Updated: Jul 15
To say the last 12 months have been disruptive is an understatement. Despite the early warnings overshadowing last February’s news headlines, I don’t think anyone truly foresaw the full scale of the impact that coronavirus would have on our daily routines, our jobs, our children’s schooling, the way we shop and our businesses.
Everything has changed: More people are working from home and, since businesses have recognised the value of it, will continue doing so. More people are shopping online and whilst the forecasters tell us this may decline post-lockdown, its unlikely to be a very significant drop, since 12 months of forced shopping online will have become a habit rather than an exception. The ‘normal’ conditions that existed pre-pandemic have been shaken to such an extent that they are likely changed forever.
Which means that many businesses need to find new ways to trade if they haven’t done so already.
Everyone had to adapt: Face-to-face training disappeared overnight for us, so we too had to adapt. Thankfully we were already geared to providing online training solutions and now that proportion of our business is far larger and in greater demand. Our main focus was on retail training but we had to cast our net wider given that training was shunted down the priority list for many retailers in the early days of lockdown.
Training didn't disappear entirely: Since for a handful of retailers the need for training remained just as strong, if not more so given that many staff had to adapt their selling skills to accommodate alternative routes to selling and changed customer shopping trends. The Government was keen to point out when they launched the CJRS that employees could use their time in furlough to engage with training and many did just that.
Telesales: The most significant trend in training that we saw in lockdown was a requirement for staff to learn (or re-learn) some basic telephone selling skills. Anyone who works on the shopfloor will be used to picking up the phone but not all have used it to actively sell. Even for those retailers who did use outbound telephone selling, many have had to change the way they do it – by adopting a softer approach, for example, creating a conversation less focused on the selling, more on finding out how they can provide a service to support customers who may be vulnerable or have lost their jobs and yet still need a new washing machine, or a repair or some other service that the retailer can offer.
And whilst it’s true to say that many salespeople do find it easy enough to pick up the phone and start these conversations with total strangers, it’s also true that just as many are overcome with absolute soul-destroying horror at the very thought of it. After all, they didn’t originally sign up to be the red-hot telesales operator which their manager now needs them to be, especially if they’ve been asked to dial out from home. So, a lot of our ‘telesales’ training has been about finding ways to help people make the mental adjustments required to overcome their fears, find their confidence, and develop an approach that suits their individual strengths.
Which brings me onto another trend in training that we’ve seen, which is based around dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.
There are two major aspects to this. The first is to help people who are suffering with mental health deterioration to recognise it and obtain the support they need. Whilst we have experienced, qualified coaches to hand there are a number of organisations which offer much fuller support: ‘retailTRUST’ for example (https://www.retailtrust.org.uk/) provides a wealth of wellbeing resources designed to benefit people working in the UK’s retail sector. If you’re a Retra member, access to retailTRUST is included in your Retra membership.
Secondly, we’ve been helping business owners implement policies designed help them and their managers support employees who are suffering from mental health issues. It’s been a tough year for many and even some of the most resilient people have been affected by the stresses this pandemic has caused. Given that mental health affects people’s wellbeing and performance at a foundational level, it’s critical that business owners have the right procedures to support their employees and avoid the stigma that has plagued mental health issues since the dawn of time.
An online world: For many retailers the pandemic presents an opportunity to reinvent their business. Many have been forced to innovate online because it’s been the only way to trade whilst stores are closed, and many have forged closer connections with their local communities by providing essential services. These transformations will doubtless continue to evolve beyond lockdown to the benefit of the business and customers, but that doesn’t mean to say that the shop floor experience is defunct. Far from it.
New 'normal': The opportunity is ripe for retailers to decide what they want their shop floor to be. Maybe it’s an ‘experience centre’, a vibrant showroom where cutting-edge brands and technologies can be brought to life in new ways that resonate with post-pandemic lifestyle needs. Maybe it’s a place where the online experience merges into the physical one to provide communities with a truly invigorating place to shop.
Whatever that new experience looks like is up to you, but don’t forget that your staff need to be involved in it too, after all they’re the ones who’ll be leading it. So shunting their training needs back towards the top of the priority list is an absolute must.