How to Help Seasonal Employees Provide Stellar Customer Service

Even temporary holiday employees can leave a lasting positive impression.
Every employee represents your small business. Make sure your seasonal employees are putting their best foot forward when it comes to customer service. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

For shoppers, the holiday season is stressful and exhausting. For retail store owners, it’s a chance to outshine the chains by offering superior customer service amid the chaos. So it’s critical to bring your customer service A game, even when you’re playing with seasonal holiday employees.


“It costs to train employees, sure it does, but what’s it going to cost not to train them?” – Shep Hyken (Photo: Shep Hyken)

If you manage to find reliable help for the holiday rush, it’s not enough to throw them behind the counter and hope for the best. Frazzled customers won’t remember or care if the employee who helped them was seasonal or permanent; they will only remember if their experience was good or bad.

That fact that a customer sees one person as a stand-in for the whole company creates what customer service expert Shep Hyken calls the “awesome responsibility.” Hyken is author of New York Times bestseller “Amaze Every Customer Every Time.”

“At any given time, one person, represents everybody in that organization,” Hyken said. Whether your customer received superior or horrible customer service, that customer will think in terms of “they,” not “he or she,” when they tell others about the experience.

Business owners often tell Hyken they can’t afford to spend the time and money training seasonal staff the way they do their regular employees. Hyken rejects that argument.

“It costs to train employees, sure it does,” Hyken said. “But what’s it going to cost not to train them?” What is the cost of that customer walking away and never coming back?

In an American Express survey, 59 percent of U.S. consumers said they would switch brands or companies in search of better customer service. And 78 percent said they have not completed a business transaction or made an intended purchase because of poor customer service.

To provide superior customer service and avoid lost sales, take these steps with seasonal employees.

Train them on the inventory

Customers want what they want, but if that isn’t available, they often will buy what a knowledgeable salesperson suggests. “There’s no reason the customer can’t walk away happy even though you don’t have what they asked for,” Hyken said.

An under-trained employee won’t be able to use those opportunities to suggest an alternative that might become the customer’s new favorite — or to upsell the customer.

Have employees begin each shift with a brief walk-through of the sales floor, a check of the day’s specials or a glance at a list of new inventory.

Use returns of shoes that didn’t fit to educate the employee that a particular shoe style runs narrow. Explain that blue is the hottest color of the season so the salesperson can tell a customer who asks why the item isn’t available in blue.

Hire people who will smile

Customers are likely to arrive at your business exhausted and short-tempered. Employees who quickly solve their concerns and meet their needs demonstrate respect for their valuable time. But attitude counts, too.

Smiles and prompt greetings are free, so train employees to use them liberally. Make sure you hire people who have the right personality in addition to sales experience.

Embrace them as part of the team

Seasonal employees who feel under-trained or abandoned at the counter are in no position to provide superior customer service. Hyken recommends pre-shift meetings to make them feel connected and part of the team.

Use the meetings to talk about new items, sale items and lessons to learn from yesterday’s events. Share accolades if a customer said something nice about an employee, or offer praise for keeping the sales floor neat and organized.

Empower them to make small decisions

Customers resent having to wait for a manager to solve something simple like an exchange for size or color. Teach the employee how to handle a particular situation, then empower him or her to handle it without a manager.

“As a manager, you have to say, ‘This is what you can do here; don’t ever bother me with that again,’” said Hyken. He relayed a personal account of restaurant server who had to ask a manager’s permission, three days in a row, before she would move tables together to accommodate his large party for breakfast.

An empowered, prepared, friendly staff will amaze holiday shoppers and make them loyal customers this season and next.

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