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In today’s technology-fueled, hyper-competitive marketplace, customers wield an unprecedented power of choice. What differentiates one retailer or hospitality brand from the next? Why should a customer choose your brand the first time, and what will keep them coming back? As the world’s most successful retailers know, delivering the best customer experience is key to winning customer loyalty.

Your frontline professionals are the people who deliver that customer experience. Retail leaders can spend endless hours developing their brand image, but in daily reality, it’s the interaction between frontline personnel and customers that defines a person’s brand experience. As customer service expert Karl Albrecht puts it, the customer doesn’t distinguish between the organization and the customer service representative; in the customer’s eyes, whoever they are talking to is the company.

That’s why actionable, skill-based diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training is essential for frontline retail professionals. Every dollar you invest in DEI training for your frontline team will deliver a triple benefit – to your employees, to your customers, and to your bottom line. Let’s see why.

DEI Training Delivers Fundamental Frontline Skills

The business case for investing in frontline training is clear: training employees empowers them to do their jobs well. It leads to increased productivity, greater retention, and higher job satisfaction. Yet a recent survey by Axonify found that 31% of frontline retail workers say they do not receive any formal workplace training, and even when they do, 27% say the training they received was ineffective and not engaging. 

A recent survey from technology company YOOBIC confirmed that lack of training is a top barrier to frontline workers’ on-the-job success. 40 percent of the world’s 2.7 billion frontline workers receive training once a year or less. As a retailer, when you invest in training your frontline personnel, it makes them feel recognized, valued, and empowered to do great work. In short, it pays to recognize the value of quality training.But why invest in DEI training in particular? 

DEI training gets right to the heart of what frontline retail professionals need to deliver great customer service: the action-based skills to meet every customer where they are. Top quality service requires showing concern for the customer as a person. DEI training helps frontline professionals recognize and eliminate unconscious biases that can make many customer relationships non-starters. 

Without DEI training, your customer-facing employees may project attitudes and behaviors that drive customers away, whether they do so consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally. First impressions make all the difference. If your frontline professionals’ unconscious biases result in customers being treated with apathy, condescension, given the brush off or the runaround, they won’t be satisfied, and they won’t be back. 

The Airline Industry: A Prime Example

A prime example of the need for DEI training is the airline industry. Frontline professionals in the airline industry work under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. Airline staff interact with passengers at the terminal and on the aircraft for hours at a time. Passengers are often tired, jet lagged, hungry, dehydrated, time-crunched, anxious, and sometimes fearful. 

The passenger population represents the gamut of the general public – all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. They are from every country and speak every language in the world. They have visible and invisible conditions that may make air travel challenging. Their attire may range from three-piece suits, to tank tops and shorts, to pajamas. On top of all this, the pandemic brought with it a range of additional challenges. Mask and/or vaccine mandates have caused some passengers to become unruly or even violent. Many airline personnel are feeling overscheduled, exhausted, and even scared. 

How can frontline professionals and customer service personnel in the airline industry — or any other retail environment — avoid making assumptions about customers and provide top quality service to every one of these diverse individuals?  

In the early 1980s, British Airways was so infamous for poor customer service that one well-worn joke was that B.A. stood for ”bloody awful.” So, they did a survey to determine what passengers wanted. The four top factors included care and concern, skill in handling complex logistics, a customer service approach that allowed personnel the flexibility to address one-off problems, and when things go wrong, the ability to set things right. All these attributes make perfect sense. But, before frontline professionals can deliver on any of the four, first they need to connect with each customer as an individual.

DEI training provides frontline retail professionals with interpersonal skills that help ensure all customers feel welcomed, appreciated, validated, and engaged. It teaches techniques that will help your customer service reps diffuse difficult situations with professionalism, patience, and a people-first attitude. Both your frontline workers and your customers benefit as a result.

The Bottom Line: Productivity & Retention

When frontline professionals are adequately trained, they can do better work. They also tend to stay more loyal, thereby reducing the high cost of employee turnover. As of 2020, the average turnover rate in the retail industry was slightly above 60%, according to the National Retail Federation. And according to Human Resources Today, this high turnover rate translates into more than 230 million days of lost productivity and $19 billion in costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training. 

If you’ve been thinking that DEI training is just a current business fad or an optional extra for frontline professionals, then think again. It can be a great tool for retaining employees. And the top-quality service they deliver will help retain your customers too.

It’s Time to Invest in Your Brand Ambassadors

If you’re a retailer that embraces the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, remember it’s your frontline professionals who must convey these values in every single customer interaction. These are your brand ambassadors. 

Investing in DEI training will benefit them, your customers, and your bottom line. As Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke write in their landmark book Service America!, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.” One great way that retail leaders can do just that is by providing DEI training to their frontline professionals. 

 

For a conversation on DEI for frontline professionals, check out our webinar, Beyond the Conference Room: DEI for Frontline Professionals.

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