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Seeing through the customer’s eyes: The Warehouse Group and Hallenstein Brothers talk training

Training staff in customer service is one thing, but what the customer actually experiences can be quite another. We spoke with Garth Cook, learning and development manager at The Warehouse Group, and Kerry Maea, general manager operations at Hallenstein Brothers, about how retailers can maximise their educational programmes and quantify the customer experience.

By Sarah Dunn | April 14, 2016 | News

Learning and development manager at The Warehouse Group, Garth Cook.

The Warehouse Group is New Zealand’s largest listed retailer – and when large numbers of people are interacting with your brand, says Cook, there’s always a chance that something will go wrong. TWG’s in-house training programme not only accepts this fact but uses it as a learning opportunity.

“We are very, very proud of the online training,” Cook says.

TWG approached RedSeed to create the four-part online training modules, which were launched in early 2013. As soon as they went live, Cook says, the ratio of unsolicited complaints versus compliments changed “dramatically” for the better.

“We had more compliments than ever before.”

Cook says TWG went on a bit of a journey with RedSeed as it compiled the modules. Early on, a traditional approach which Cook characterises as “These are the four steps to good service” was scrapped. Everybody knows the basic skills which are emphasised in this kind of training programme, Cook says, so instead, TWG wants its trainees to understand why these skills are correct, and what the meaning of good service is.

The four-part training modules focus on instilling values and culture into trainees, rather than teaching them specific rules. Cook says having an intuitive understanding of TWG’s values makes trainees more likely to make the right decision in a difficult moment.

“If we talk about those values, it’s more likely they will do the right thing.”

TWG has a number of retail brands, and each requires a slightly different customer service approach.

The WarehouseCook says the key motivations of customers at the Red Sheds are “Can I get it? Is it priced and on the shelf, and can I find a short queue?” They typically prefer to be left alone to browse, but the moment they need help, a staff member should be available, friendly and ready to lead them to their product.
Warehouse StationeryHere, customers want to be offered “the whole solution”, says Cook. Staff are taught to inquire what the customer wants their item for so they can be given everything else necessary for the project.
Noel LeemingStaff identify as “passionate experts”, and develop areas of individual expertise across these complex products. Customers needing advice on cameras, for example, will be introduced to the “camera guy” on the team.
Torpedo7 Cook says TWG focuses on hiring people who do outdoor sports to staff this brand. “There’s a chance you’ll bump into them when you’re out there on an adventure.”

TWG’s new modules cover:

  • First impressions. First impressions are lasting ones, says Cook. This module covers body language, presentation and more.
  • Make their day. Smiling and being available for customers is important – as for what not to do, that’s also covered in this module.
  • Fixing it up. This core service training covers the kinds of behaviours which may be perceived by customers as rude and discourteous, and how to listen to customer complaints.
  • Be the best you can be. Looking after yourself can be “a vicious cycle or a virtuous cycle”, Cook says. When staff are feeling good, customers will react well and those experiences will improve their day, but the cycle also works backwards.

The new training also puts a lot of emphasis into practical, on-job applications.

TWG puts a lot of emphasis on providing clear pathways from new hire to store manager, Cook says. Posters in every tearoom and staff cafeteria show structured training linked to New Zealand qualifications.

“I’m really proud of the breadth of it and the fact that we can grow our own,” Cook says.

At Hallensteins, training is all about creating a non-intimidating environment which encourages the customer to stay in-store for as long as possible. Kerry Maea says changing dynamics mean younger customers often come in accompanied by their friends with an intent to shop socially, but traditionally, the Hallensteins customer is a reluctant shopper.

“The traditional customer is always on his own, he doesn’t want to be there,” she says.

This customer is out of his comfort zone in a clothing store, says Maea. He’s focused on finding the item he wants, making a purchase and getting out as quickly. Therefore, it’s vital for staff to greet him as soon as possible and make him feel welcome – but in a warm way, that doesn’t feel pushy.

“It’s important that we’re breaking down those defenses,”

Hallensteins does a lot of suiting, which requires a particular suite of customer services skills. Staff members must learn to size up a customer, knowing roughly what size they are before asking, and fit items. They should also be able to teach people how to tie a tie.

“A lot of those younger guys are buying their first suit and they don’t know how to tie a tie,” Maea says.

These tasks require the salesperson to build a rapport with the customer. If it’s done well, it can be the start of a long-term retail relationship – customers tend to upgrade their suits as they grow in confidence.

Each part of Hallenstein Brothers’ training programme focuses on observation and body language. Skills like these help the staff identify traditional customers from Hallensteins’ younger customers, who have an entirely different modus operandi – “they’re wanting the newest thing and they want it now,” Maea says.

The “social young guy” label also fits many of Hallenstein Brothers’ team members, and it can be a challenge to keep them engaged. Maea says these staff members demand modern training methods: “They want technology, iPads, not writing.”

Hallensteins’ implemented RedSeed’s training programme in 2009 because, Maea says, it was the most technologically advanced system they could find. Hallenstein Brothers has an app, which can be accessed through iPads supplied to all stores.

“That salesperson or that young guy doesn’t want to go home and do homework so [training] has got to happen in the workplace,” Maea says.

Maea says the programme is quick, simple, visual, inspiring and product-focused. It has standardised the customer service experience: “When you have a written programme, you’re relying on a human element to teach it. This way, you know it’s delivered the same way.

Slick training programmes also have a place in retaining Hallensteins’ keen young sales force: “They want career advancement, and they want it yesterday.”

The “old way” of training doesn’t work anymore, Maea says, and Hallenstein Brothers must continue innovating to hold onto these dynamic salespeople. RedSeed has been very adaptable and accommodating in this regard: “You’ve got to be when you’re in retail.”

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