Saturday, May 15, 2010

When the execs come to visit the store: what’s real and what’s typical?

Parents’ Day at summer camp is usually a kid’s first lesson in the art of spin, optics, presentation, veneer and varnish. This is the day the food is better, cabins are swept, and everyone’s smiling. As soon as the last car leaves, the gussied-up, rustic Eden reverts to its usual repose as juvenile hellhole.

It’s still shocking how many times we’re in the field on store visits with retail executives and hear how great this particular location is—only to see later the abyss that it truly is when we’re reviewing video that’s been captured with “mom and dad” not around. When a regional manager happens to be in the store, customers are magically lavished with help and praise and good cheer. There’s a bustle about the store, with purposeful professionals doing the Lord’s work of selling and stocking and just being busy and fussy. Products are laser-lined on every shelf. It’s all quite—what’s the word?—lovely.

Until it isn’t. Which is usually the next day.

We see lots of non-sales winning behaviors as soon as stores return to “normal.” The customer greetings are weaker, contact interactions on the floor are less effective, and products look sloppier. Rote recitation often takes hold, where associates go through the motions.

It’s no wonder when we’ve asked retail executives how much time they believe their associates are in direct contact with customers, giving assistance, the answer is sometimes in excess of 40 percent—a belief the staff is spending almost half its time attending to the needs of the shopper. This is their experience, and may well be what’s occurring when they’re in the field observing. But when we show them the day-in and day-out reality—sometimes at 12% or less—it’s an eye-opening experience.

Kind of like sneaking a peek at camp the day after Parents’ Day.
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