Yeah, it should be a time of good cheer for consumers – but also for all those overworked retail and hospitality industry employees out there!
Why don’t we take a moment to reflect on the festive seasonal trading period, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors where South Africa experienced both its highs and lows?
An integrated approach towards brand building
For me, one cannot underestimate the immense pressure that seasonal workers are subjected to with volumes often doubling and employers’ expectations of customer service delivery continuing on indifferently. Once again, what came to light was the imperatives for organisations to groom, prepare, direct and, more importantly, nurture and value their employee workforce as they drive maximum productivity over their peak period. Here customers are exposed to a cocktail comprising product, service and people who have preconceived ideas and perceptions or none at all. So the challenge, more often than not, is how you go about managing, creating and sustaining a distinct experience for the consumer that will build on his/her brand loyalty, especially over this high-activity period.
As you well know, the reality is that products do not move off the shelves and service is non-existent without a highly efficient, dedicated, motivated and engaged workforce that can deliver on exceptional customer service and consciously live their brand. Both consumers and suppliers alike are annually overpowered by a chaotic, manic shopping frenzy over the ‘festive season’, receiving the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to service. Sadly, the truth is that retailers, hotels, restaurants and the like often underestimate the importance of their brand ambassadors and the very real impact they ultimately have on their organisations’ performance, trading expectations/goals, competitive edge and bottom line profitability.
‘Experience is everything’
The White Paper on Employer Branding ‘Experience is everything’.
Here the authors highlight the strong alignment between the customer and employee experience, as well as the influence your workforce can have – good and bad – on driving both sales and brand reputation. Personally, the first-hand experience that I received from the behaviour of a disgruntled employee over this period has influenced my perception and desire to continue shopping at a particular retail store. On the other hand, stepping into a local restaurant where employee engagement, attention and quality service remained unchanged through the peak holiday period, was most refreshing. So … I will most definitely remain a loyal customer there!
Make no mistake seasonal workers/casuals are highly influential so organisations need to acknowledge, recognize, amply reward and offer the prospect of permanent employment to the really high performers among them!
This white paper reflects on the strong relationship between the customer and all-level employee experience, highlighting that unfortunately “whilst many organisations appreciate that the ‘frontline’ employee is a critical touch point in delivering the customer experience they do not match it with the necessary resources and systems to support them”.
Brand leaders need to step in
Senior leadership teams need to implement an additional “chapter” of innovation and creativity within the employment lifecycle over their peak periods. A focused approach towards rewarding, recognising and keeping their workforce happy, engaged, energised, motivated and uniquely different, needs to be implemented by management as they capitalise on their “roaring trade”.
Also these leaders need to be far more vocal in articulating the nature of the seasonal worker’s direct contribution and the huge impact s/he makes on your organisation’s turnover. More, they need to highlight the direct influence and effect that employees can and do have on understanding and driving the customer experience, simultaneously preserving and building brand loyalty over this period.
A new report by Colloquy, “Shopping by Generation,” details 10 key shopping habits that make baby boomers different — habits that retailers should not ignore recognises that “84% of baby boomers easily topped all survey groups in saying they prefer to shop in-store” whilst “baby boomers still have greater disposable income and far more purchasing clout”.
While this survey was conducted in the USA, you cannot overlook the fact that here too in SA we need to recognise and address the appetites, levels of engagement and influence of our diverse generations and cultures. At the same time, one cannot emphasise enough the dire need to exceed exceptional customer experience/service all year long, especially while the online shopping experience is steadily picking up due to competitive and favourable pricing.
Exceptional customer service still has the upper hand over technology
As in every industry sector, technology is changing the retail and hospitality sectors, and the consumer experience. However, while bricks and mortar retail is set to continue and our tourism sector within South Africa continues to flourish, companies need to vigorously activate their internal employer branding strategies, casuals inclusive!
Celeste Sirin is an employer branding specialist, speaker, facilitator and founder of Employer Branding SA.