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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 27, 2023 • Issue 23:02:02

The very point of sale: Sales associates: Your best sales allies

By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LL

Sales associates play a key role in the shopping journey. Isn't it time to give them their due? Good help is hard to find today, and no matter how hard payment solution providers try to bridge service gaps in retail and hospitality environments, unattended solutions can only go so far. There's no substitute for friendly, knowledgeable staff who assist at checkout, make recommendations, check stock at other stores and appreciate customers.

For years, customer experience has been top of mind among payments professionals, who have noted consumers want more choice and control of the shopping journey. But where would we be without brand ambassadors to moderate those choices and guide decisions at checkout?

"What is a Sales Associate? And How Do I Become One?"—a post published Jan. 13, 2023, by online course provider Coursera—points out that today's representatives do more than process customer payments. They typically have other responsibilities, such as positioning merchandise, restocking shelves and helping customers find products that fit their needs.

"In the retail industry, a sales associate has multiple opportunities to interact with customers and create a pleasant shopping experience," Coursera researchers wrote. "According to Forbes, stores are redesigning their sales floors, offering seamless shopper experiences across physical and online store fronts, and using social listening strategies to understand customers better."

Social listening

Coursera researchers further noted that social listening, also known as social media listening, can help merchants analyze online conversations to learn about their target audience. This process can reveal a great deal about customers, and these insights can also help merchants perfect their outreach and improve the way people feel about their brands, they explained.

Social listening can shed light on how an audience may feel about an organization, its competitors and topics related to its products and services, researchers added. Online reviews and discussions, they noted, can also reveal the challenges consumers experience, their most frequently asked questions and best ways to reach them using their preferred channels.

While merchants use social media listening technologies to collect data on how customers experience their brands, they also rely on frontline representatives who are the face of their companies for firsthand customer insights. These observations help merchants identify popular products and services and how customers interpret their brand messaging, Coursera found.

Multiplier effect

With so much attention given to social media influencers and content creators who promote a brand, think of the power of a face-to-face ambassador who directly engages with customers at decision points. These transactions occur on-site at retail's last mile and can be revealing.

As Coursera researchers mentioned, sales associates can improve the customer experience and improve their employers' profits in multiple ways: greeting and interacting with customers at the door and in the store; listening to customers and making targeted recommendations; upselling customers by accessorizing purchases with complementary products and services; checking and maintaining product inventories; and providing advice and guidance based on product knowledge and know-how.

Coursera further noted that sales associates can help with marketing campaigns, loyalty programs and store promotions; create displays and shelf merchandising; direct and install in-store signage; process customer payments; wrap, package or bag purchased products; promote sales and new products; stock shelves with new inventory; process returns and exchanges; and remediate order errors.

Excellent experience begins with service

As consumers, we routinely transact across channels, which may include buy online, pick up in store; curbside pickup; and in-app ordering. We rarely notice the heavy lifting that facilitates these options. It's the times when tech is not behaving—perhaps due to power failure, human error or network disruption—that make us appreciate knowledgeable customer service representatives. This happened to me recently when I attempted to change mobile carriers. Rather than bore you with details, let me just say it was a hot mess that ended with a return merchandise authorization.

About a month after I returned my mobile phone, I found an irritating sales tax charge on my credit card statement. It wasn't worth the phone call I made to customer service, but I called anyway to express my disbelief and found a knowledgeable and empathetic listener on the other end of the line. After reversing the charge and removing my card on file to prevent a recurrence, she expressed regret that she had not been involved earlier.

"I know why the representative was not able to activate your new phone," she said. "And sadly, it would have been a very simple fix."

That statement restored my faith in the brand, even after the fumbling incompetence I'd experienced. We closed the service ticket on a good note, and while I would hesitate to order a phone from that company again, I'd probably be willing to consider their other products and service offerings in the future.

Gain, retain sales associates

Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) promote all-in-one solutions that process payments and help merchants in numerous ways by integrating business management, advanced analytics and CRM programs within a unified framework that can be viewed from anywhere at a glance.

Restaurant, store and hotel employees leverage these next-gen business management systems to run payroll and manage menus and inventories. Wait staff use these systems to adjust tips, reconcile reports and clock in and out. Marketers use their built-in analytics to understand customer needs and assess marketing campaigns. In all cases, the success of the solutions MLSs sell depends on ease of implementation and ongoing usage. An October 2018 study by PwC, titled "Our status with tech at work: It's complicated," found employee-driven tech solutions create a motivated, energetic and productive workforce. How are you and your colleagues handling your merchants' employee experience, post-sale?

"While 92% of C-suite execs say they're satisfied with the technology experience their company provides for making progress on their most important work, only 68% of staff agree," PwC researchers wrote. "That experience gap matters. When you don't have a clear and accurate understanding of how your people use technology in their jobs, and what they need and want from those tools, their overall experience at work can suffer." If you're promoting solutions based on how well they help merchants gain and retain customers, maybe it's time to include sales associates in your pitch. end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. Connect via email dale@dsldirectllc.com, LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/dalelaszig/ and Twitter @DSLdirect.

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