Posted January 14, 2011 8:45 am by with 5 comments

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In case you have been living in a cave or are already in line for the iPhone from Verizon there is trouble in the world of customer service and support these days. The Internet has obviously created a legion of well-informed consumers but the surge in mobile Internet usage and apps for mobile has created a legion of super informed customers at the point of sale.

This can be troubling for retailers as you can see when they answered the question whether they believe that shoppers are better connected to product data than store associates. The study was conducted by Motorola Solutions (thanks to Marketing Charts for bringing it to our attention).

Ok ladies and germs. I get that there could be an advantage but there is no good reason for that to be happening at all. Why? It’s because the retailers are not arming their sales associates with the tools to reach even basic competency levels for their jobs. If these front line people are not ready with company provided information or given the mechanisms to keep up then retailers are getting what they deserve.

This kind of marketing and data that the consumer gets before, or often without, the company representatives knowledge is becoming more commonplace. Larger companies are not nimble enough to stay ahead of the Internet’s speed of data availability.

From personal experience I can even tell you that it happens when an offer is mailed to you (you remember those days don’t you?).

How is it possible that companies sit back and complain that the consumers know more than their employees? It’s possible because companies are screwing up left and right and are not always looking to fix the problem. Most times it will require some type of an investment (phones, data plans etc) that will not be ‘justified’. Meanwhile the following statistics (if they are truly accurate) should send a chill down any retailers spine.

Not engaging shoppers, with or without mobile devices, produces negative consequences, according to study data. Twenty-eight percent of store visits ended with an average of $132 unspent due to abandoned purchases driven by deal-habituated behavior, out-of-stocks, limited store associate assistance and long check-out processes. Shoppers with smartphones used their device to influence 39% of their walk-out incidents; meanwhile 12% checked prices at other retailers online and 8% checked availability at other stores.

The bottom line is this. If there is a situation in any retail environment where a sales associate is out-maneuvered by a customer and the customer walks out the door without making the purchase because of it don’t blame the sales associate. The company is at fault for not arming their employees with the tools to handle their job.

Whether it’s in a call center or in a mall, when companies have employees that are less knowledgeable than their customers and prospects it will, more often than not, be a losing proposition for the retailer and deservedly so.

Have you had an experience where your information stumped a sales associate to the point that you walked out on the sale? Tell us in the comments. Give store names so we can all be made aware of what we should avoid.

From the other side of the coin, if you are a retailer and your sales associates are not equipped with the most up-to-date knowledge for them to help sell for you then you may be just plain stupid.

  • Wow, I had no idea that the issue was that huge. I actually don’t have a data plan for my phone (I know, how can I not, right?) but all my friends do, and they use them while shopping to bargain or price check, get better deals, find stock elsewhere… I had no idea that the stores are doing nothing to counteract this behavior. I know it’s hard for part-timers to view their jobs with loyalty and diligence, but perhaps if there were more career-entry incentives then things like knowing the industry, being up on competitors sales, and reasons why someone should choose to buy there would be more of a priority to the employees.

    • @Jen – Interesting points all. Retail has never been a place where carer development is top of mind unless someone has ‘gutted it out’ and ‘proven themselves’ over time. Careers in retail often happen due to attrition rather than talent. Not always but many times.

      No matter what the issue is though if retailers are OK with having sales associates that are under informed and beaten by their customers then they deserve the results. It’s pretty simple, right?

  • Joshua Corbelli

    Great post. Having been in retail for years, I am all too often surprised by the lack of customer service skills at some of the larger stores. That said, however, one needs not point complete blame at the employee, but instead to look at the higher end of the management structure. The sales force is the driving line of any company, and if they are not equipped to do the job, sales will be surrendered. There is no way a smart phone is a better salesman than I, but I can’t speak for everybody…

    • @Joshua – Honestly, in most cases I wouldn’t fault the employee. Now if they were given the right tools and THEN didn’t know more than the customer it’s a whole other set of issues.

      I believe that in most cases the front line people are not equipped well enough whether in retail or sales in general. I have been in many of those situations myself where training consists of learning processes then you are thrown to the wolves with hearty handshake, a wish for good luck and a ridiculous quota.

      Until Director, VP and C-level folks ‘get it’ though this will likely repeat itself because the distance from the executive lunch room to the place where money changes hands grows larger each year.

      Oh well.

      • Joshua Corbelli

        I agree. A lot of time it seems like the sales force of a lot of places is made up of young folks clocking time for a paycheck.

        However, I wholeheartedly believe management is responsible for holding employees to task, and being comfortable in their skills. If management can’t provide tools to the sales force, change in management doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

        Anyhow, I agree that the end employee is the face of the problem, but not the source.