The Great Customer Dilemma—Should I Engage the Associate?

Brian Gallagher
Customer interacting with employee and laptop

I’m sure you have asked yourself this question. I know I do almost every time I enter a store. “Do I want to talk to an associate—or is it easier to avoid them and look for information myself?” For retailers, this decision almost always costs us a sale today and certainly does nothing to create a valued customer for the future. As a consumer, I could miss out on a wealth of information and waste a ton of time. In all my years of leading retail teams, I can’t count the number of times we discussed how to overcome this and make sure the customer wants to engage an associate. Most of the time it is blamed on the industry as a whole: “Other retailers have such bad service that our customers are avoiding our associates too.” So, what if we focus on what we can control?

How to Guarantee Engagement

Be Proactive. If an associate is always smiling, actively greeting, and offering flexible support, the customer will be hard pressed to avoid the support. There was an old training rule from my team in retail about how a customer should be greeted within the first 10–30 seconds after entering the store. If you really want customer and associate engagement, throw this rule out the window. The goal should be immediate. A customer can ask themselves three–five questions in a matter of seconds, and it only takes one negative thought to have them avoid engagement. Eliminate this window of doubt.

Be Thoughtful. It is important to realize that no two customers are the same. In the COVID-19 world and beyond, you’ll need to showcase your understanding of customers as individuals. Use opportunities such as digital communication and health features to showcase your desire for customers to be comfortable.  Clearly displayed thoughtfulness can develop the emotional customer connection in seconds.

Be Empowered. The engaged customer wants an engaged, well informed associate. Customers want an associate full of answers and with access to information that adds value. The most critical elements to empowering the associate are accurate real-time data and mobile engagement. Retailers need to deliver 100% accurate information, including product availability and features. An associate is only valuable if they have information that the customer cannot find through a simple mobile search of their own. Mobile engagement is important for two reasons. First is meeting a core tenant of retailing, which is never leave the customer alone with their own thoughts and questions. Second, mobile engagement provides comfort in today’s technology driven world.

As retailers work to establish the value-add of each customer touchpoint, the associate is often the common denominator, whether they are working in a physical store or call center. It is important to showcase that value. A proactive and empowered associate will change the dynamic of your customer engagement—and you might even be able to eliminate the dreaded “should I engage” mindset. And you can build an environment where the human element becomes a differentiator once again.

If you need help selecting the devices that will help your employees engage your customers, contact us today. We will work with you to build a solution that meets your organization’s unique needs. Together, we’ll start your journey to more engaged employees and more satisfied customers.

Brian is the Retail Strategy & Business Development Director at Connection. Brian joined Connection in 2016 as the Retail subject matter expert (SME) after leading National Store Operations teams for more than 20 years. Brian has a deep understanding of today’s Store Experience and Customer Engagement solutions requirements and works collaboratively with customers and partners to create complete business solutions to drive customer engagement and revenues. Outside of work, he enjoys traveling with his wife and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.