The most important skill for your employees in retail

By Heine Aaen Hansen
On 31 March 2017

You’ve heard this before: 

Your employees are the most important part of your business. 

If your employees are happy and motivated, they provide excellent customer service that will leave your customers with a positive impression of your store. 

(If you have not yet taken on your first employee, you should definitely read on!) 

Your employees are a key factor in your business. Which is why choosing the right employees is crucial. 

So, what to look for in new employees? 

Of course, you’ll take into account such factors as experience, qualifications, motivation, and personality. But there’s one thing that is often forgotten.

And that’s a specific skill which is hard to quantify – and yet it’s imperative for employees dealing directly with customers. Ready?

It’s a neat little skill called ‘active listening’. 

Active listening is about being present and focusing on the customer. 

In a minute, I’ll give you a crash course in active listening, but first I’d like to give you an example of what active listening is not.

Meet Salesy McSalesperson

We’ve all visited a store and experienced a shop assistant who was a bit too salesy. Someone who pressed on a bit too hard, and came off a tad too hungry for the sale. I call this person Salesy McSalesperson.

Maybe his sales technique works on some people. Most likely it does. On me, though, it makes the hairs stand on my neck. 

I don’t need the latest trend. Or the hippest collection of 2017. 

I just need a pair of jeans. 

And when you try to sell me fancy stuff I don’t need, I’ll just buy my jeans somewhere else. FYI.

Fair enough, I’m probably not the typical customer in said store. And if this sales approach works on other customers, by all means, be my guest. Full speed ahead. 

My point is that he could have easily sold me a pair of jeans if he had only listened to me

I admit: This is extremely hard. But luckily, everyone can improve their listening skills.

Here are 5 simple tips for active listening

1. Focus
Look the customer in the eyes. Forget other tasks, other customers, and your better half waiting for you at home. Be present with the customer. Your job is to help her. 

Don’t prepare your answer when she’s talking (if you do, you’re not listening). 

Repeat mentally what the customer says if it helps you keeping focus. 

2. Show that you’re listening
Use your body language to show that you’re listening. Nod when the customer is talking (but don’t overdo it). Smile. 

Make sure you direct your posture towards the customer to show that you’re dedicating her your full attention.

3. Repeat
When the customer is done talking, repeat what she said to make sure you’ve correctly understood her. But please rephrase. If you repeat verbatim, you’ll sound like a machine.

If you’re unsure of something the customer said, ask her. One way of ensuring comprehension is by asking: “What I hear you saying is X. Did I understand you correctly?”

4. Never interrupt
Always let the customer finish speaking. If you have a comment or question, wait until she is done speaking and it’s your turn.

On top of being downright rude, and potentially annoying the customer, interrupting will prevent you from hearing and understanding what the customer says.

5. Be respectful
When answering the customer, be honest, open, and relaxed. 

Even if the customer is complaining or the two of you disagree, you can still express your opinion in a respectful manner. It’s all about normal decency and treating other people like you want to be treated yourself.

Active listening is difficult, and getting good at it takes practice. But if anything is worth your time when working in retail, it’s active listening.

Got any comments or brilliant advice on active listening? Get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Heine Aaen Hansen

Marketing and content at Bambora. When not writing, I'm reading. Book aficionado, word nerd, and helpless dad.

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