Brand Equity Begins and Ends with Your Associates

Bricks and Mortar companies that spend millions on consumer research and multi-millions on in-store technology are wasting much of those capital assets if they first do not invest in human capital.

Yes that’s right.  Just when you think kiosks and self-checkouts are sub-planting the need for human beings in retail store fronts across the nation,  don’t forget that many of your customers still value human interaction.  Somehow, someway, these attention-starved customers will find one of your employees to talk to, even though locating them is becoming as rare as a sighting a Republican in Massachusetts.

Despite wave after wave of new technology, digital customer touch points, and e-commerce, your sales associates are still in charge of your brand’s image.  

Their demeanor, their ability to solve the customer’s problems, and the speed in which they do so, still means more to most customers than all the shopping apps and digital signs you can offer them.  Oh, and by the way, when the technology doesn’t work, it is the sales associate who must either fix the technology or work around it.

Further evidence of my contention abounds.  Note today that the corporate title of “Customer Experience” is beginning to work its way into the corporate organizational charts.  I would suppose the title implies this individual’s performance is measured in standard metrics such as customer satisfaction, repeat visits, willingness to recommend, etc.  So if customer experience has emerged as a significant C-suite role, there must be a connection to sales performance, one that should supersede the continuous quest to trim labor expense out of said customer experience.  Speaking from years of in-store management experience, the biggest single asset or detriment to the “customer experience” is the performance of your in-store associates.

Conversley, you will not get an argument from me that there are labor savings and efficiencies to be had in most any retail operation.  However, when associate training, benefits, hours, and full-time status are continually slashed to “remain competitive”, there is a real risk of also slashing your customer’s reason for coming back to your store with the same knife. In today’s technology driven environment, where there is often little to separate one retailer from the next on product, price, and place, it is human capital, ironically, that can emerge as a real strategic asset, if it is regarded as such.

If retailers consider training, associate incentives, recognition, and the resulting “customer experience” an investment in competitive advantage, perhaps it will be viewed in a different light the next time budget cuts are mandated.  Remember, your associates  may be one of the last important attributes of your business you can truly own!

Comments are closed.