To many retailers, the holiday shopping season is a minefield of risks. A disaster waiting to happen. So they brace for the onslaught, hoping they can survive it intact (and in the black).
Other brands see opportunity. And they seize it with good cheer.
This year, Walmart hopes to lift shoppers’ spirits by making their in-store experience convenient, friendly, and stress free. The retailer is introducing “Holiday Helpers” in its stores—seasonal hires in elf costumes who will speed checkout by opening new registers as needed. They’ll also grab forgotten items so shoppers don’t have to lose their place in line.
Walmart has the right idea. It’s embracing the heavy traffic and increased exposure the holiday season brings, and making the most of it—as every retailer should.
Consider What’s at Stake This Holiday Season
Because they have a history with your brand, existing customers have clear expectations for the shopping experience. During the holiday season, they’ll likely encounter a new associate on the sales floor. If that person doesn’t represent the brand well, the interaction could sink the brand image, customer loyalty, and future sales.
First-time customers might be looking to buy gifts for others or take advantage of seasonal promotions. A lackluster encounter (which most shoppers expect at holiday time anyway) won’t boost sales, and it certainly won’t give these customers a reason to return.
Now, just imagine: amid all the hustle and bustle, your seasonal hires are energized. They’re dazzling your existing customers and capturing new ones. This season and throughout the year, your brand’s investment in its newest team members continues to pay off.
How to Prime Your Seasonal Associates for Greatness
If you think of them as temporary help and treat them as such, your seasonal employees won’t do much for your brand image or bottom line. You must be invested in making them great—and in making them want to be great for the good of your brand.
1. Higher Expectations
As the holiday season approaches, most brands focus on hiring and onboarding their part timers as quickly as possible. But that’s not exactly a recipe for brand distinction. To ace the holiday season—the most crucial test for any brand—you must ask yourself:
do we want worker bees, or brand ambassadors?
The difference lies in the people you hire and, more importantly, the environment you create for them. Do they feel like valued members of the brand family? Do they understand your brand, at its core? Do they have everything they need (not just knowledge and support, but motivation) to meet and exceed your brand standards? These are the questions that should guide your onboarding program and store-level operations.
2. Robust Training
Seasonal employee training tends to be task oriented (what must be done, and how it should be done). Operational training is important, but so are brand personality, promise, and values—not to mention best practices for customer engagement.
- Seasonal training shouldn’t be a lighter version of your regular program. If anything, you should ramp up seasonal training to meet the crushing holiday demands.
- Look for new, high-tech ways to make training fun, interesting, and easy to digest.
- Teach seasonal employees suggestive selling techniques (via role play) so customer interactions feel less transactional and more purposeful. If your associates are comfortable with the idea of helping customers find the perfect gift for family and friends, they’ll be more willing to make recommendations.
3. Positive, Proactive In-Store Management
Once you’ve begun training your seasonal hires, you must give them the encouragement and support they need on the sales floor.
- When face to face with a customer, no seasonal associate should have to guess what to do or say. Instead of pairing each new hire with a seasoned associate (impractical as work schedules change), designate a point person for every shift—someone who’s always on hand to answer seasonal associates’ questions.
- Have managers share mystery shopping metrics and results with the in-store team. Seasonal employees will appreciate knowing exactly what’s expected, what’s working, and what isn’t.
- Incentivize and reward success by introducing friendly competitions and having managers recognize MVPs in front of their peers. By keeping employees engaged, you’ll motivate them to give every customer their best. And they’ll build sales naturally.
Mystery Shopping Is Important All Year Round
Are your seasonal associates complying with brand standards? Engaging customers correctly and effectively? Going above and beyond to increase satisfaction and fill shopping carts?
Retailers need to know what’s happening in their stores all year long, but particularly during the busiest shopping season of the year. Some of our clients keep their mystery shopping programs consistent, even with the surge in foot traffic and changing associate/customer ratios. Others change their mystery shopping questionnaires to reflect these new realities.
No matter how you decide to measure the customer experience, it’s important to continue—perhaps even intensify—your efforts through the holidays, when click and collect and buy online, return in store are in full swing. Mystery shopping provides immediate, detailed insights that help managers and employees correct course when needed, motivate the team to aim higher, and help improve seasonal onboarding year after year.