Managing Through a Storm

Guest Author: Raquel Rosario

Stormy ShipIt’s only been two weeks since the women’s clothing retail store where I was an assistant manager finally closed after a two month liquidation process. The past two months of liquidation were pretty darn frustrating and at times felt like there was no end in sight. While some of the most frustrating challenges faced at my store were out of our control, this article will give you some suggestions from our ‘lessons learned’ and help you navigate and lead through similar issues you might face in your workplace.

So, what were some of the challenges we faced that were out of our control?

Last minute guidance

Very often my store would receive taskers/direction from our Last MinuteLiquidator right as my employees and I were closing the store after an 8-hour shift. The direction given was to add new promotions and sales for the next day. This means we now had to spend the next 30-40 minutes hanging/posting very detailed marketing signs only to have the customers ask us to explain what they meant.

(what’s wrong with the customers asking what they meant??)

Other times the liquidator would pop in (frequently and right at closing time… again) to go through paper work, receipts or to just make sure we had appropriate signs hanging all around the store.

Uncertainty

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of going through a liquidation and subsequent store closing was not knowing exactly when our store would close for good. At first our liquidation team decided to keep us in the dark and refused to give us a closing date because the date could change. I clearly understood this and wasn’t surprised how the closing dates continued to change (when we were finally given an estimated time frame). The uncertainty of looming unemployment, passing up potential new opportunities as we/I decided to stay until the store closed for good, and the challenges to retain employees during a time when the future at the company was bleak and uncertain were the most frustrating aspects of this experience.

Having control

Despite these challenges that were out of our control, there WERE a couple of things that we as associates and managers had complete control over and these are the things that I want to share with you in this article.

Those of you who are or have been in retail know that our goal as Customer is always rightassociates or managers is to what?

“Please the customer; the customer is always right

 Our job is to provide the customer with such an amazing experience every time they shop at our store they want to come back time and time again. A fundamental concept in a successful business is customer retention and repeat business.

As associates and manager we will do nearly anything to provide our customers that experience, especially when we have goals that have to be met each month. Some of these goals range from opening a certain amount of credit cards, to selling a certain dollar amount worth of merchandise, etc…

We want to make that sale so badly, that we will provide what we think is extraordinary service for our customer by following them around the store, become their personal shopper while they’re there; carry their clothes, start their fitting room, accept any expired coupons, and accept return of any items they are no longer happy with… or simply changed their mind about, and I mean ANY reason. Of course you will comply with your store policies and direction.

But when the liquidation process begins, ALL of that changes. The old policies are gone and we (store managers included) now answer to the liquidator. We no longer “Delight” the customer in the ways they are accustomed.

All Sales FinalWhen you have to tell your customers that you no longer accept coupons, and can no longer return or exchange their obviously worn items, that “ALL SALES ARE FINAL,” Boy something happens to them. I can only describe it as being thrown to the wolves.

As a representative of the store I can nearly guarantee that there’s a good chance you will get yelled and/or cursed at. Some customers will work your last nerve rather quickly, and this is where you have to make the choice to take the high road and try to be sympathetic. Here are some of my suggestions for a smooth transition:

Keep your cool, for your sakes

Those that know me know that I am a pretty calm,Ice Cubes level-headed, understanding person. I’ve dealt with difficult people and situations before and handled them in a professional manner. However, (you knew the ‘but’ was coming) during that first week of liquidation I found myself dealing with rude, difficult customers back-to-back, day-after-day, until there was a straw that broke the camel’s back it finally got to me. I mean there’s only so much teeth sucking, eye rolling, and having credit cards tossed at me that I can take. I had reached my limit when yet another particularly extra-rude customer walked in.

From the moment she walked in she was loud and obnoxious. She complained all throughout the store, causing a scene about the promotions. (For some reason people think that since your closing anyway, everything should be practically free.) She made her way over to me and proceeded to yell at me, stating that she was offered a different, much better sale the previous day, on a different state, but the same store franchise. The customer continued to huff and puff, and demanded to get that same sale.

As a good manager I kept my cool at first, but I felt she crossed the line when she invaded my personal space, got real close to me, and began waving her hands close to my face. Well, the fire was lit and I began to yell back at her and let her have it!

I proceeded to inform her that all of the stores, regardless of what state they are in, are running the exact same promotion, so NO, you cannot have a better deal than we’re currently offering. This is the promotion! We don’t make the rules, if you don’t like it then leave, no one is making you shop here! We bickered back and forth until the store manager asked her to leave the store.

Now here’s the thing, although I felt that this customer deserved the treatment I gave her I ended up angry with myself for allowing her to get me that angry. I decided that would be the last time I let a customer’s bad attitude affect me that way.

From that day forward I chose to approach these situations in a different way. Instead I chose to put myself in their shoes and try to understand why they were upset even if I couldn’t help them. Which brings me to my next piece of advice:

Try to sympathize with the customer

What do I mean by Sympathize with a customer? Well think about it. Let’s say you bought a somewhat pricey shirt only to realize once you got home that you purchased the wrong size However when we tried to return it, we were simply told no because all sales are final, you should have made sure it was your size. I don’t know about you but that would just make me angry.

Our attitudes and how we respond as sales associates make such a huge difference and can make a difficult situation easier or it can make it harder. Instead of giving a “not my problem” sort of response try showing a little compassion. Tell that customer you are very sorry, and that you completely understand their frustration, but because of the current circumstance the old policies are no longer in affect and we can no longer accept returns or exchanges because all sales are final. Trust me approaching the customer in this manner made all the difference with me.

Related content: Water Cooler talk, Frown upon or encourage?

Walk Away

Walking AwayWe have all experienced that one stubborn customer that refuses to accept the word no. She’ll stand there and argue with you as if that’s going to all of a sudden change what you’ve been trying to explain to her or that one customer who will try to talk down to you. Don’t hesitate to walk away from a customer like this and ask another sales associate or your manger to take care of them for you instead. I’m not saying that this is the solution in every tough situation you’re faced with, but only in those instances where you have tried helping the customer yet she refuses to hear anything you’re saying. Walking away and letting someone else handle it can diffuse the tension and prevent an ugly argument between you and the customer.

Let it go

Never take your anger towards one customer out on another Balloon Letting gocustomer. Sounds like common sense right? I can’t tell you how many times a customer would anger a sales associate so much that she would be rude to every unsuspecting customer after that. Bad idea guys. First of all it isn’t fair to the customer who is actually being polite and secondly it will no doubt cause yet another problem for you. It’s easy to stay angry but it will certainly drain you emotionally. So, “let it go!”

If it is possible to take a breather after that customer in order to compose yourself, then do so but if not, just smile and move on to the next one. Chances are they noticed your experience with the previous customer and will want to make your experience with them a much better one.

Don’t assume that the customer is aware

UnawareDespite the tons of huge “ALL SALES FINAL” signs we had hanging all over our store, there were still customers that only noticed the 70%-80% OFF promo signs and had no idea our store was closing. Even though it was not required of me I took it upon myself to let every customer I rang up know that all sales were indeed final. There were no returns OR exchanges. Once I swiped their card they were stuck with those items. I always gave them the opportunity to try them on before making their purchase. This way they could not come back and say that I never told them all sales were final. It worked too! I never had a customer try to exchange or return anything I rung them up for.

Managing through the Storm

Now, this last bit of advice is for my fellow managers who are Leader frontcurrently dealing with the liquidation process, or are about to; it also applies to leaders in all positions, and spans through different industries. Whenever you are in a situation of uncertainty, despair, and/or challenging transitional periods, believe it or not, your attitude in these early stages of this process is crucial to whether your employees stay until the very end or quit on you.

I get it, being told that you are going to lose your job in the next few weeks is a scary reality. You may even feel angry or anxious, which is perfectly understandable. But if you have made the conscious decision to remain with the company until the end, then you must remain professional. This is a perfect time for you to lead by example, and do not for a second, show your associates that you are bothered by the whole circumstance that you just don’t care anymore because guess what? Your employees are looking to you for guidance in what to do now.

If you start to panic, I guarantee that your staff will not only panic, but they will quickly leave for the next available job.

If you walk around with a “who cares” attitude, your staff will no longer feel they need to put in the effort at work.

LeaderNow you’re left with less than half the staff you previously had, they are unmotivated, and sometimes become mediocre employees. This is not the situation you want to be in during these tough couple of weeks.

Instead, gather your staff and talk with them about the circumstance you are in. Let them know that you understand this is a crappy situation, but you need them now more than ever. This doesn’t change who you are as a team, so emphasize your commitment to continue to work together and navigate through this liquidation process as easy and efficiently as possible. Always thank them for staying with you as long as they can, and let them know you appreciate them and their sacrifice. Remember, they could’ve sought new employment elsewhere. Understanding that everyone’s priority is different, and liquidation/store closing date uncertainties remain, you may still lose a few more employees before the final closing day. Experience has shown me however that by remaining professional, communicating with your staff, and expressing genuine appreciation for their contributions during these tough times will help you retain a majority of the staff. Whenever an employee feels needed and appreciated, they will put forth more effort towards reaching the end-goal.

Have any stories or advice to share?, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment and share with your friends.

About the Author:

Raq2Raquel Rosario is an “unofficial” author, photographer of nature, and a very happy crafter. As a business graduate, an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, a sister, … (the list goes on)… , she has some unique perspectives on life and business.

If you like what you read, check out some of her other blog posts at http://www.WoodyThings.com/blog and/or follow her on social media. Links are on her blog.

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