The Importance of Training the Sales Associate in an Omnichannel World

Posted by on Sep 16, 2015 in Omnichannel, Retail

We know that success in omnichannel is about creating great experiences for shoppers and using intelligent customer identification tactics to make those experiences more personal. We know that customer identification is increased by complementing physical experiences with digital touchpoints that shoppers expect, but how can we accomplish that? How can we be sure we are creating a consistent experience across our online and offline environments when the mobile experience is valued the same as a conversation with a sales associate to the shopper?

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to provide store associates with the tools and training they need to ensure a seamless omnichannel experience for each potential customer. Store associates are the face of the physical environment and the first line of defense when it comes to establishing human connections that build trust and form relationships that drive customer lifetime value.

Store associates in most physical stores today are afflicted with the obligation to close the sale, and potential customers know that. Their most important objective is to sell the highest-priced item in the shortest amount of time-spent while the customer is there in-person, but this has become a major challenge in the omnichannel world. The constantly-connected consumer is more informed than ever and they are confident that any information that they could get from an associate is already available and accessible from the smartphone in their pocket. Today’s consumers aren’t interested in being sold to; they’re interested in solutions to their personal needs, and they expect the storefront to provide that.

To cultivate these relationships and provide real solutions, a store associate should ask specific questions to gather context around the customer’s needs. An associate in a rug store may ask questions about the colors and textures the customer already has in his home. An associate in a clothing store may ask questions about the customer’s style and what types of apparel she already has in her closet. In the omnichannel world, associates can and should spend more time connecting with the shopper than making an in-store sale.

With the massive adoption of online shopping and e-commerce, consumers no longer need to enter a brick and mortar retail store. They do so because they want the experience. They want to discuss their options, they want to touch and feel products, and they want a store associate to validate those products for their individual needs. They expect the retailers they shop with to know their preferences and that the retailer will use that data to provide personalized experiences.

If brick-and-mortar stores are the physical manifestation of the digital experience, then store associates are customer support. When a shopper is online and she calls customer service, that representative can see and use all sorts of relative data. He knows her purchase history, her interests and preferences, he can see the issue that may have caused her to call. Customers expect the same when they’re shopping inside a store. They expect their store associate to have access to that same data and that they are able to use it to provide a customized interaction.

For omnichannel to work well, everything—from look and feel to message and tone—must be consistent. That means each piece of the puzzle must come together to exude one cohesive brand. Store associates are a big piece of that puzzle. They should be well-versed in the company’s mission, they should be informed on the goals that help achieve that mission, and they should embody the company’s brand. Customers expect the same level of brand coherence offline as they get online.

Not only can associates provide the human connection we all crave, but when properly trained and informed, they can troubleshoot technological issues and address shortcomings, provide insight into products and availability, and act as a concierge to the experience as a whole. They make sure the store experience remains as convenient as the online experience.

In a report released earlier this year, Retail Systems Research explained that the highest performing retailers have taken advantage of the opportunity to provide more personalized attention and service from employees by arming them with tools that elevate their usefulness. To make associates more useful, they need better tools and training to keep up with the new, mobile consumer. “Without equivocation, a motivated and powerfully-informed workforce will be a vital component to any successful omni-channel experience going forward,” they noted.

We know these efforts can sound daunting for many retailers. Working to get and keep each employee up to speed sounds time-consuming, expensive, and may not seem worth it. But the fact is that high-caliber associates are necessities in the connected omnichannel world. Without effective in-store teams, there is a rift in the online/offline dichotomy and the entire process breaks down. By making sure the customer experience is harmonious from end to end, you’ll see your omnichannel strategy come to life in a big way.