How To Transform Retail Associates Into Brand Assets

You’ve carefully crafted your brand. Your story is compelling; your advertising, content, and online presence are right on target.

None of it matters, though, if your customers aren’t feeling your brand on the ground, in real time.

Your sales associates hold the key. They’re the torchbearers—the keepers and purveyors of your desired brand image. They make or break the in-store experience. They shape shoppers’ perceptions (and, by extension, those of the public at large).

Are your frontline employees bolstering your brand?

Or are they bursting the bubble for shoppers expecting more?

It’s a question you need to continually ask, and answer, to effectively compete. In the retail environment, an average customer experience is akin to a bad one. Average may meet basic needs, but it does nothing to build loyalty.

Below, we’ll contrast two very different types of sales associate. Then we’ll explain how to turn frontline employees into powerful brand assets.

The Uninspired Associate: Where Brands Go to Die

From the consumer’s point of view, the uninspired associate is more the rule than the exception.

Motivation: Making sales quotas—or just making it through the day.

Demeanor: Indifferent, tone deaf, irritable, or overly aggressive.

Net Effect: Uninspired associates make customers feel uncomfortable, frustrated, or angry. All of these outcomes are deal breakers. Customers will not only shop elsewhere, but they’ll also recount their negative experiences to family, friends, and online communities. The angriest of them will target your brand’s social media channels.

The Inspired Associate: Where Customer Loyalty Takes Root

What turns familiar brands into iconic brands? Associates who are inspired to make the most of every customer interaction.

Motivation: Fulfilling their brand promise; meeting customers’ individual needs with a personal touch; leaving customers happier than they were upon entering the store.

Demeanor: Empathetic, sincere, authoritative; pride in their company and their role; a clear mission and desire to serve.

Net Effect: Positive feelings and impressions linger well beyond the shopping experience. Customers feel welcome, valued, and emotionally connected. Thus they become repeat shoppers and outspoken brand advocates.

How Can You Inspire Your Associates to Aim Higher?

It’s all about recognizing your associates’ importance and investing in them accordingly. Education, technology, and empowerment should all be part of the mix.

  • Immerse Them in the Brand. Training should incorporate more than policies and procedures. The more your associates know about your product offerings and brand distinctions—not to mention your customer-centric mission and values—the more authentic, credible, and enthusiastic they’ll be in action.
  • Bolster their E.Q. How your associates read and engage customers makes a world of difference. “I’m just browsing” might or might not mean “leave me alone.” Each person entering the store has unique needs and preferences. Encourage your associates to study shopping activity and circle back to ask questions or offer assistance if customers show interest in a particular product or seem to be at a loss.
  • Arm Them With Insights. Clienteling is a powerful tool, but it must be used with finesse. Simply regurgitating customers’ purchase histories defeats the purpose. Associates should focus on tapping customer insights to establish a connection, offer informed advice, and create a personal, memorable experience.
  • Empower Them to Solve Problems. Customers want their problems and complaints addressed quickly and easily. Powerless or clueless frontline employees create unnecessary friction. Give your associates the knowledge, tools, and authority to turn negative experiences into positive ones.
  • Reward Good Service. If you incentivize excellence, you invite more of it. You’ll also build a community of employees who share your passion for your brand mission and values.

Above All, Know Your Starting Point—and Monitor Your Progress

To improve the customer experience in your stores, you need to know where things stand. Mystery shopping, customer intercepts, and customer surveys can effectively capture the entire customer journey.

Once your associates’ biggest missteps are revealed, you can take steps to address them. Over time, with ongoing reevaluation and adjustment, you can change the customer experience forever—and transform your brand image.