Real Training Begins When the Trial Period Ends

Employee Trial By Fire Has No Place on the Retail Stage

You went to all the trouble to hire new employees for your retail shop and help them through basic training but now what? Trainers, now that the trial period is over, ask yourselves something. Are you still training? Because employees can’t learn everything during Orientation. All you can accomplish during the first few months is laying a solid foundation on which to build. The real training happens on the job after the employee understands the basics.

Our company lays down the law that employees cannot share anything with customers that they haven’t learned from us so trainers must maximize a new employee’s opportunity to expand their knowledge base. Assigning menial busy work is easy and tempting but not a good use of labor costs. Anyone can dust and straighten shelves but that won’t improve their customer service skills. And let’s be honest here. No happy customers means soon there won’t be any shelves to dust anyway. Teach employees to use their company resources – more experienced coworkers, trainers, managers, vendors, books, etc. but not at the expense of the customer experience. Remember, once that open sign is flipped and customers are in the store, it’s show time. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. Is the employee’s question something you can answer? Aren’t you the expert? If so, answer it right away, right there in front of the customer. The task at hand is always the customer. Yes, employees need to learn independence but never at the expense of our customers.

When the issue can’t be handled by the employee, don’t stand there and tell them what to say. Instead, have them listen to how you handle it. The fact that rookies are seeking your help means they are not yet ready to fly solo so don’t kick them out of the nest too soon. Praise them for recognizing that they need assistance instead of winging it and failing. Never forget how it felt to be new and inexperienced. Tough love has its place but trainers must remember who they’re dealing with. Has your rookie completed sixty hours in that area or only sixteen?

As the owner and general manager, sometimes I will have a department manager handle something instead of doing it myself as part of their training but these are managers we’re talking about. They want to do it on their own. They need to prove they can fly solo. Expectations are higher for seasoned veterans and managers. In no way can rookies be expected to handle much of anything without help. Not only are they not yet capable, they’ve been told not to say anything beyond the scope of their training. When you handle something for them, with them or in front of them, you are training them and the customer not only gets the better employee, they see how much we care to train the newer employee. Then, next time, the rookies will know what to do and, perhaps, instead of asking you for help, they’ll ask you to supervise while they attempt to do it on their own. Independence is the goal but only when new employees are ready. Set them up to succeed, not fail. Remember, our success depends on their success.

Teaching rookies a lesson by letting them privately flop on projects is one thing. Letting them fail in front of a customer is quite another and, frankly, a total fail on the part of the trainer – not the rookie. The customer deserves the best person for the job. Getting rookies trained is not the customer’s problem; it’s ours. The audience doesn’t pay to watch a rehearsal; they come to see the show. Sacrificing good customer service in order to train someone the hard way not only demoralizes the rookie, it makes us all look bad. The trainers appear arrogant and rude, too busy for the customer, too distracted to help the rookie, giving off the perception of condescension and disinterest which is actually nothing more than personal incompetence. This approach – especially with the added pressure of the customer’s presence – sets the rookies up to fail. And when they fail, we all fail.

As a trainer or manager, hold yourselves to a higher standard and set the example for rookies. Your job as leader doesn’t end when their trial period is over; it ends when you pick up your last paycheck. Teach by example. New employees need to see you immediately drop everything for a customer. Immediately. Everything. Every time. No task is more pressing than the customer. Without the customers, you have no tasks. Everything else – and I mean everything – can wait.

Now, when you find yourself repeatedly bailing out the same new employee in the same situations you can deal with that after the fact, back stage, during follow up. Successful companies want employees who never need to be told twice. But when the moment is live, it’s show time. Until the closed sign is flipped and the curtains are closed, it’s lights, camera, action and you remain in the spotlight. Positive, encouraging training can and should happen in front of customers while you have the employee watch you work. Everyone wins with that situation. But employee trial by fire has absolutely no place on the retail stage.

Sherry Emerson is a wife, mother, and entrepreneur who recently starting blogging after prompting from her family, peers, and trusted employees. She shares ownership of Pet World in Lawrence, Kansas – a thriving, unconventional, open concept, pet store and education center like none other. Twitter @sherryemersonPW Blog: sherryemerson.com Business: petworldlawrence.com facebook.com/PetWorldLawrence

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