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Teaching Your Staff to Connect

Let’s plan a staff meeting together…

Every meeting needs to have a goal.

Our Goal:

This will be a successful meeting if… The staff learns a better way to create relationships with our customers.

Doug Fleener, the Retail Contrarian, believes you should find out three things about a customer before you try to sell them anything. That way you know more about the real needs of the customer, not just the surface needs they might readily ask.

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, teaches that the easiest way to make a connection is to find a point in common and share about yourself because you become more human and memorable. (“I see Johnny had a soccer game today. Did you win? You know, my son plays soccer, too. What league are you in?”)

I believe that customers enter stores like Toy House because they want solutions. Maybe it is a gift idea, maybe it is to solve an educational issue, maybe it is to complete a project, maybe it is to fulfill a desire. Our job is to help them define the problem before we can find the solution.

The Task:

So we need Tasks – activities that help us teach this skill of relating to customers. Let’s brainstorm…

Task Idea #1 – Show a Movie
Movies are fun. You could search the web and check other resources for movies that either teach
customer interaction, or show lousy interactions from which you can learn. (Google “lousy customer interaction videos” and you get 8.6 million choices)

Task Idea #2 – Lecture
Give a talk about the importance of interaction, how making connections makes you more real and trustworthy. Quote Mr. Phibbs, or Mr. Fleener, or George Whalin, or any host of other retail consultants on why making such connections are important. Give examples of good connections versus bad connections. Ask for critique of the bad ones, how they could have been done better.

Task Idea #3 – Play Games
Since the key to learning is asking questions, steal this game from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? One person starts by asking a question, but you can only respond with another question. Pair off your staff and have them see how long they can keep it going until someone goofs. Trade partners and do it all over again.

Another game is to have your staff try to find ten things they have in common with each other person on the staff.

Task Idea #4 – Role Play
Split up the staff into pairs to do simple role play. Make one person the customer. Give her a typical customer profile. Have her enter the store and have another staff person interact with her with the goal to find out three things about the customer before showing a product. After each role play talk about what was awkward, easy, could be done differently. Continue until everyone has played both roles at least once.

Task Idea #5 – Bring in an Outsider
Hire someone to come in and teach these skills. Sometimes an outside voice makes it stick better with the staff than hearing your same voice time and again. For a skill like this, a person who teaches Networking Skills is a good alternative to a retail consultant. In fact, maybe even a better alternative because the same principles of networking apply to meeting and relating to customers, and there are tons of people who teach Networking (contact your local Chamber).

That’s a pretty good list, five potential Tasks that could lead us to reach our Goal. With a little creative thought you might come up with a few more ideas. The more the merrier.

To pick one you have to ask three questions…

  1. What are my constraints? (Space, Time, Money, etc.) Eliminate any Tasks for which you do not have/cannot get the resources necessary.
  2. What will be the most effective Task? (Pick one)
  3. What will be the most fun Task for my staff? (Pick one)

So now you should have two Tasks from which to choose. Look closely at the Task you picked for question #3. Will it accomplish the goal? If yes, then run with it. If no, then go with the Task from question #2. (note: if the answer to #2 and #3 is the same, you’re golden:-)

The Plan:

You know what you want to accomplish (the goal) and how you’re going to accomplish it (the task). Start your planning. What else do you need? A date and time. A place. Any props necessary (a projector for a movie, a stage area for role play, rules to games, etc.). Collect everything you need to do your Task.

You also need questions. Questions that lead your staff from doing to learning. The technique I use is the What? So What? Now What? method.

  • What? These are the concrete questions. What did we do? What happened when…? How did that work?
  • So What? These are the abstract questions. What did we learn? What did this teach us? Why did we accomplish this?
  • Now What? These are the application questions. How do we apply that lesson to our situation? How does that compare to here? What can we do with this knowledge?

Write down two or three questions of each type appropriate to the task you have chosen.

Then post your plan. Put out the agenda. As much or as little info as you wish. Extroverts just need to know when and where. They’ll do their best thinking then. But Introverts need a little more. If you want feedback from them, you need to give them a topic so they have time to formulate thoughts prior to the meeting. Introverts do their best thinking beforehand.

The Surprise:

Have some unexpected element planned in your meeting that will be a pleasant surprise. Maybe a gift certificate to a local restaurant given to the staff person who does the best in the games. Maybe a special treat like a pizza party as soon as the meeting is over. Maybe a costume that you wear as part of the Role Play. Maybe lottery cards for everyone just because you thought it would be fun.

Surprises make meetings more memorable, and it is not just the surprise they remember. The surprise becomes the anchor which triggers memory of the meeting and its lessons.

The Summary:

Your meeting will be a success. You’ve pretty much guaranteed that in your planning. But to make that success long lasting you need to write up a summary. What did we do? What did we learn? Try to use quotes from the staff as much as possible. Pictures are good, too. If any further action steps are required, list them. If certain future tasks are assigned, list them.

Then post the summary where all can see it.

That’s all it takes to have a successful staff meeting.

Are you ready?

Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I go through this process for every staff meeting I plan. Believe me, it gets easier the more you do it. But for starters, here’s a worksheet I use for planning. It’s just one of the many Free eBooks I’ve written with your success in mind.

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