“Teaching Could Hurt Your Retail Business” by Bob Phibbs via Retail Doctor Blog

“Teaching Could Hurt Your Retail Business” by Bob Phibbs via Retail Doctor Blog

This blog is my (Bob Phibbs) response to a question from a Facebook fan asking me, “What is the difference between training and having to repeat your instructions regularly while not seeing them followed?” 

The Difference Between Instruction and Training in Retail

Many retailers have relegated training to check-a-box for completion. These types of training are suited for compliance issues like safety, security, sexual harassment, and more. Once you know that you shouldn’t run after a shoplifter, you don’t have to practice it. You just need to know it.The Harvard Business Review cited that we only retain 44% of what we learn just an hour after we learn it. While there is a place for instruction where comprehension is easily gauged and tested when it comes to simple tasks, the same techniques do not apply for long-term retention.Training is longer term and more nuanced. To effectively change behavior, the learners must learn what is correct and understand why the change is being made. They need the chance to build upon small parts of information.Instruction is often modular – how to fold a sweater, receive a shipment, and pack an order. You learn what you need, but it is not connected to a longer-term behavior change.Training is linear – engaging a stranger, building rapport, and comparing and contrasting. It is a process of changing attitude, perception, and behavior. In short, it is a bigger lift for the learner and a bigger payoff.A huge TikTok trend is cleaning hacksThe #CleanTok hashtag has gotten over 82 billion views. Most people find that completing a task can provide a sense of accomplishment because it is short, and you can immediately see results.Training is not just about learning what to do but understanding why it’s done and how it contributes to the overall business strategy. It starts with how Retail Management looks at the process. How one-off instruction tasks differ from behavior trainingI heard a young man sharing with a co-worker recently that if you get lost in the woods, you should change your voicemail to where you are and which way you’re headed so when people call your phone to find you – they’ll know.That is a great example of one-off instruction. You don’t have to go out in the woods and try to do it, you heard it, and because it had an added heightened fear of being lost in the woods, it will stick – even for you reading this.II. Understanding the importance of training for soft skillsSoft skills need a bridge from knowing to doing. A conversation can go badly on a sales floor in so many ways. You can take the necessary steps in sequential, bite-size chunks to understand what to do but still be woefully inept at actually doing it. Knowing ⍯ doing.The misconception that instruction is the same as training can lead to a superficial, “check-the-box” approach to employee development. This can create a false sense of completion, where managers believe they’ve successfully trained their retail staff while employees still struggle to understand the very basics of their jobs.The Detrimental Effects of Thinking that Instruction Is TrainingThe “once-and-done” attitude toward training comes from the confusion between instruction and training. They are not interchangeable. One is a desire to get through or complete a checklist. The other is a desire to impact the trainee.It can be frustrating to many trainers that not everyone learns the same way. So they revert to a simple video or demonstration to be watched or a pamphlet to be read. Once the trainee completes that task, there is a sense of relief that whoever is in charge has completed the tasks of onboarding, product knowledge, or introducing a new POS procedure.The impact of high turnover and unmotivated employeesThe challenge with instruction only is that employees need to grasp the why. Even worse, they are left on their own if they don’t catch what they were supposed to in the brief instruction. Associates might feel undervalued and incapable, particularly if they’re left to figure out tasks independently or if their mistakes are corrected without helping them attain an understanding of why they were wrong.I was recently at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and the cashier had to stop, call over a shift leader and say, “I don’t know where the box of coffee is.” Rather than the shift lead taking this young woman through the process of navigating the screens, he came over, scrolled once, clicked a button, and, with a grunt, left.Just doing it for someone doesn’t train them, either. It frustrates them that they aren’t worthy enough to be treated as capable of understanding what has to happen. That leads to higher turnover, less motivation to hustle, and lower profits.III. The Benefits of Behavior Training for Engaging ShoppersTop managers understand exceptional customer experiences result from systematic and repeatable behavior training, just like a well-rehearsed symphony performed by a group of highly skilled musicians.In my former life, I was a conductor with my own chorus and orchestra. Imagine if a conductor said that the audience members were the most important people in the concert hall, but allowed the musicians to show up unprepared, randomly play their instruments, get lost in their distractions, and ignore the score.It would be chaos.This dissonance would occur because the players had not been trained on the score, practiced, and held accountable to play what was on the page. They probably had never witnessed the process of creating a remarkable symphony.Unless the conductor meticulously outlined the steps and provided ample time for these musicians to internalize and reflect on their previous behaviors and then conduct rehearsals to reinforce the new behaviors, the performance would be a disaster. And the audience wouldn’t return.Reflecting on and practicing new behaviorsSimilarly, for exceptional customer experiences to occur in a retail store, associates must be trained on how to follow a process, just like musicians follow the score and then practice.Some employees may suffer from social anxiety when engaging with strangers. You can help them by providing the necessary training to empower your associates to create a positive and engaging environment.IV. Selling More Merchandise in Your Store with Behavior TrainingBy taking a customer through an orderly journey of awareness, discovery, qualifying, comparing and contrasting, and adding-on, you can be sure any personality style can relax and enjoy themselves. They feel they matter and trust the recommendations they see in your signage to the ones your crew makes. That helps grow your average ticket.Without that, you’re pretty much left with, Can I help you?The associate earns the right to sell the merchandise with that rapport established. Even if something goes wrong later on, like a missed delivery, it never becomes personal because you have a relationship with your customer.V. Top Strategies for Implementing Effective Behavior TrainingPrioritizing soft skill training for retail employees is the key to it all. When you do that, you engage the synapses in the brain and keep it active. An active brain is a learning brain, so make sure you:

  • Have a selling systemTrain in bite-sized lessonsUse mock sessions to gauge understandingReward and hold accountableProvide ongoing training and support

The key is to understand that you always do training, not check a box to get rid of it.In addition, remember the brain is always looking for patterns. When associates have been doing it wrong, the brain takes a lot to extinguish the old “Can I help you?” behavior.That’s why all of my training is interactive. At random times, like in the middle of watching a video, the learner will be asked a question they must answer to continue. This engages the mind and disrupts old patterns. 

In Sum

By implementing a training process as I teach in SalesRX, my online retail sales training program, employees can develop the confidence needed to play the game of retail successfully. That is to get the shopper to buy from you today at a profitable price and then want to return.

Just as a well-rehearsed symphony captivates the audience, well-trained and engaged retail staff can create exceptional customer experiences, fostering customer loyalty and driving business success.

My online retail sales training program provides a comprehensive system that prioritizes soft skill training for retail employees. By implementing effective behavior training strategies, retailers can improve customer experiences and increase sales.

We are pleased to mention that the author Bob Phibbs aka the Retail Doctor (who has contributed to BRA with outstanding articles like this one and so many others that we have reposted over the past few years) has also contributed to BRA monetarily. We value his relevant retail insight and encourage you to learn more about his offerings by clicking on the following link to his website:

– Doug Works, Executive Director BRA

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