The recent Centre for Retail Research figures showed that around 120,000 retail jobs were lost last year. While some job losses could not be avoided as behemoths of the UK’s high street collapsed, other retailers are reducing staff numbers to cut overhead costs and align with reduced footfall. But what does this mean for customer experience? And how could that impact retailers’ ambitions?  

The truth is that cutting staff overheads requires a careful balance to maintain good experience for the customer, whatever sector(s) you’re working in. If you have too many staff members, then revenue will struggle to cover operational costs, which is devastating in a sector with increasingly tight margins. At the same time, with too few staff you will struggle to deliver against expectations, in terms of customer experience, sales volumes or both. 

There are issues for companies either way, but having too few staff could be catastrophic for businesses that are already precariously close to the edge. From managing staff morale and turnover, to making big-ticket sales and generating loyalty, there’s a lot to consider. Furthermore, the human interaction that physical retail offers is one its principal USPs over the online shopping experience.

Burnout and lose out

In a global survey by McKinsey, an average of one in four employees were experiencing signs of burnout, resulting in cynicism, exhaustion, and emotional distance. Understaffing, resulting in overwork and poor working conditions, can often be a significant factor in burnout, often affecting multiple team members who are left to pick up the slack. 

Not only can undervalued and demotivated staff have the obvious impact on customer service, long-term understaffing is likely to lead to higher turnover, and the resulting loss of knowledge and skills that can help drive sales and deliver a more engaging customer experience.  It is not just the experience (and its impact on sales) to consider though. 

A little encouragement goes a long way

When it comes to considered purchases, consumers are unlikely to part with a sizeable proportion of their monthly budget on products and services based merely on a snap impulsive decision. When it comes to ‘big-ticket’ items or other considered purchases, particularly in the retail sector, our own research reveals that around one in five (18%) of consumers will head to a physical store to seek expert advice. But what happens when they get to the store, and the experience isn’t quite what they had hoped based on a lack of service, attentiveness, knowledge or customer journey.

Of course, staffing is always about balance, whatever sector you work in, but having too few staff or poorly trained team members could result in lost sales, your customer heading to a competitor or worse, not buying into a brand at all based upon their experience. When we’re talking about products like TVs, white goods, sofas etc. developing the customer journey is essential to secure sales. In the current climate, making cuts is inevitable but if you are reducing staff levels to the point where you can no longer fulfil customer needs, your customers may just stop shopping with you all together.

Innovation only increases staffing needs 

Looking at some of the products coming out of CES – LG’s transparent OLED TV, virtual reality headsets and microwaves in handbags – and thinking about our general societal shift towards smart devices and products, the need for knowledgeable staff will be essential for providing a good customer experience, and ultimately developing new and existing categories through sales.

Products are becoming more complex every year, and there is more choice. For many consumers, the wide array of brands, products and features can be overwhelming, and that is where customer experience becomes even more important. While they will research products online, many people like to head into a physical store to see the products in person and get some guidance, support as well as reassurance before making a considered purchasing decision.

Investment in training is essential to develop the customer journey and brand experience, which enhances staff retention due to personal development and job satisfaction. In many cases, brands are taking things into their own hands, as they have done for many years, by installing trained staff into stores to ensure that their products are well-explained to customers seeking help, owning the customer journey. 

Work smarter, as well as leaner

The brands and retailers that get it right and enable customers to get the support they need – whether that is in-person or online – will ultimately win out. Once consumers feel an affinity with a particular store or brand, they will return if they receive consistency and service that they enjoy and can trust. 

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