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How employee experience impacts customer experience?

By Kristopher Fraser

Aug 10, 2022

Retail

Imagen de Korie Cull vía Unsplash

It starts with a need for something new for your wardrobe. A customer might have an event coming up, just got a new job, or is just in the mood for some new clothes. Maybe they don’t have the time or patience for online shopping, but that’s where good old brick-and-mortar stores come in.

Upon arrival at a store, a customer is typically greeted by a sales associate. One would expect the highest level of customer service from a hello to a mention of promotions. In luxury retail, it's common to offer champagne and sparkling water to current or potential clients. While a potentially paying customer would expect a high level of customer service, this isn’t always the case.

Often, a sales associate receives blame for having a bad attitude or not being trained on par with an expected level of customer service. However, the sales associates aren’t the only ones to blame. Employee experience can directly correlate with the level of customer service that customers receive. In other words, if store employees are happy, then customers are happy. This is a top-down approach that starts with management at the top and traces back to the corporate level of retail in some cases.

To put it simply, happy employees make for happy customers. “Bad or unfair management leads to disgruntled employees, which then leads to upset customers who feel they didn’t get the service they expected,” said Megan Miller, a former VS Pink sales associate, to FashionUnited. “In my time working retail, I noticed unfair or unrealistic expectations and sales goals were the catalysts of many employee and manager arguments. I worked at a store mainly targeted toward younger customers, but managers were on me to get people to sign up for credit cards.”

Anything beyond an introductory student credit card typically requires credit history for approval. For sales associates working in brands or stores with either a high demographic of young consumers without credit history or international tourists who don’t have social security numbers, opening credit cards becomes challenging.

Unrealistic sales goals can also cause employees on the sales floor to get more competitive with each other for sales and become more aggressive in their sales approach. That aggression does deter customers from wanting to go into physical stores, though, because shopping becomes uncomfortable, as it almost feels like they are an object for a bidding war.

Management would do well to improve employee conditions by simple acts of humanity. First off, managers can check in with employees’ stress levels. At the same time, managers need to balance that with levels of micromanaging. A level of employee recognition is also helpful when employees do a good job, as that tends to have the greatest impact on customer engagement.

Not all sales associates who have worked a sales floor blame it on management. Courtney Gilfillian, a former sales associate at J. Crew and Ulta, told FashionUnited, “If I’m treated rudely as a customer, I’m not going back to that store. Rude employees aren’t necessarily a reflection of store management. I’ve worked in stores with perfectly nice managers, but disrespectful employees, and vice versa. It can reflect the top down, but not always.”

In the end, stores need a balance between strong, quality management and happy sales associates to thrive. Customers want a shopping experience that’s overall positive, and to feel like they are somewhere both they and their business are wanted. By fostering a positive work environment behind the scenes, it will help foster a strong customer experience on the sales floor.

Work in fashion
Illustration Jackie Mallon
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