During the Retail Congress Asia Pacific 2017 in Hong Kong, Suzanne Santos, General Manager, Retail and Customer Service, Aesop Australia, delighted the audience with a talk about how the survival of the physical store is intrinsically linked to employees.
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Retail in Asia has met Suzanne to ask her how to engage the employees and turn them into brand ambassadors able to offer a unique in-store customer experience.
RiA : Employees are the key for the survival of the physical store, in which sense we cannot recreate the face-to-face interaction on an e-commerce platform?
Suzanne : Human contact and the notion of being an individual. E-commerce platforms are supermarkets, more often than not; they optimize the shopping experience in terms of time, but this is not necessarily a gain.
Physical stores offer intimacy. For the customer, there is someone listening to you directly, understanding your concerns and finding solutions that are exclusively for you in that moment. In this way, a valuable interpersonal relationship is established.
RiA : How do brands turn their employees into brand ambassadors, cultivate the relationship, and make them part of brand?
Suzanne : Through consistent expressions of respect that mirror the way, in which you brought them into the company: embedded in your manner of engaging them in conversation, your manner of speaking with them, and your willingness to listen to them. This inevitably engenders reciprocal respect and a shared passion for the brand.
Further, at the end of the day your store employees know your customers more intimately than you do. So your employees’ knowledge is not simply to be shared in brief interviews and quick meetings. It needs to be discussed at length and valued highly.
RiA : All store employees in Asia seem to share the same script, what is different at Aesop?
Suzanne : It can be difficult for store employees to open a conversation with a new customer. When they enter a store, they do not necessarily want to speak, but they do want to be acknowledged. Attuning to their disposition and their passage through the store is paramount; the time to initiate a conversation is that moment when the customer lingers over a particular product.
RiA : If you have to summarize your presentation, what’s the takeaway for retailers?
Suzanne: The key is an exchange of knowledge. The customer journey culminates in a purchase when the store employee is self-aware, highly knowledgeable about the product and connected to the brand. When this is the case, the employee is able to learn about the customer’s needs and concerns effectively, discuss them with acumen, and also help the customer to learn more about themselves.
This interview has been conducted with the support of 11K Consulting.