Demands on the sales associate are exploding. As consumers return to stores across Europe and the U.S., the job of the sales associate has never been more complex. They are now expected to provide outstanding services across three channels: in the store, online and via distant sales.
Adding to the challenge, there are now fewer of them; the luxury industry has cut more than 40,000 jobs worldwide, many of them sales associates. Pay has suffered too; shuttered stores and reduced traffic led to pay cuts as deep as 40 percent, according to experts at MAD. And associates say they are lumbered with transactional technology that is not focused on customer experience. In some retail environments, associates are juggling seven apps to do their job. Brands face an HR challenge: how to take care of the associates so they take care of the customers?
Research shows that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147 percent. In short, great customer experience means more sales. In addition, retaining associates equates to lower recruitment costs, which HR needs to keep an eye on.
So how should sales associates be set up to win? The answer lies in removing complexity.
First: The technology needs to give full transparency to their work so they can get the credit they deserve for all their outreach and not just transactions. Pre-Covid, for example, some brands did not recognize when associates helped to fulfil e-commerce orders giving them little incentive to help. Compensation based only on output that benefits the company but gives little consideration to the customer “is incompatible with the values of luxury retail,” according to Solange Strom, a luxury CEO and entrepreneur.
In addition, the technology imposed on associates by IT departments often does not recognize that some VIP customers may want to “chat” by message throughout the day with associates. One of our customer brands says associates sometimes exchange as many as 20 personalized messages in an ongoing conversation with a new client before they make a second purchase.
The right technology will not only drive sales but also double up as both marketing and training channels. Another BSPK customer says that new associates are increasingly leaning in and checking with managers to ensure they are staying "on brand" when messaging with clients they have never met.
Second: Associates now need to be hyper-organized with intuitive simple-to-use technology designed just for their needs rather than their "perceived" needs by head office. The modern reality of customers coming from multiple touchpoints now requires engagement to be systematic, immediate and proactive.
Third: The technology must be constantly evolving and adapting to the rapidly changing needs of the associates and the client expectations. That means being agile about integrating new functionalities. Based on feedback from associates, for example, at BSPK we quickly added the ability for associates to send video clips in their messages to demonstrate clothes in motion after their clients asked for it.
Business magnate and billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic Richard Branson says every employee should be 100 percent proud of the brand they work for but companies must give them the tools they need to do a good job. He says brands should prioritize employees first, then customers.
New retail is not about giving up on the physical store as the “temple of experience” -- it’s about making it a temple of experience, according to Geoffroy Lefebvre, CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter. However, given the choice of in-person, remote, and e-commerce channels, the pandemic has shown that today's consumers want them all. It’s up to brands to make sure they empower their hardworking teams in both the physical and digital frontlines so they can deliver.