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Does Your Biz Have Service Heroes?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does Your Biz Have Service Heroes?(GIFTBEAT)

Why employ an ordinary sales staff when your store could buzz with a team of service heroes? Hiring the right people is the first step, advises author and speaker Carol Hacker. Her two most recent audio seminars, Service Heroes and Excelling as a Manager or Supervisor, focus on finding the right employees, tapping into their power to generate sales and then establishing the leadership needed to keep them. Hacker’s people-centered management advice and commitment to superior customer service can provide a winning combination for both new and seasoned retailers.

Q. What are the best qualities to look for in sales employees? How you do find the best candidates in large applicant pools?

A. I would look for people who are honest, articulate, positive, customer-focused and presentable in the way they look. They also have to be high-energy and reliable. As a store owner, you need people who will be there when they say they will.

One of the problems you run into with a large applicant pool is how to narrow it down. When I’m speaking, I tell my audiences to focus on the “musts” and “desires” when they are hiring. Make two columns and list no more than five criteria in each category.

The musts are very important, objective things you are looking for in a candidate. These criteria should be measurable, such as whether you need the person to have a minimum high school education or what kind of previous retail experience they should have — including whether or not you want that experience to be in gift retailing only or if it can be at another type of store. An outgoing personality is a subjective quality that you can’t determine by looking at a résumé. Think about the musts when you are narrowing down those you will interview. Desires can be more subjective and judged later.

Q. Where can you find the right candidates for your sales staff?

A. Hire in the likeness of your best employees and also ask them for recommendations. We tend to associate with people like ourselves, so it is likely they will know people with similar qualities. Be sure and ask your employees if they know anyone who would like to work at your store or who might be a good fit with your team.

Also, know what qualities you are looking for before you start an interview. Many owners conduct an interview and don’t know what to ask. You need questions that will help you answer whether the job applicant meets your desires for an employee.

Another big mistake is not checking references. This can happen when you need someone “yesterday” and are prone to make hasty decisions. It’s easy to offer a job and have someone accept it. It is very difficult to get a bad employee off your payroll. Take time to make sure the person is a good fit before you commit to hiring him or her.

Q. What are "service heroes?" What can they do for your store?

A. Service heroes are your superstars. They are your best employees. They are the people you can give the ball to and they will roll with it. Service heroes will go the extra mile for your customers and keep them coming back.

The key is that this type of employee has to be empowered by the owner to make decisions and take customer service to the next level. If you are not there, does a manager or employee have the power to resolve an issue with a disgruntled customer who is bringing in a return? Does he or she have to contact you or already know how to handle the situation? Empowered employees can be service heroes. If they can take action right away, that is ideal.

Q. Once you've hired an employee, how do you train them to be a service hero?

A. You can start by defining expectations for an employee on day one. Your employees can only be as successful as to the degree that they know what is expected of them. People are not mind readers.

When you hire someone, you should discuss how much authority he or she would have to make decisions without needing to come to you for permission. That way the employee can tell a customer exactly what the next action will be or if they need to discuss it with your first.

You also need to have a training plan in place that outlines the most important information an employee needs to know. What if this person is a friend of a friend and has not worked in retail before? You must decide who is going to conduct the training and whether or not there is a need for outside training. Do not assume the new employee will know what the ground rules are in your store.

I would suggest that every time you hire someone, even if you are a very small business, you should have a buddy or a mentor paired with the new person. This mentor should always be a volunteer who will help the employee if they have a question and are shy about asking an owner.

Q. If you are adding staff, how do you make sure your entire workforce becomes a solid team?

A. Involve your longer-term employees right away as mentors. You must also communicate, communicate, communicate. As soon as you recognize a possible problem with new employees, you need to address it. Doing nothing changes nothing.

If you see an employee coming in late or not picking up the phone in a timely manner, you must say something immediately. It is a huge mistake not to address it and thereby let the employee think it is OK.

Also, emphasize the importance of playing like a united team. Everyone needs to know when he or she joins the store that employees will be there for one another and support one another when they need assistance.

Q. What common traits do the best managers possess? What can retailers learn from them?

A. Good managers must be able to communicate with employees. It’s critical to the success of any business. It is up to a manager to step up and speak up with an employee if a problem arises. There could be a personal problem or health issue that is at the root of the problem.

Managers also have to want to lead. It won’t work if someone doesn’t want to be a manager and just fell into the role because they’ve been with the business a long time. Just because someone is a good employee and knows how to sell doesn’t make them a good manager. The person may not be properly trained. You don’t want to push someone into being a manager. If she doesn’t want the extra responsibility, she will become unhappy and eventually you will lose her, maybe even to your competition.

Q. How do you keep staff once you've trained them?

A. Recognition and rewards are what I call the oxygen that every employee needs to survive and do his or her best. You must respect employees and never set them up for failure because of lack of resources or knowledge to succeed. Help them set goals and never limit them.

You must believe in your employees. If you have something you are not happy with in regard to their behavior or performance, you must be reasonable in the amount of time you give them to correct it. When people make a change, you have to be sure you applaud them for making the change. Sometimes a manager will sit down with them and address a problem, but never follow up with the employee. You must correct employees if they slip up but also praise them for doing something right.

Owners and managers should remember that employees must also be challenged. Giving them challenges is a way to reward them. Delegation is one of the most talked-about tools for management yet is one of the least used. Delegating can reward employees and also be a huge time saver.

Q. You talk about using your clientele as an extension of your marketing and sales team? How is this possible?

A. People who enjoy doing business with you are the best marketing and sales team you can have. They will sing your praises to others and send business your way. If shoppers like you and your employees, they will come back. There are other stores that sell the same items. Service heroes in your store will generate a clientele who wants to come back and will tell others.

Q. Are there any other pointers you can give retailers competing for shoppers in the tough economy?

A. Make sure your employees know how to not only treat your customers well in person, but also provide good service on the telephone. It is surprising how often this bad service happens on the phone and leaves a negative impression.

Note: In business as an author, speaker and consultant for more than 25 years, Carol Hacker has written 14 books on retail success and delivered seminars to many influential companies and associations. For more information on Carol Hacker & Associates or to purchase her books and audio CDs, visit You can reach the author at

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