ImageThe connected customer can find anything they want. Your employees can differentiate the experience and your brand.

I’m one of those connected customers.  I scan QR codes.  I read product reviews.  I’m never without my phone and it is loaded and ready with Google Shopper, Red Laser and Barcode Hero.  I write reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp!  I seek feedback about products  from my friends on Facebook and Twitter.

My son is an avid soccer player. He probably knows  as much about the merits of different products as most people who sell soccer products.  He’s a keeper and therefore his goalie gloves are superstitious item (I won’t even talk about his sock ritual!).  They have to be Reusche. Period.  If they are not, then his goalie mojo will evaporate.

In short, we are connected consumers who are crystal clear about what we want.

So why are we in the car on Saturday morning driving to a store 12 miles from our house when I could easily purchase what I want online?  One simple reason.  The employees at the Soccer Post.

If I’m being honest, I don’t usually like to talk to store clerks.  It’s not that I’m anti-social.  It is more that I really like to do things for myself.  I have all the information that I need at my fingertips.  What I want from them most times is to be courteous and let me settle my bill quickly.  So why is the Soccer Post different?  Because the employees are passionate.

It is clear they love what they are doing.  Their enthusiasm for the latest Joma shoe or ‘epic’ goalie jersey is contagious.  They know who has which patents on which type of finger saves in everyone of the goalie gloves they carry.  The truly understand the crazy sock ritual–something even I as the mother don’t get.

A CASE STUDY

 Much has been written about the loyalty and caliber of Chick-fil-A employees.  The turnover among Chick-fil-A operators is only  5% a year. Among hourly workers turnover is 60%, compared with 107% for the industry.  They don’t pay any more than other fast food chains.  They don’t have any greater benefits.  The career path and training at McDonald’s is far superior.  So why are Chick-fil-A employees so much better?  The answer is not merely that they have a religious foundation and they recruit and hire from church communities.  It is not that they are closed on Sunday.  It is more than that.  They hire employees who believe in what they stand for.

IGNITING YOUR EMPLOYEES

Retailers don’t need to shut down their stores on Sunday and stand outside of churches with job applications as their new HR strategy.  The Soccer Post in Raleigh has the same type of employees and they were recruited from the elite soccer players in the area.

So what is the formula for getting employees excited?

Clarify what you stand for

It does not have to be a religious principle, but it should be clear and something that is easily understood.  In truth, if your brand is well done it should be instantly obvious.  It doesn’t have to be a lofty goal that a future Miss American contest quotes.  It can be simple like the Soccer Post—performance soccer gear for all levels.

Hire only those who believe

Once you’ve articulated what you stand for you, only hire those who have similar values.  We’ve all made bad hires because we were time crunched, dying for an extra set of hands, afraid that the headcount would go away if we didn’t act quickly or various other rationalizations.  I have been guilty of it myself and have always ended up regretting it.

When I asked the owner of the Soccer Post how he recruited such good employees he said “I find those who love the sport and I figure I can teach them retail.”

How often have you looked at a job application and tossed it aside because they had no retail experience?  Or worse does your HR team do this and you have no idea?  If you are unsure, should call your recruiters right now and give them some additional screening criterion rather than ‘previous experience.’

When you make bad hires, you are not the only one suffering.  Your brand and your customer are the victims of these poor choices.  Wait until the right candidate comes along.  Recruit from communities where people with your beliefs congregate.  This is  much easier than ever before with social media.  Moreover, these communities are global.  Leverage Linked In, Facebook and Twitter to find people who match your philosophy and aspirations.

Create a Culture Around Your Beliefs

Let’s say you are a struggling consumer electronics retailer.  You spend a lot of time hyping new products to your customers.  Do you also do that for your employees?  They are the ones who are going to be helping customers select products.  Do your employees exude enthusiasm about the latest television or video game?  Do you celebrate successful product launches of what you are trying to focus on?

If you are a women’s apparel store, do you get your teams excited about the latest in fashion?  Do you send them Twitter updates about the trends live from the runways?  Why not?  If you’ve hired well, then these people will want to hear this type of information and will eagerly share it with your customers.  Think of it is quick, inexpensive employee training.

 Make the Tough Choices

I’m sure Chick-fil-A has heard the business case from every freshly-minted MBA on why they should open on Sunday.  However, Chick-fil-A is steadfast in remaining closed so that employees can attend church and be with their families.

If you clarify what you stand for and something comes along and opposes that, you have to be willing to say “No.”  For instance, lacrosse is becoming big where I live.  What would happen to the experience at The Soccer Post if they started carrying lacrosse gear?  I’m guessing they would have to hire lacrosse experts too.  So when I wanted to know the specs on the new Reusch gloves, I’d have a lacrosse player trying to help me?  Or perhaps they’d go back to the old reliable “Must have retail experience.”

SUMMARY

If you want your customers to be passionate about your brand and what you do, then your employees have to feel that enthusiasm as well.  In a connected world, customers can find lower prices, free shipping, etc.  Focus on things that can differentiate you and having great employees is one of the easiest ways.