Task Vs. Customer Engagement – Which Is The Associate’s Priority?


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Customer engagement will always win
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto

Associates have a lot on their plate.

Between managing stocks, organizing merchandise and customer engagement, associate need to make many decisions during their shifts, these decisions as we all know have an impact on bottom line.

In a study conducted by Korn/Ferry Marketing Center of Expertise, 52% of marketing executives said that their top priority was customer engagement.

We all know that nothing initiates, fuels and closes sales more than customer engagement. However, what happens when an associate sees a customer that needs helps and the stand right next to him looks bad?

When there’s no clear protocol instructing associates how to behave in certain situations, associates will make the easy decisions that are usually the wrong ones.

Before we discuss further, the wrong decision lets first establish what the right decision is.

The winner? Without a doubt customer engagement.

Positive customer engagement can mask the messiest product display fixture. However, messy fixtures have consequences. No one wants to re-enter a store that doesn’t present merchandise in an orderly fashion, it gives the impression that upper management does not care.

When shoppers get that impression, they might interact with associates, purchase a product (or not) and leave the store, never to return because the experience lacked an essential ingredient.

When your displays show signs of fatigue, someone needs to organize them before customers interact with them, after all, merchandise presentation is an important part of your sales funnel – it influences the customer buying behavior.

This kind of events create chicken and egg dilemmas retailers should not deal with in the first place. In this post, we’ll try to help you resolve this dilemma and find solutions that will help your crew handle these situations.

To prevent confusion, integrate more complex scenarios into associate training

When associates face a task vs. customer engagement dilemma or any other dilemma for that matter, proper training will help them reach the right decisions and focus on what matters.

What are these right decisions? Our recommendation is consistent: focus on customer engagement.

To prepare prepare your staff, create protocols that will guide them through this scenario and help them engage customers on a positive note.

The more you cover, the more ready they will be. However, while training is good at memorizing best practices, nothing beats in-store experiences, experience you’ll need to monitor.

Make customer engagement a priority

As we explained above, customer interaction can heal almost anything. That is why when your associates get proactive about it, you sell more. As an instinct, associates tend to avoid customer interactions; it is easier to focus on some random task then engage a customer.

That is why you need to set customer engagement as a priority in your stores, once associates finish training, you need to continue and encourage them to interact with customers. There are several ways to do that; I am sure that you are familiar with some.

    1. Create a personal monthly goal for each employee – When associates know that they have a monthly goal and that goal is the number of positive customer engagements they’ve made, they make engagement a priority and postpone dealing with less urgent tasks.

    2. Create a culture of customer engagement – Humans mimic peer behavior to belong, when associates see their colleagues engage customers they will try to imitate their behavior, to match group standards.

    3. Understand what motivates your employees – Each associate is motivated by different things, so don’t try to pigeonhole your employees. While some associates are up to the challenges presented to them, others like to feel the support of upper management and other group members, find out what works.

    4. Talk to them on a regular basis – Following the above point, you’ll find a lot by talking to your associates on a regular basis. In addition to motivation and connection, you can use this time together to emphasize what the company expects from them, recognize positive performance and advise how they can improve performance.

    5. Give them space and trust them to do their job – Once associates feel that they have autonomy, they tend to get more motivated and perform better. Autonomy helps associates to get a sense of ownership, and that is exactly the feeling that pushes them to engage more customers.

Avoid backlog, enforce task routines

Remember those product fixtures? The reason they look neglected is due to task routines that are not enforced effectively.

When task routines are performed on time, your associates are more focused on customer engagement. Backlogs created from tasks that are not performed on time create both mess and stress.

That’s why associates must perform store tasks on time.

If you are looking for ways to avoid that backlog and perform tasks on time, here are a few suggestions:

    1. Train associates to not wander after customer engagement – There’s a well known phenomenon that we personally encountered several times. After associate’s finish a successful interaction, they tend to wander around the store aimlessly. As part of the above-mentioned training, create scenarios or protocols that will instruct associates on what to do when they are not engaging customers.

    2. Create area responsibilities – It is easier for associates to assume responsibilities over a certain area in the store. Call it zoning, territoriality, call it whatever you’d like. When associates are responsible for an area, they tend to pay more attention to what’s going on, and tasks in that area are more likely to get done.

    3. Appoint area managers – For the same reason, if you have high workload in your stores, you have to assign responsibilities to an area manager.

    4. Work with recurring task schedules – Certain tasks in your stores are recurring. When you create a fixed schedule to perform these tasks you ensure that they are handled by an associate. A fixed amount of attention per task results in less cognitive load on your associates which results in more focus on customer engagement.

In terms of priority, customer engagement will always win. However, as you can see from this post, it is not always as clear cut as we want it to be. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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This article was originally posted to our blog where you can find more posts like this at ICC/Decision Services Blog.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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