Why Is The Retail Experience Often So Poor?

We’ve all experienced the situation. We go into a store with the simple purpose of buying something and come out reeling from an encounter with a store assistant in which we’ve felt like an unwanted intrusion.

Most of the time we don’t say anything and sometimes we go back because the store is convenient for us but, boy, if we had a choice we wouldn’t!

We all have attitudes and feelings. Sometimes we feel good, sometimes we feel bad. But the truth is, if you are in a service role, particularly one in which you deal face-to-face with customers, you cannot afford to simply act out your feelings. There’s only one attitude that works in a service role and that’s a positive one, an attitude that communicates to customers “I like working here,” “I like serving customers,” “You are my main focus.”

What makes matters worse is when the person with the negative attitude is the manager. How can we expect the staff to have a positive attitude if the boss hasn’t?

If the boss comes in with a bad attitude it spreads like wildfire. Within minutes, everyone is down. So it’s critical the boss has a positive attitude, even if he or she doesn’t feel like it. I love the saying “You can’t expect your staff to listen to your advice but ignore your example.”

Attitude And The Link To Behaviour

There’s one question I’m asked more often than any other: “How do I fix someone’s bad attitude?”

I usually offer two points in response. First, I acknowledge the reality of the challenge the questioner is dealing with. Attitudes can be hard to change; in fact, any change has to come from the person themself. Second, I have the questioner focus on behaviours, rather than attitude per se.

Let me give you an example.

When we receive bad service we often feel as if the staff member doesn’t want to be there. In actual fact, we don’t know whether or not the staff member wants to be there. We cannot read another person’s mind, and there’s not too many staff members who come out and declare, “I don’t want to be here” in front of customers. We are making an assumption.

The negative feelings we get are probably based on one or two key behaviours. It could be that we weren’t acknowledged when we walked in, or when we walked up to the counter. Perhaps the staff member didn’t look at us when we were served, or didn’t give us a greeting. It could be their tone of voice that sounded negative.

All of these examples are behaviours. We classify behaviours as what a person says or does, and these can come across positively or negatively and therefore create a good or bad feeling. So whenever a manager asks me about fixing a bad attitude, I have them list the behaviours the person exhibits. Once I know what these behaviours are, I can help the manager give feedback that focuses on changing these behaviours.

Can attitudes be trained?

The answer is yes, in some circumstances only if the person is open to want to change, if not, it’s way too hard. Of course, it’s preferable to not have to train at all for attitude; it’s preferable to hire people with the right attitude from the outset. For many owners and managers, however, recruiting great staff will not provide an immediate solution because they have existing staff they are not in a position to fire. So we have to take a two-pronged approach: work powerfully with the staff we have, and recruit wisely when a vacancy arises.

So, for now, let’s look at working with the staff we have. And let’s start, as I do, from the belief that most people want to do a good job. If most people want to do a good job, what happens to have them not deliver?

One common factor is the manager’s reluctance to address issues as they arise. If the manager fails to address an issue, staff may keep on pushing the boundaries until the problematic behaviour becomes the norm. It’s vital, therefore, that issues are addressed when and as they occur.

Another common factor is failing to distinguish whether the problematic behaviour is a training issue or an attitude issue. Ask yourself whether the person exhibiting the behaviour could do it differently if he or she were promised a million dollars. If the person could do it differently for a million dollars then it’s an attitude issue; if not, it’s a training issue.