Posted by Paula Baciu, Content Executive
Customer service is no longer just about ‘service’ anymore, but about care and mutual support. Shopping interactions are much more meaningful now, when our interactions with other people are so limited – and it seems that retailers know that. I remember such an episode in a supermarket this spring, that proved this to me.
Imagine a cold day at the end of March, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. I was coming back from an interview. I had commuted back and forth by tube; I remember how eerie the sight of completely deserted carriages was. I stopped by the supermarket to do some grocery shopping before heading home. The aisles were completely barren: the medicine and toilet paper shelves – even the kitchen rolls were gone. After managing to get my hands on a few cans of something (which by the way are still sitting in the cupboard because I don’t think any of us are going to cook all the things they panic-bought), I eventually arrived at the cashier.
I was so surprised to be greeted by probably the only person in a 10-mile radius who wasn’t letting himself be affected by the general depression and anxiety; he was cheering up everyone else instead. I admit I was feeling for all those who had to work through these times, especially those who worked in contact with the public. This guy, however, was obviously feeling the opposite of how I thought customer assistants would feel. He was asking everyone about their day as they approached the till, smiling, making jokes – in short, everyone was leaving with a smile on their faces. And so have I.
This is just one of a bunch of stories I can tell about superstar retail employees that I interacted with since the covid-nightmare started. Here’s a brief exercise for you: can you think of one such experience that made you feel like more than just another customer?
Retail is no longer just about shopping, but about humanity
The interaction between customers and retail employees is changing, it’s becoming friendlier, more supportive. That’s because, in our subconscious minds, the value we place on human interactions has changed this year. We can only spend time with a limited number of people and there’s hardly an opportunity to meet new people. Human interactions are scarce. Meanwhile, buyers and local businesses have been supporting each other throughout, forming a community. Therefore, the whole dynamic between customer service assistants and customers is changing. Retailers are more focused than ever on customers’ needs, rather than just ‘selling to them’.
However, retail employees are humans, like us: they’ve had to deal with their own challenges and overcome them quickly, or at least set them aside, so they could return to work with smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that not all work environments are supportive or satisfactory, and not all have followed employee safety guidelines carefully. The employees themselves might not be very happy about the fact that they have to work and take additional risks. Therefore, I believe that retail employees had to be much more resilient than others to be able to provide a positive shopping experience, nevertheless.
The retail employer’s role in maintaining employee motivation
Although not obvious at first, the responsibility for good customer care falls on the employer as much as it falls on the employee. We all know how important the working environment is to maintaining employee motivation. And motivation falls within two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Whilst as an employer, you have full control over employees’ extrinsic motivation through all sorts of incentives you can add to employment package, intrinsic motivation is harder to handle from the outside. In fact, impossible; and yet it’s the strongest predictor of job performance quality. But you need employees who are naturally (i.e. intrinsically) inclined to provide outstanding customer experiences, so what can you do?
The answer has already been stated: you need employees who are naturally inclined towards customer service. Your focus should be on identifying people who possess the right skills to handle customer relations professionally, but warmly. The stats suggest that entry-level jobs attract as many as 4,000 applications apiece, so chances are that you will have some outstanding customer attenders among these. To save your time, we’ve partnered with TestGenius to offer a retail test that will identify these candidates for you. This provides you the best research- and expertise-backed tool to hire employees with natural inclinations towards customer care.
Meanwhile, you might consider rewarding the employees who have already proved themselves this year. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation work in tandem. Intrinsic motivation is linked to the quality of performance, while extrinsic motivation (incentives) is linked to quantity. To ensure the optimal performance of your employees, your best bet is to attend both.
Paula Baciu, Content Executive at Questionmark, is committed to developing and licensing ready-made test content that increases organizational performance. She has been working closely with representatives from TestGenius to publish the Questionmark Retail Customer Care by TestGenius assessment, which was created in partnership with retail managers with several years’ experience to identify critical incidents in retail.
 Cerasoli & Nicklin, 2014. Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives Jointly Predict Performance: A 40-Year Meta-Analysis
 TestGenius is a test publishing company owned by Biddle Consulting Group, with nearly 50 years’ experience in candidate testing and HR consultation.