Macy’s Looking to Up Customer Service Levels

Discussion
Apr 12, 2011
George Anderson

Having
the
right
product
in the right place is
at the heart of the successful
My Macy’s program. But product alone
won’t make it in a department store setting
and, hence, Macy’s newfound emphasis on
sales associate training.

According to a Wall Street Journal article,
nearly half of all complaints the chain receives are related to interactions
between consumers and sales associates. To rectify this shortcoming, Macy’s
has revamped its training as part of its "Magic
Selling" initiative.

In the past, associates were required to watch a
90-minute video as part of their initial training with Macy’s. Today, new hires
attend a three-and-a-half-hour live training session.

All sales personnel receive
seasonal refresher courses and get on-the-floor coaching from managers. Associates
also receive weekly scorecards that help them set and achieve measurable goals.

Research
by Bain & Company found that positive interactions with sales
associates leads to a 50 percent increase in the number of items purchased
by consumers.

"The odds of repeat visits also go up significantly," Aaron Cheris,
a partner at Bain’s retail practice, told the Journal.

A RetailWire poll
in January found that cast (employees) were listed by the largest number of
respondents (27 percent) as the most important element in the consumer experience
at retail.

Training, as Macy’s has identified, is recognized as a necessity to help associates
achieve their potential. A poll earlier this month on RetailWire found
that nearly three times as many respondents rated retail industry training
programs as poor (32 percent) than good (11 percent). Fifty percent came down
solidly in the middle, handing out fair grades.

Discussion Questions: How much training do retail sales associates need? How big an effect does training have on sales associate performance?

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19 Comments on "Macy’s Looking to Up Customer Service Levels"


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Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

How much time? Is that really the question? You can ask someone how long it will take to cut your lawn because there a relatively accurate answer to the question. If the object is inanimate you can define things mechanistically.

But when the “object” is a living and complex organism with every one of its zillion trillion cells capable of thinking and picking up frequencies from its universe this question is irrelevant. It’s not ‘time’ that determines outcome, it’s the alignment of ‘energy’ in that circumstance.

When the alignment isn’t there you can have two weeks of training that makes no difference whatsoever. When the alignment is there you can have a miracle in a minute. It is time for a dramatic ‘re-think’ of how people are led to their highest performance possibilities.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

This is news? That stores need to train more?

It was almost 2 years to the day we were discussing their hiring of dunnhumbyUSA – April 14 from a blog I wrote.

Macy’s has been hell bent on loading their stores with merch like some type of apparel Walmart in the hopes it would “magically” sell if we as just customers just “believed.”

Did it really take 2 years to realize department stores need to adopt more of a boutique feel than mass merchandisers? And that a 90 minute video wasn’t working? My first job at the Broadway department store spent a day on register ALONE.

Macys proof will be in sales, not press releases like this.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

Shopping at a flagship such as Macy’s Herald Square, you wonder how any retailer could drive consistently superior service across so many categories and departments…then you visit Europe or Mexico City and you see how it happens every day.

There is a difference between bad service, lack of service, and good-to-great service. I bet that most of Macy’s complaints came from the first (and most damaging) category since retailers have done a really great job of lowering expectations for the others. I know that Mr. Lundgren is passionate about developing a new generation of retail leadership. Perhaps Macy’s will develop a training program that sets a new standard in the U.S. and maybe one of the graduates will become a future retail executive.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 25 days ago
First, good for Macy’s to actually be addressing the single most common problem affecting retailers. Wish them well. The challenge for staff training is that every aspect of it needs to be done right. First, is the ‘content’ right? Normally, this isn’t rocket science so this should be okay in most cases. Next, how is the training being ‘implemented’? For most retailers, trying to do sales or service training in the classroom is a recipe for disaster. The demands created by staff turnover, scheduling and geographic spread can rarely be satisfied with a classroom program. Online training is now far more effective, and when coupled with a blended in-store coaching strategy, the most effective. Next, training has to be ‘reinforced’ continually. Literally, sales training has to be a daily event in the store to make it work. Even one minute a day will keep the focus on place. Finally, constant coaching and accountability for performance needs to be established. Does this sound like a lot? Does it seem like it takes a lot of time?… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

“Nearly half of all complaints the chain receives are related to interactions between consumers and sales associates.”

Why didn’t Macy’s react when 40% of their complaints were related to sales associates? 30%? 20%? 10%? Who would run any business, let alone a retailer ignoring such a concentration of complaints? Is this too little, too late?

Having no customer service is better than having negative customer service. Macy’s isn’t dealing with a training problem. Macy’s is dealing with a culture problem and all the training in world will not fix it.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 25 days ago

Wow, they’ve expanded from 90 minutes of training to 210 minutes. That should do it. When I started (shortly after the earth cooled) training was measured in weeks, not hours. Department stores (there was more than one in those days) took great pride in their training programs, considering them a competitive advantage, which they were, not only in attracting the best candidates, but in producing well-rounded merchants. Retailing was a career in those days, not just a job.

While I certainly applaud Macy’s increased emphasis on training and fully expect it to pay dividends, perhaps another area to experiment with is the number of associates on the sales floor. All the training in the world will not help if there are no associates on the floor. I still see far too many customers standing on sales floors yelling “does anybody work here?”

Why do I keep hearing the theme music from the movie “Back to the Future?”

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 25 days ago

Properly training retail sales associates takes a good deal of time and repetition. The problem is most retail sales associate jobs are low-wage, entry-level positions often taken by high schoolers, people with limited English skills, etc., and have turnover approaching 100% annually. So retailers need to balance the need for training against the cost-effectiveness of investing in employees who may only be able to absorb a certain amount of information and will likely not stay long. Streamlining and simplifying the training process and actual sales and customer service process with technology requires up-front investment but can pay off in the long-term.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

Wow. Look at the level of emotion here!

There’s a huge disconnect here; customers understand that they’re going to get mediocre service from lightly-trained staff making low wages, so why aren’t more retail companies addressing this?

Jeff Hall
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

In order for training to have any positive effect on the customer experience, Macy’s should be striving to first identify sales associate candidates who 1) believe in/support Macy’s mission and 2) genuinely enjoy being of service to and helping others.

Identifying the right people, then supporting them with a relevant training program (one that clearly defines the types of customer experiences Macy’s desires to deliver, while allowing the sales associate to interact authentically) may dramatically improve their chance for long-term success.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
10 years 25 days ago

How much is enough? In this world learning must be continuous, not a class room experience. In direct selling, there is always something to learn. In merchandise, there is always new product knowledge to gain. In service, there is always an opportunity to improve. A review of each salespersons transactions will reveal where training is needed and exceptional performance might be shared with peers. Which salesperson tends to sell the new stuff? Which salesperson sells outfits, not items? Which salesperson’s transaction reveal loyal customer returning? Which salesperson has the highest unit per transaction in the busiest times? All this information is buried in the detail. Macy’s has the tools to analyze it.

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

With the exception of a few departments Macy’s is an apparel retailer with lots of fitting rooms. According to the heralded Envision Retail statistics, for the apparel retailer conversion happens in the fitting room. Until Macy’s creates a fitting room strategy that services the fitting room customer, sets standards and goals, trains their associates, and monitors execution of the strategy, they really aren’t doing much.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 25 days ago

Retailers need to hire the right people, train them, motivate them, evaluate them, and reward them for excellent customer service. They also need to get rid of the “bad apples,” employees who don’t provide a good level of service, and follow-up on every customer complaint. Surveys tell us that customers will tell an average of 9-10 other people if they have a negative experience with a company.

Providing exceptional customer service is a long-term commitment.

Doug Fleener
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

Great comments so far. I don’t believe “training” is the issue, but rather a top-down commitment to serving the customer and adding value to their shopping experience. As Kevin points out, there’s just so much more that’s required to be successful.

We all know that talk is cheap and a customer commitment isn’t. I believe that Macy’s can improve, but I don’t ever see them getting to a level of a specialty store or Nordstrom’s. Then again, I’m not sure that is even in their best interest.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
10 years 24 days ago

I remember a discussion about customer service during the years that I worked with Macy’s on Hispanic marketing. It was prior to the Federated consolidation. Hispanics were feeling “profiled” and not well attended to. The poor customer service was being interpreted as racial (and in some cases there probably was some truth there too). When the topic was raised and I expressed the findings and brought up customer service training as a solution, the response was something like “we’re equal opportunity poor customer service.” And that was that. It was not a priority. Like everything, if you’re around long enough, things that weren’t priorities become priorities sooner or later–and then go out of “style” again. Let’s hope customer service is something that can correlate to profits and make itself a staple instead of a trend.

Anne O'Neill
Guest
Anne O'Neill
10 years 24 days ago

Multi billion dollar companies with their multi million dollar CEOs put ALL their eggs in one basket that is being held by part-time, minimum wage teenagers. The customer puts the money into the company, shouldn’t the person taking care of that customer be taken care of? Until THAT job is being competed for, customer no service will continue.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 24 days ago

This is the best idea I’ve heard out of Macy’s in a long time. The investment back into the most important element of their brand will pay off in spades (if done right). It should also enable them to compete more effectively with specialty stores, who are for the most part much better at training their store associates.

So, okay with the good idea…now let’s see execution. By that I mean that if this isn’t part of a long term plan– i.e. they don’t give up on it in 6 months–then the announcement is nothing more than a P.R. release.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 24 days ago

I too share Bob’s deja-vu (in fact both customer service and Macy’s come up so often–either jointly or together–maybe a specific day should be set aside each month for them).

But back on topic, I think there may be something of a semantics issue here: when I think of training, I think of either mechanical issues (how to work the register, remove sensors, etc) or “knowing” your product; the former isn’t something likely to lead to complaints, and the latter is measured in years, not minutes; so I don’t see much to this effort. I think the complaints stem from more basic courtesy issues–talking on the phone, ignoring customers, closing early, “Idunnos”…which is to say, things you don’t–or shouldn’t–need to be trained to do (or not do).

Michael Baker
Guest
Michael Baker
10 years 24 days ago

I visited the US last week for the first time this year and I’m a natural born hater of department store shopping. But I found myself in a Macy’s and the experienced was far better than I had expected. Really helpful and plentiful sales staff who actually made me buy not just one thing but two things.

Second, I was in a Best Buy, a retailer I had relied upon in the past for service and information about products. The experience was weird–5 guys standing around talking to each other while I fussed over a machine; I looked lost and then fussed over a machine I didn’t understand. At this rate, Best Buy will be a goner long before Macy’s is.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 24 days ago

Employee training is critical to delivering a consistent customer and is a foundation of customer satisfaction. Both of these items open the door to additional purchase or return visit.

The turnover of employees in retail has always been cited as a reason that investment in training is limited. “Why go through all the struggle, if they are going to leave us in X months anyway?”

Honestly, I think that is a poor excuse. It is entirely possible that training will not only help to deliver better customer service but would lead to higher employee engagement and reduced turnover.

The Enterprise Engagement Alliance is working towards a standardized approach to improve results in this area and I heartily suggest readers to visit their site and become familiar with their work.

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