This is What's Really Causing the Retail Apocalypse (It's Not Amazon)

Curtis Zimmerman
July 12, 2019

Curtis Zimmerman

Empowering Individuals and Organizations to Write New Scripts for Their Lives and Their Work.

Want to make it out of the retail apocalypse alive? It's time to stop blaming Amazon and start focusing on your customer experience.

If any part of your business is brick-and-mortar, there is a threat facing you that could tank your sales--if it hasn't already.

And it's not Amazon.

It's employees who were never trained on how to interface with customers and who ignore the people who walk through your door.

It's managers who complain and berate instead of demonstrating the behavior they want to see in their people.

It's teenage workers who bury their faces in their phones instead of straightening up or asking customers if they need assistance.

It's employee disengagement.

Sure, Amazon worsens these issues--but it didn't create them. When customers don't have a reason to go to a physical location, especially if they don't feel valued by the employees they interact with, they'll buy online. Cue the retail apocalypse.

After working with many large, consumer-facing companies and noticing what makes the successful ones successful, I have realized this: There is no branding more important than the employee-to-customer experience. Yes, innovation is key, but it's secondary to hiring and training great people.

Want to make sure that your company makes it out of the "Retail Apocalypse " alive? Here's how.

1. Invest in your frontline employees.

In order to rise above the competition, many brick-and-mortar-based companies are investing in new buildings, marketing, and advertising, gorgeous new websites and a compelling brand story.

But guess what? Your brand story will have a tragic ending if your customer is met in the store by an employee who simply doesn't care.

And soon, Yelp reviews and word-of-mouth will quickly cancel out all the hard work of your marketing team.

It's time to tell a different brand story, and this one is about your employees.

I have to say first that the most important thing that you can do to improve your customer experience is hiring great employees. Your frontlines workers should be personable problem-solvers who love people. But what about the employees you already have?

When McDonald's noticed that they were having people problems, like rapid turnover rates, dissatisfied customers and checked-out workers, they started putting their resources into their employees and not just into building the "restaurant of the future."

As much as I love speaking to C-Suite teams, I love speaking to people working on the frontlines even more. Several times a year, McDonald's brings me in to give my keynote at rallies for managers to get them excited about leading their people and interfacing with their customers.

My team and I were honored to be part of this initiative, and we built out a Life at Performance Level "Solution in a Box" program to keep my message alive every day in the minds of the people behind the counter.

I mention this because live events and ongoing programming make employees feel cared about, and they get everyone on the same page about company values and procedures. Want your next event to be the one that makes your employees excited about their job and your customers? I recently created a free guide to a high-impact conference that you can download--it has everything you'll need to know.

Because here's the bottom line: Employees who feel cared about will care about your customers.

2. Establish clear expectations.

It happens all too often that minimum-wage employees get minimum training, which results in minimum effort on their part.

Wonder why products and services aren't selling the way they should?

If managers allow people to hide in the corner of a store and look at their phone, you have your answer.

I've written before about how every minute that your employee spends on their phones, money is lost.

This is plaguing every industry. In my travels alone, I've seen teenagers leaning on the concessions stands at movie theaters where they work (selling nothing), employees at coffee shops on their phone by the blenders (ignoring customers), and even security guards at airports watching videos on their iPhones (protecting no one.)

The fix for this is easy, and it's all in training and leadership. The age of sitting a new employee in front of a 6-hour long training video has to end.

If your training isn't person-to-person and doesn't make expectations for phone usage abundantly clear, you will have problems. And if you don't clearly outline what your employees should be doing when there's not a clear transaction to complete, they'll turn to their phones.

Employees should be asking customers questions, solving their problems and writing down ideas for store improvement when there's "nothing else" to do. Often, frontline employees have the best ideas for how to make more money and give customers a better experience!

Note: If you're sitting in a corporate office and you have employees in stores on the frontlines--invite them to your meetings. They know what the customer wants! For more on this, listen to episode #20 of my podcast.

3. Make it personal for your customers.

Once your employees are engaged and invested, you can go back to thinking about creating the best possible customer experience.

Look at your own preferences and the preferences of those close to you to determine what makes an amazing customer experience. What makes you feel appreciated without feeling pressured to buy? What quick fixes make all the difference? For example, I love that at Starbucks, instead of writing the name of your drink on the cups, they write your name.

I also love amusement parks because they understand the value of using their physical space to create an experience.

Even in an increasingly digital world, Disney won't be filing for bankruptcy anytime soon. Why? Because they know that magic happens in real-time and space.

In a world that is loud with digital experiences, it can be surprisingly effective to go the quietest place. Do a physical mailing. Host a live event. Interact with your customers face-to-face. There's never been a better time to handwrite a personal note.

I think you'll notice that the things that make for an amazing customer experience all boil down to human interaction, whether you're at a fast-food restaurant or an international cellular provider.

That's one thing that Amazon can never take over--no matter how personable Alexa may be.

To book Curtis Zimmerman for your next event, visit his profile:

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