, they often do. Set up structures to hear feedback from employees, whether in regular meetings or via intranet. Listen to feedback and ideas from your people, thank them and use the information. Let people know how you have used their input. It builds ownership.

  • Celebrate and reward achievement and group success. Rewarding what’s working expands it, builds community, energy and sustainable momentum.

The engagement advantage provides a consistently excellent experience that builds goodwill in the marketplace among staff and customers and offers retailers an enduring competitive advantage.

Jackie Sloane is an executive coach and consultant. Her firm, Sloane Communications, collaborates with clients to create global engagement strategies and group leadership programs. jackie@sloanecommunications.com