Is retail suffering from an emotional intelligence deficit?

Discussion
Photo: @criene via Twenty20
May 02, 2019
George Anderson

One of the most popular courses in Stanford University’s MBA program curriculum is called “Organizational Behavior 374: Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as it is otherwise known, “Touchy Feely.” Now, the school has created an abridged version of the class and begun marketing it to businesses as an individual training course, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Students who have taken the class report feeling emotional as they come to grips with who they are and how they are perceived by others.

“It’s jarring if you perceive yourself to be one way your whole life, and then hear that’s not actually how one person sees you, nor the other 10 people in the room,” Andy Katz-Mayfield, co-founder and CEO of Harry’s Inc. who took the class while at Stanford, told the Journal. “You realize you’re the one whose calibration is off sometimes.”

In a RetailWire discussion yesterday — “Are smartphones making sales associates obsolete?” — Oliver Guy, global retail director, Software AG, spoke to the interplay between humanity and the growing use of mobile technology.

“We are entering an age where emotional intelligence is becoming more important,” Mr. Guy wrote. “Upskilling staff to help them develop emotional intelligence offers the opportunity to improve overall customer experience and have the technology as a way to augment the capabilities of the store associates.”

The need for emotional intelligence, of course, is not simply about interactions between staff and customers, but also within organizations and with vendors, as well.

In another RetailWire article, managing editor Tom Ryan wrote about the steps that Mitch Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, took to personally connect with vendors after a rumor began that the chain might be considering bankruptcy.

Mr. Mitchell called vendors directly and told them he would “move to Venezuela and live with Maduro” before he would let his company fail. Years of personal relationships with Mr. Modell and his word were enough to convince vendors to continue business as usual with the chain.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important is emotional intelligence to the top- and bottom-line performance of retail organizations? How effective are retailers when it comes to assessing the emotional intelligence of new hires and then training them to improve these skills once on staff?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Technology has a place, and it’s great to see all the new opportunities, but I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again — only the human being can give the customer a smile."
"Retailers are great at this. They hire empathetic self-starters who value customers and love making a difference."
"Given the challenges retailers have in general with recruiting, I doubt that emotional intelligence is a focus of very many retailers."

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14 Comments on "Is retail suffering from an emotional intelligence deficit?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is really important, but often overlooked, misunderstood and really hard to measure area. Given the challenges retailers have in general with recruiting, I doubt that emotional intelligence is a focus of very many retailers, especially as it relates to front-line, store personnel. In general, training has taken a back seat to other priorities retailers are focused on and this needs to be reconsidered. Retailers should include training elements dedicated to emotional intelligence as part of their overall training program.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
Well, let’s see … we have reduced store staff to the barest minimum, we typically don’t provide adequate if any training, we beat up the store associates we do have forcing them to do non-stop tasks, so how are we doing with emotional intelligence? The answers are there right in front of us every day on how to achieve the ultimate customer experience at the store level. That comes with human interaction between a well-trained store associate and the customer with the associate “wowing” the customer with service. We read the articles about struggling retailers trying this and that, with smaller stores, larger stores, new concepts, new technology, changing direction and so on and yet the answer remains the same — staff your store with enough help, train them and leave the rest up to the shopping experience. Technology has a place, and it’s great to see all the new opportunities, but I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again — only the human being can give the customer a smile, so retailers think… Read more »
Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Emotional intelligence, or more simply soft skills, are such a critical component that differentiates outstanding retail employees vs. average performers. Empathy is the black, as trust and transparency is so important to today’s customers.

A good in-store experience could be the key differentiator against the onslaught of Ecommerce shopping. Retail organizations that have empowered, empathetic associates who not only believe in the product, but also a passion for customer service, will continue to compete and thrive.

It’s not an easy proposition to build a staff with a high degree of emotional intelligence. This is a cultural and organizational paradigm shift, which will require time, effort and investment.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Emotional Intelligence. You mean humanity? Of course it’s important. You can hire nice people and train them on a skill, but you can’t teach nice. And retail associates need to excel in nice.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

Well said. I started working in 1961 for my Dad at a very tiny age of 4, and some things never change. Great service is a must, and I always try to hire people who are nice and know how to smile, and engage with the customers. It is an independent’s best weapon against the mega stores, and hopefully enough folks will appreciate what you offer, and keep you in business.

What has changed is the monster mega chains, and Amazon, with everyone racing to deliver your product in 10 minutes or less, and of course for FREE, which makes our businesses much more vulnerable for the graveyard. With a better economy, service in the stores are even more important as you can pick off some friendly folks with deeper pockets that really love the great service above all else. That is a wonderful opportunity for stores who provide the human touch. Add in some signature items, and you will do well. Take care and enjoy the weekend everyone.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Thanks, Tony! You are so right: good people are always be the best weapon.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

I absolutely understand Mr. Guy’s point when he says: “We are entering an age where emotional intelligence is becoming more important,” However, the truth is Adam and Eve could have used a little more “emotional intelligence.” Knowing how to relate to our world and all that lives within it has always been the main and timeless challenge in learning how to be fully human. What we’re finally realizing is that we’ve abdicated that responsibility to technology.

The only thing we’ll ever get from technology is information. Even fast and brilliant information has no soul. It’s spiritual enlightenment that we’re missing. First that “light” has to shine within and then it can shine without. Sadly, you know that someone will (or has) come up with an “emotional intelligence” app. To paraphrase de Chardin, someday, once we have mastered technology, then perhaps for a second time we will discover fire. May that come in time.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Retailers are great at this. They hire empathetic self-starters who value customers and love making a difference. We can always do better … but our foundation is already strong.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Where’s the love button?

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

To Georganne, Cathy, et al … it really isn’t all that complicated, is it! Reminds me of Tim Sanders’ book “Love is the Killer App.” Also reminds me of presidential candidate Marianne Williamson ‘s efforts to “turn love into a political force.” We should be able to do the same thing in retail!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Great point, Ian! Perhaps we could start by showing some love to the people who work hard in stores every day — it’s a tough job and it’s seriously underrated. There’s too much out there ripping them for poor service; yes, poor service happens, but not every time, to every customer, with every associate.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

OK, so my take-away is that we are to include emotional profile testing to our recruiting efforts before we put someone on the sales floor? Right? I’m tired.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Scary times! Managers will now become practicing psychologists. The opportunity for serious abuse of an individual employee by a manager and/or corporation is a non-starter in the real world that operates outside of academia.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

This is yet another area where retailers need to focus on training. As technology in our daily lives has moved everyone to become more detached, less directly social, the need to counteract this has increased. How often have you been in a conversation where people realize they can’t remember the last time they used their smartphone to make a phone call?

As recent RetailWire articles and comments have pointed out — the human touch factor is critical in delivering a great experience to a customer. No bot, AI, drone, or robot can outperform a human’s ability to deliver a great experience to another person! Retailers who have lost sight of this need to rethink their associate enablement strategies and include training around the emotional intelligence required to satisfy and delight their customers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Technology has a place, and it’s great to see all the new opportunities, but I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again — only the human being can give the customer a smile."
"Retailers are great at this. They hire empathetic self-starters who value customers and love making a difference."
"Given the challenges retailers have in general with recruiting, I doubt that emotional intelligence is a focus of very many retailers."

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