Retail: 18 Tips for Training and Preparing Seasonal Employees

temperaryretailemployeesIt is quickly becoming that time of year again. Soon people will be swarming your store, spending a ton of money, and generally losing their minds. It’s great for business, but only if you are prepared to handle the demand. You need seasonal employees, and you need them to be great.

How do you do that?

We are taking tips from Bob Phipps, The Retail Doctor, and his very best advice about working with seasonal employees.

Training Structure

1. Lay the foundation. If you don’t have some sort of plan in place for seasonal training, make one. Even if you are just writing it in a notebook, make sure you create one that is as logical as possible. This way, you can predict snags ahead of time and have a smoother process for your trainer to follow.

Speaking of, which…

2. Have a designated trainer (or trainers.) Find the people who would enjoy training, explain things well, have patience, possess a strong work ethic, and get along with others. Go over your training plan with them, and make sure they know in advance when they will be training new employees.

3. Limit the trainer and trainee’s focus to training. Take them off the schedule. Let the other employees know that neither is available while training is in session.

4. Limit training to short intervals. If you really want your employees to shine, don’t overload them with too much, especially not right away. Train for a couple hours at a time, have pointed lessons, and make sure the trainee has learned everything by the end. Training will also move more quickly if you limit the information to black and white. There’s no need to cover every possible exception to every rule.

5. Keep new employees in the position they’re qualified for. If you’re short-staffed, it’s tempting to throw a new employee into a role he is not yet prepared for. This can create more problems than it solves. Your other employees will have to stop what they are doing to help, the customers will not receive the best possible service, and your new employee will be overwhelmed. It is entirely possible to lose business and that seasonal employee if you promote too quickly.

Habits to Teach

The retail experience your seasonal employee hires have will vary greatly. Not everyone will have retail instincts, so you need to be explicit about your expectations. Here are some lessons you want to include before your seasonal employee is on his or her own:

1. Greet every customer you see. Without being rude to anyone else you are helping, acknowledge every person you see by looking him or her in the eyes and saying hello, good afternoon, or the like. Never appear to be put out by someone’s need for attention.

2. Inquire what brings each person into the store that day. This specific action allows you to A) let the customer know you genuinely want to help, and B) hasten the process of delivering what the customer needs.

3. Refer to the company as “we,” not “they.” Seasonal employees are every valuable bit a part of the time as everyone else. Customers expect to interact with a part of the team, not an outsider.

4. Be on time and be present. Expect delays and plan ahead for them. Have backup plans for daycare/transportation/etc. Also, when you’re at work, you’re working. Put away your smart phone, and chat with your friends off the clock.

Millennials catch a lot of slack for their notorious entitlement and tardiness. They didn’t grow up with the same life that the work-focused baby boomers did, so you just have to be clear about your expectations. On the flip side, Millennials really like being involved, so if you engage them, they will work their butts off for you. They may even teach you better methods along the way.

5. Take initiative. If someone is waiting at a register or help desk, if you can, ring them up or help them out. If you see garbage or merchandise on the floor, pick it up and put it where it belongs.

6. Keep the vibe positive. Attitude matters both on the floor and off. This is not the time to indulge in the drama of your personal life. It’s also best not to share “horror” stories about customers.  The holidays are crazy, and everyone has to deal with it. Focusing on the negative won’t help anyone get through it.

7. Managers MUST approve all schedule changes. Period.

8. Employees are not allowed to take anything without paying for it. Theft is theft, and it will be prosecuted equally no matter who stole the item.

9. Not everyone is you. Don’t be afraid to upsell just because it’s too expensive for you. What you can afford is not the same as what other people can afford. Your taste is not equal to everyone else’s. If you’re recommending an item, it’s best to stick to factors like quality, value, durability, popularity, etc.

10. Accept that it will be crazy, and keep a sense of humor. If you don’t know something, admit that and find someone who can help.

Continue to Manage

With your seasonal employees doing their thing, there are a few ways you can keep things in check:

1. Focus on your merchandise, not the checkout. If you don’t have enough staff to man the registers, hire more people. As a manager, you can’t do the most for your team or sales by ringing people up. Certainly, there are exceptions, but don’t get stuck behind the register.

2. Reward initiative. When an employee goes above and beyond what is necessary – even by a little, reward him or her with praise, recognition, and even a small gift. $5 coffee shop gift cards work great in these situations.

3. Ask questions. Even after training is complete, check in with your seasonal hires to see whether everything still makes sense and if they need other support. If it turns out that no amount of support will bring an employee up to par, it is OK to let them go.

With the right preparation, your seasonal employees will help bring some order to holiday madness. Train them well and reap the rewards of the busiest time of the year.

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