BrainTrust Query: Tempted to Text

Discussion
Feb 16, 2011
Doug Fleener

Through
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current
article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Dynamic Experiences
Group.

During a recent shopping expedition, I couldn’t help but notice the number
of store employees using cellphones while on the floor. I wondered if these
companies allow their employees to use their phones at work or if these folks
were just not following company rules. I did ask one person if her company
was okay with her checking email instead of paying attention to her customers.
Oh, if looks could kill!

So, I decided to ask my clients what they do. They are
a combination of small, mid-size and national specialty retailers. Here’s what
they said:

1. Do you allow employees to carry their phones with them while
on the floor?

Yes – 20 percent

No – 70 percent

Other – 10 percent (Mostly in case of emergencies)

2. Do you allow employees to
access their phones while on the floor?

Yes – 15 percent
No – 75 percent
Other – 10 percent (Mostly in case of emergencies)

3. Do you have a written
policy on cellphone use at work?

Yes – 55 percent
No – 45 percent

Not surprisingly, multi-store locations are more likely
to have a written policy, but most respondents were pretty firmly against cellphone
use by employees.

“Cellphone use on my clock is strictly prohibited. They must be turned
off upon arrival to work and all purses are left in the office to help prevent
employee theft,” said one.

Added another, “We would like to allow
the use, but invariably they end up texting, gaming or on Facebook and customer
service suffers or is ignored completely.”

A few people are fine with it.

“I don’t mind if my employees access their
phones as long as there are no customers in the store.”

“In today’s world, cells are an integral part of life. They are used
in lieu of a watch. Kids and elderly parents need just one number for emergency
contact. Quick texted messages are less disruptive than phone calls to/from
the store. But phone conversations are to be taken off the floor. If phone
isn’t a disruption and doesn’t impede service, it’s ok.”

One store manager
even leverages the phone for good service.

“We let employees take pictures from their cell of product to email customers
with new merchandise or product that they think their customer is interested
in.”

How accessible should cellphones be for store associates while working on sales floors?

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36 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Tempted to Text"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I definitely encourage the use of employees using cell phones on the floor if the phones are being used to obtain information for the customer.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Let’s see, we see a constant stream of articles about why people are finding the brick and mortar shopping experience less pleasant, retailers wondering why people don’t like to shop in their stores, etc, and then wonder if employees should be accessing their phones while on the sales floor? I am sure I am not the only person who sees a connection between these events.

It is one thing to use the phones to send pictures of items that may be of interest to customers, it is another to have employees ignoring customers to finish a text or to update their Facebook page. Yes, there emergencies but retailers do have land lines that can be called if one should arise. Cell phones for non work specific use should not be allowed on the sales floor.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Unless cellphones and other “smart” devices are being used to help customers or drive sales (e.g. calling another store, checking for inventory availability online), they should be off limits for sales associates. What Doug describes is another example of “bad manners” creeping into everyday life. All of us have fallen victim to smartphone users checking e-mail, etc. during meetings or social occasions where the unspoken message is, “I am more important that you are.” (Or we’ve been guilty of the same behavior ourselves.) If retailers take the position that customers or browsers are invited guests, and train their sales associates accordingly, this sort of breach of etiquette–and bad business move–can be avoided.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

It really is a binary choice, i.e., either they are allowed to use them (and you, as an employer, essentially lose all control) or they are not allowed for any reason under any circumstance. It’s unrealistic to assume that if people have active cell phones they won’t use them except in “approved” ways.

In general people seem to have no sense of the appropriate use of cellphones (think of all those drivers out there blissfully weaving from lane to lane and all those legions of folks screaming their credit card information out to anyone in earshot). So, if the policy permits usage one shouldn’t be surprised at abuse.

From a customer’s point of view there is nothing more irritating that looking for someone to help you only to find an employee chatting away or texting. Often these employees will actually turn away from a customer with a scowl indicating they are upset their “privacy” has been violated.

I say given the current state of social self discipline–ban the phones. We’re all on them too much anyway.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
10 years 2 months ago
Ah, the wonderful contradictions that retailers have to manage. I was speaking to a store manager at a location that had just implemented Wi-Fi in the store, and he was both delighted and dismayed at the number of employees who, within a month, had figured out that they could bring in their iPod Touches and ride on the free Wi-Fi. Delighted because they actively used their iPods to help customers–looking up ratings and reviews for customers on the retailer’s website, emailing customers, all kinds of things. Dismayed because it also meant they could access Facebook and games and all kinds of other distractions. When it comes to employee devices, you can’t beat “free” (as in, bring your own). But if you’re going to encourage their use, you can’t complain when they also get used in ways that are not conducive to customer service. I realize that the examples above aren’t even a case of retailers encouraging them or not–this seems more a case of the mobile generation running smack into us old-school thinkers when it… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

All employees are fully engaged. The big question is with what are they engaged? What we have here is a failure to connect!

Nor do I think employees should be using their cell phones just because there are no customers in the store. Look at it from an energetic perspective–maybe there are no customers in the store ‘because’ they’re on their cell phones. When employees behave in a way that shows they’d rather be somewhere else an energy is sent out that repels customers. Weird I know, but true.

Ever gone into a store or restaurant and seen all the employees kind of huddled together talking and/or goofing around because there’s no customers? Tell me you didn’t have the impulse to turn around and leave. Why did you feel that? Because you ran into an energy that told you on a cellular level that you weren’t expected nor particularly wanted.

Employees can also be taught to send out energy that attracts customers.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

When people should be working, they should not be talking on their phone. Even if there is no one in the store, there are other tasks to be done, like straightening shelves. Talking on cell phones when they should be helping customers tells the customer we really don’t care about you. It is the same when you see employees talking to each other while customers wait.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Personal use of a mobile device other than on break time is simply a no-no. That goes for texting, surfing, gaming or talking. Employer policy should make that rule crystal clear.

But that same device can be an enabler at work. For example it could be loaded with an app that delivers task assignments to and collects in-store intelligence from each associate. It would make every employee instantly accessible, like a pager, and help managers track their activities.

I’d call my app “Cleanup on Aisle Seven.”

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
10 years 2 months ago

There is only one policy that makes sense: use cell phones for business use only. I would encourage inbound calls from customers. I would encourage using smart phones to learn about competition and to enhance the shopper experience. There are already many apps that shoppers use. Store associates must be equipped to serve these customers.

This is the same policy that is in effect in most stores for regular telephone use, fax, Internet, etc.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 2 months ago

Cell phones on the store floor should only be used for business, but that places the burden of policing cell phone usage on already overworked managers. To avoid cell phone misuse/abuse on the job, personal cell phones should be banned, a retailer that really wants “connected” associates should invest in its own PDAs anyway.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Tough call on this issue. My son used his smart phone on the sales floor at Brookstone, it was faster than the store computer to find things for customers. He also used it to show the customers competitive product, and then pointed out specific advantages of Brookstone product on the spot to close the sale. He sold way more than his peers using that strategy. What he was doing was against policy until they tracked his results. Then it was encouraged by the store manager. 🙂

But the drawback is a lack of integrity on the part of many retail associates. They phone is like candy in their pocket and they can’t govern their behavior to wait until after dinner! The immediate gratification is both a blessing and a curse.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

If the store manager had mobile tools at his or her disposal, he could be in the front of the store actually WATCHING the employees and managing them. Policies are almost irrelevant here–store managers need to MANAGE.

The question is not really “should employees be allowed to use cell phones?”–the question is “How can we re-engage the store manager on the selling floor?”

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 2 months ago

Looking at this another way, why not use employee cellphones as retailer tools? Imagine summoning checkers to the front without those annoying loudspeaker announcements. Speed-dial each checker in turn and, when they answer, you can be sure they got the message. If your call goes to voicemail, you know they’re using their phone for something other than business. How about calling employees to the rear dock to unload a delivery? Store managers in one part of the store checking in with department managers on the other side of the store? What about the times the checkout line is stalled because a bagger is sent back into the store to retrieve an item for a customer? A quick call to a clerk who’s already in that department would make it much faster to get the product to the checkstand. A manager standing in front of a hole in a shelf can call to the back room for more stock. The applications are endless.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
10 years 2 months ago

Millennials are the single largest demographic among store associates now. Phones, internet, video, text, IM; social is how they communicate. A retailer that ignores this and tries to restrict this medium is creating a counter cultural work environment and missing opportunities to increase productivity with more effective communication and collaboration.

Trying to lock away the technologies to prevent inappropriate behaviors is a losing strategy.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Why don’t we let employees just hang out on the mall bench too? It’s ridiculous to see the number of staff in stores checking email, on Facebook or sending texts while on the job.

When the day comes that some bright programmer creates an App that drives productivity ONLY through smart phones, then maybe you’ll have a case. But the reality is that the moment you allow the employee to hold their personal device while at work they will use it for personal purposes.

As noted above, is it any wonder that shopping experiences for customers are so poor lately?

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
10 years 2 months ago

This is an interesting dialogue. There is no doubt I personally find this kind of employee behavior very frustrating. To me it is counter to what I perceive as respectful customer service and I would guess that the majority of customers today feel the same way. However, I do wonder whether Millennial generation customers who represent a bigger proportion of the shopping population every day see this the same way. After all throughout their lives they have grown far more accustomed to this kind of behavior than I ever did and may be far more accepting of it. I don’t know. Maybe for some types of retailers their customer base would already see this as an acceptable norm?

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

It’s interesting to see the divergence of opinion. I can’t imagine allowing personal devices on the shop floor. For every example of improved service, there must be ten examples of associates that won’t look me in the eye or help me because they are on Facebook.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
10 years 2 months ago
Before the days that texting became popular, a young associate kept me waiting with critical questions I had about a camera as he spoke on the phone. I shot him a stare and he told his contact to hold so he could help me. After we spoke he walked away and resumed his conversation. Two minutes later I called him back and he held up his hand asking me to wait as he continued on the phone. He seemed intelligent and kind but to me this was rude and a time waster. I notified the manager and there was no sale. Another time I was overseas, in a fine shop. I knew what I wanted to purchase. One of the two salespeople in the department was helping another customer. The other was on the phone, loudly engaged in a personal conversation. I signaled for help and she signaled back to wait. After at least a couple of minutes, she signaled she would be with me soon. I told her I preferred to wait for the… Read more »
John Karolefski
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

A recent national survey found that shoppers prefer getting product information from their smart phones instead of a store associate. So why not level the playing field?

Store associates can be trained to use their smart phones to improve customer service by providing product information and performance ratings in the aisles to those shoppers who don’t have smart phones, or are too lazy to use them. In other words, be pro-active.

Don’t prohibit store associates from having smart phones with them. Make that a way to improve customer service.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
10 years 2 months ago

I think there is a big difference between using phones like in the case of the Gap and elsewhere where they are handled as an ear piece and used to help customers. That is much different than the cashier on lane 3 texting the cashier on lane 7. Generational uniqueness to technology I get, poor customer service I don’t.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 2 months ago

This quote from the article says it all “I don’t mind if my employees access their phones as long as there are no customers in the store.” This person has a much larger problem than cell phones if you have long periods where “no customers” are in your store. Maybe shoppers don’t come in because employees on the floor are busy texting friends. Quality and efficiency have gone way down at retail thanks to cell phones at work. Think of Cyber Monday after Thanksgiving. All those people buying stuff online are either unemployed (not likely), stay at home parents (also not a large %) or shopping using their cell phone or company computer during work hours.

Like all great things in life, too much of anything is not good for you.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 2 months ago
Poor customer service is poor customer service, regardless of the circumstance. Remove the word ‘cell phone’ and insert something else causing the distraction or lack of engagement and it’s still poor customer service. Come to grips with that and then realize that the ‘cell phone’ (if that’s even a valid name for the devices anymore) isn’t the root of the problem. The problem is just plain poor customer service. All of the complaints related in the discussion would be less evident at a great retailer. Why? Because at great retailers, their associates know and understand the mission at hand. These folks just may also have a ‘cell phone’ in their pocket too. What’s more evident in the discussion is a lack of understanding of the depth these devices have reached to the extent that they are nearly a body appendage. Even more so is understanding of the breadth of their use and the diversity of their use. Even worse, is how to adapt that into the model of customer service itself. The sooner we understand… Read more »