Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Turkish Delights

I spent most part of November and December in Istanbul, Turkey; training about 80 sales associates, store managers and retail managers in our customer services skills and store management strategies. It was a rewarding experience, both for my client and me. The client, a chain of Health and Beauty stores; has a rich pedigree and is committed to staying ahead of competition by offering superior customer service in an increasingly competitive market. Organized retail in Turkey is mature and one can see international brands and home-grown labels jostle for market share blurring boundaries between mass merchandisers and niche retailers. Our client’s appetite for growth is supported by their burning desire to excel in all aspects of retail and customer service.

We began with the fact that my trainees were not conversant in English. But the seemingly obvious reservations about the language barrier – was demolished from the word ‘go’ as the simultaneous translators did a fantastic job of seamlessly conveying my English words to the ears of my Turkish listeners and effectively relaying their thoughts to me in English – all in miraculously real time. My jokes resulted in instant ruptures of laughter as the deep insights found their ready adaptors. Every single role-play turned out to be lively and each batch of trainees left fully motivated, determined and eager to put their new skills to practice. I never once felt that I was in a foreign land training people who don’t speak the same language….and yet understood every word I spoke and reciprocated by sharing their real life experiences serving customers.

I came back with many fond memories and strong validation of some of the inevitable requirements for success in retail - A clearly defined retail offering; peopled by retail staff with an attitude to serve; mature in their understanding of customer service and willing to learn and sharpen their skills to excel in their roles. This was set in an ambiance conducive for bringing about individual accountability with objective performance management systems.

This unique experience also validated the fact that right attitude coupled with right skills can work wonders when used appropriately. Each of the 80 odd sales associates and managers went back to their respective stores fully inspired and committed to accomplishing their goals – both individual and store goals. What followed was some spectacular outcomes from each of those stores – sometimes glaringly obvious; and at times, supremely magical.

Yasemin was mostly silent during training and spoke only when asked to. She never volunteered for any of the role-plays either; maintaining a low profile over the three days when she was in my audience. Little did I imagine that she would go back into her store and create history? Her store, all of a few hundred square feet, is situated in a largely residential locality with limited traffic of customers unlike a highstreet or a mall.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in early December and Yasemin had come in for the second shift. A customer in her mid-thirties had walked in with no intention to buy, and was perhaps browsing the store to get some ideas for a gift for her expectant sister. Yasemin had approached her with a warm smile and a gentle greeting complementing her hand bag, thus striking a friendly conversation with the customer. She had made the customer feel so much at home that the customer had dropped all her resistance that most customers harbor against sales people. As they spoke, Yasemin took the customer around the store, helping her understand the different product categories. They instantly bonded like friends and Yasemin had successfully built a person-to-person rapport with her customer as she continuously probed to understand her customer’s needs.

Knowing the purpose of her visit – to get some ideas to gift an expectant mother - Yasemin helped her customer to baby shampoos, creams, moisturizers and everything else that a mother would need for her first child and things that she would need for herself before and immediately after child birth. Yasemin didn’t miss the opportunity to make the would-be aunt feel special. She reminded her that the arrival of a new member into the family is also a wonderful reason to celebrate her ‘aunthood’. Not to mention, the aunt-to-be ended up helping herself to some goodies. The customer had not broken into a sweat even after 60 minutes and four baskets full of personal care products for her expectant sister; the baby and herself.

When the bill was made, Yasemin had created history. She had created the single highest transaction in the history of the chain – a transaction that came to be twice as big as the highest single sale ever - a sale equivalent to $550.

The customer not only had left the store singing praises of how Yasemin had bonded with her and indulged her in the moment, but also had helped her choose the right products.

Stories such as these abound in the weeks that followed; individuals and stores, out-performing their earlier highs in all key statistics - total sales; average ticket sizes and number of transactions. Another store beat its highest number of transactions by 30%; while a sales associate in a different store has bettered her average ticket size by 20% and consistently maintained it.

Obviously, we are continuing to work with the client; helping them create such magic in their remaining stores.

Accountability in retail begins with giving each customer service associate a reasonable goal and giving her the required tools and techniques to achieve the goal. For all this to happen at a systemic level, it is essential for the retailer to imbibe fair and objective ways of setting goals; measuring performance by rewarding the right behaviours and correcting the wrong ones through dedicated coaching.

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