are we sales people or zombies?

am I a zombie or a sales person?

Help Please?

When embarking on a shopping trip, what does the sales staff’s level of service look like? You may be wondering how it should appear?  Customer service can take different forms. Are you greeted by a sales associate or made to feel unwelcome or in the way? Is your experience adequate, below target or remarkable?

Recently, I read an article on RetailWire that delved into the subject. David Zahn from Zahn’s consulting questioned whether sales training is fact-based or relationship driven. Focus is placed on product features including technology, fashion, or price. David argues that a sales person’s people skills have been taken largely for granted and are not developed and nurtured through training.

As a customer experience manager, I am not sure I agree with this theory because many companies (including the one I work for) have re-examined how to obtain and retain a superior sales force. Two key practices, hiring and instruction, are evolving in order to meet or exceed customer’s expectations.

zombies need not apply

OK, you probably haven’t had too many zombies helping you through the checkout at your favorite shopping spot. Think deeper into why you prefer this establishment. Is it the superior product, or the likability of those who work there and the company culture that attracts these associates?

When hiring for a sales staff, it is crucial that he or she is a fair representation of your brand, and that he or she is passionate about the company as well as the product. Too often emphasis is based on experience and not personality.

Are candidates able to think on their feet and improvise when necessary? Of course you want someone who can follow rules, but someone who is creative in her approach and empathetic towards others beats experience in my book. You can teach someone sales, not empathy.

not even a well trained zombie?

Once you establish who you want working with your customers, they need proper training how to offer unmatched service. You have the people who love what they do, and where they do it, now capitalize on it by investing time into them.

If you want them to create a perfect denim fold, teach them how and give them the necessary tools. But, by all means don’t forget that although your store will look prettier because of the way product is displayed, it doesn’t take the place of customer service. By teaching them to be attentive to customers instead of being task focused, you will see better customer satisfaction results.

is it measure able?

There is more than one way to measure customer satisfaction. Here are a few I could think of:

  1. Top-line sale increase
  2. Repeat clientele
  3. Customer experience survey scores increase
  4. Less employee turnover (well, that is more about the internal customer, but it still counts!)

What are your thoughts about the state of retail customer service? Please share your thoughts and stories about good and bad experiences.


9 thoughts on “are we sales people or zombies?

  1. Pamela Morse says:

    I am a thrift shopper. I do it for many reasons, but one is certainly the upgrade in service. The volunteer staff, or the well trained Goodwill staff are jolly, helpful, and personable. I have virtually never been ignored for busy work as regular retail frequently demonstrates, in a thrift store. The essential knowledge that the customer is the reason the store exists seems to be clear to employees of thrift stores.


    1. miriamgomberg says:

      I should try thrift shopping. It sounds like fun. My problem is that I lack the capacity to sift through items looking for treasure. Maybe this would be a good time to learn patience as well. Thanks for sharing Pam!


  2. Marc Zazeela says:

    I really do not enjoy shopping, so for me the experience is very important. Do I feel welcome without feeling pressured? Are there people ready to help when I need it? Do they take the time to understand what I am looking for and then help me find it?

    Or are they, as you alluded to, zombies who are there to answer questions in stilted, monosyllabic replies that scream “I can’t wait to go home”.

    I will definitely pay a little more for a better experience. WalMart stopped sending me their circulars a long time ago! 🙂



    1. miriamgomberg says:

      Marc, these are all great questions leaders should be asking associates as well. I hate it when I go into a store and feel like I am a burden to them and they are simply counting minutes until they go home. Thanks for commenting 😀 Miriam


  3. mackcollier says:

    Hi Miriam! I think even ‘good’ customer service can become zombified. I *love* Olive Garden, and usually eat at the local one at least once a week. There’s a woman, who I assume is either the manager or an assistant manager, that will often walk through the restaurant asking everyone how their meal is. The last time I was there, I suddenly heard her ‘How is everything?’, and I looked up and I noticed she was walking past me smiling and nodding, but it was as if she wasn’t even stopping to pay attention to see if I actually DID have any feedback. By the time I saw her, she was already walking past my booth and was about to move to the next booth. It was like she was on a circuit, when she got next a booth, smile and ask ‘How is everything?’, but keep moving. It’s like the intent wasn’t to actually GIVE good customer service, but to give the IMPRESSION that you were wanting to.


    1. miriamgomberg says:

      Welcome Mack! I can easily visualize the manager making her rounds. At my work, when when I am the manager on duty, I “run laps” throughout the store on a continual basis. The difference is that when I see someone (especially a regular customer) I stop say hello and start a real conversation with him/her. I hate it when I am asked if I am doing okay. The reality is that person probably doesn’t really care too much and like you said is trying to appear as though she does.

      I could go on with my rant, but maybe I will save it for my next post. Thanks so much for stopping by. Miriam


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