8 Retail Staff Training Tips to Improve Performance, Sales and Customer Service

Do you think your store could use more motivated, top performing employees? Do you feel as if your staff could do better at selling and serving customers? If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep reading.

Today’s post tackles retail staff training and offers best practices on how you can facilitate effective learning to ensure that your staff performs at their best.

1. Hire for attitude, train for skill

The success of your training program doesn’t just rely on your teaching methods, it also hinges on the inherent attitudes and values of your staff. As Bruce Nordstrom puts it, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”

That’s why it pays to hire trainable individuals with the right attitude. It’ll be much easier to train a positive person who’s open to learning and who shares your values than it is to modify someone’s default attitude and disposition.

‘‘We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.’’ – Bruce Nordstrom [Tweet this

As you might have guessed, Nordstrom is one company that hires people based on attitude rather than experience. In the book The Nordstrom Way authors Robert Spector & Patrick McCarthy talk about how the department store puts the attitude over aptitude concept to practice. “The company hires nice people and teaches them to sell rather than trying to retrain salespeople taught other methods. Nordstrom believes the best people are have been trained by their parents while growing up.”

Another notable example is JetBlue. According to the Disney Institute, the airline believes that you can train for skill, but not for attitude, and it “has embedded this conviction in its front-line hiring process.”

To find individuals who have a natural service inclination, JetBlue conducts group interviews and observes how candidates interact with one another. This allows interviewees to assess applicants’ people and communications skills in a way that can’t be done during a one-on-one interview.

“You can train for skill, but you can’t train for attitude.” – The Disney Institute [Tweet this

So the next time you’re on the lookout for new employees, be sure to look at their nature and disposition first, before evaluating their knowledge and skills. Implement ways to assess their natural inclinations through personality quizzes or, like JetBlue, by conducting group interviews.

2. Get to know each employee and tailor your training programs accordingly

Once you have some new hires, take the time to learn more about each individual so you can figure out the best training method for them. (More on this in a bit.)

“The first thing I like to do is learn about my new employee; who they are, why they chose this job, what motivates them, how they learn best in school, their interests, etc.,” says Sarkis Hakopdjanian, principal at The Business Clinic.

“Learning about their motivations for working in their role helps me figure out how to motivate them during training. Knowing their preferred learning methods helps me customize my training approach based on how they best retain information,” he adds.

“For example, some people are visual learners, so I use images and infographics to communicate my point. Some people learn best by doing, so we focus more on role-playing. Also, learning about their interests helps me create analogies or examples that are familiar to them.”

3. Use a mix of learning tools and methods

“People learn and retain information best when they are using several aspects of their brain simultaneously,” comments Hakopdjanian.

“So first they may hear the information from me, then they will read about it in a book or manual, then they will see it demonstrated in person, then they will role play it themselves, and finally, they will teach what they’ve learned to others. The more I can incorporate various aspects of their brain during training, the greater they’ll be able to learn and retain information.”

To ensure that your employees can internalize what’s being taught, utilize multiple learning methods to train them. For example, if you’re training your staff on how to use software such as your POS or inventory system, it’s best to demonstrate the programs in person, and then refer them to how-to videos that they can come back to.

Or, if you’re training them on customer service, you can verbally teach your staff about company policies, reinforce the information through handouts or videos, then practice everything by role-playing.

Speaking fo which…

4. Role-play with your employees regularly

Role-playing can be quite effective, especially when it comes to sales. As the team at Graff Retail notes, role-playing “can be your #1 key ingredient to help bring your sales training to life and it will be the very thing that makes your staff finally just ‘get it!’”

Hakopdjanian echoes this and says that role-playing “helps them crystallize their training through practice and repetition. This also helps when looking for opportunities to develop their skills further.”

According to Graff Retail, there are several ways to eliminate role-playing’s awkward factor and make it fun. Here are some of their suggestions:

Role-playing doesn’t have to be formal.  Start by observing your staff out on the sales floor.  In between customers, spend some time re-enacting sales conversations that didn’t net out in a sale.   Keep it casual. 

Role-playing doesn’t have to be in front of the entire sales team.  Warm your staff up to the idea by using role-playing in your one-on-one coaching sessions.  Just you and your staff member; no judgment. 

Role-play the good and the bad.  You’ll be so surprised how quickly your staff grasps a selling concept when you act out “what not to do!”  Not only will it cause uproarious laughter which relaxes the team, it will clearly reveal where things went sideways in the sale process. 

Once your staff is comfortable with role-playing, integrate one scenario into every Shift Starter Meeting.  This is a great way to kick-off each shift during the day.  It immediately gets everyone thinking about sales and it allows managers to select one selling skill a day to focus on.  

During larger staff meetings, allow time to role-play as a group.  Put a bunch of “What Would You Do?” scenarios in a hat and give everyone a chance to get up and act out the perfect sale.

*Read the full article here or watch a sample training video from Graff Retail’s Get Selling! Program.

5. Pressed for time? Implement modular training

Running a retail store can be time-consuming. If you or your staff have issues with completing the training sessions, consider modular training. This entails offering short and flexible training segments instead of long and winding sessions.

“Because of scheduling and the cost of including staff not scheduled when the training occurs, it may be helpful to have training that is modular and can fit into 1-hour segments, as opposed to having training that requires long periods of time,” says Hank Boyer, President & CEO Boyer Management Group.

“Modular training enables staff to be brought in prior to store opening, or stay after store closing, if it cannot be accommodated any other way,” he adds.

6. Strive for continuous improvement

Your initiatives shouldn’t end just because the training program or period is over. For best results, make learning and development a continuous effort in your business.

According to Michael Provitera, author of Mastering Self-Motivationretailers can “develop a system of continuous improvement for their staff using Total Quality Management techniques.”

“Knowledge retention can be enhanced with knowledge management tools, the use of technology, newsletters, best practice examples, publications, and most importantly, monthly staff recognition.”

7. Know when to enforce rules and when to give employees room to be creative

Pay attention to the rules and guidelines that you train employees on. While these are necessary to keep employees in line and ensure consistency in procedures, there may be some areas in your business that don’t require rigid rules. In some cases, it may be more beneficial to empower employees to use their judgment and be creative.

For example, while it’s certainly best to have step-by-step instructions when training people on how to operate store equipment and software, you can probably give employees more freedom when it comes to serving and delighting customers.

Nordstrom is famous for it staff empowerment practices. Take its store returns policies, for instance. According to the retail giant, when it comes to items bought in their stores, their return policy is… to not have one.

“We don’t actually have a return policy for purchases made at Nordstrom stores or at Nordstrom.com,” they state on their website. “We handle returns on a case-by-case basis with the ultimate objective of satisfying the customer. We stand behind our goods and services and want customers to be satisfied with them. We’ll always do our best to take care of customers—our philosophy is to deal with them fairly and reasonably; we hope they will be fair and reasonable with us as well.”

In other words, Nordstrom leaves each return situation up to the employee and encourages them to use their judgment and focus on satisfying the customer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should chuck your store policies out the window. Some retailers can’t afford not to have a return and refund policies. What you can do, however, is look at the different areas of your business and determine which ones need strict rules and which ones don’t, and then train your employees accordingly.

8. Get help if necessary

Recognize that you don’t have to implement your training program on your own. If teaching isn’t your specialty, see if you can delegate the task to an experienced manager or even an outside professional.

There are plenty of trainers out there who specialize in retail and can create tailored programs for your business.

When it comes to the hardware and software in your business, see if you can get training from your vendors. Most solution providers provide training materials to customers to help them get the most out of the program, and others even have partners and resellers who can train clients on the solution.

Vend, for example, has both. There’s Vend U, our retail resource center which contains guides and on-demand training on using the software and on becoming a better retailer; and we’ve also teamed up with Vend Experts and resellers who can set up and teach merchants how to use the software to its full potential.

Further Reading

Need more staffing tips and insights? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Training and Motivating Retail Employees, an in-depth resource packed with actionable takeaways for motivating employees and boosting staff productivity. In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to empower your workforce to maximize happiness and productivity
  • What tools and methods to use when educating your staff
  • How to motivate your staff to bring their best selves to work

    Learn More

Weigh in

We’ve just filled you in on some of our best retail training tips, and now we’d love to hear from you! How do you implement effective training in your business? Let us know in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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