When should you beef up (or reduce) staffing? The answers are all in your data.
The kitchen can’t keep up! My dad would say that anytime he experienced a dining or shopping experience where the number of customers exceeded the capabilities of the staff on hand. In fact, you often hear consumers say in busy stores, they need more people here. With shortened attention spans and seamless online ease of shopping, today’s customer (myself included) is keenly aware when the experience is not going smoothly. Many retailers will tell you that finding the right employees is one of their greatest challenges. I dare say that properly scheduling your employees is a similar great challenge. Let’s look at factors and processes to help handle a surge of customers and business.
Learn from the Past
Are you counting the traffic that comes through your doors? There are numerous systems on the market that monitor and count store traffic. If your store has been counting store traffic you may have data that will help you better understand the normal traffic flow through your store. Ideally this traffic data will tell you the days and hours when customers are coming into your store. Layer on top of that data your actual store sales and you have a road map of your peak times and days. If you’re a small store and can’t justify the expense of a counting system then something as simple as having someone sit at the front of the store and count traffic might provide insight.
I have one friend with a small store who gleaned time-of-day and day-of-the-week activity from his credit card processing company. Take it one step further and see if your financing partners will provide timely data of activity. Perhaps your point-of-sale system has data you’ve yet to extract or use. Being armed with historical data makes it easier to plan for those special days or even regular days.
Did you run a New Year’s Day sale last year? If you have traffic data from a year ago then you have a leg up on planning for this year. Do you get the picture? Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. Remember the first Amazon Prime Day? Yep, their servers crashed for a while due to unexpected traffic volume. You can bet they studied their data and planned the next one accordingly. At the very least, you can make notes in your personal planner when you were “slammed” or when it was “dead”. Aside from staffing, this data may be helpful for analyzing close rates and marketing effectiveness. But that’s for another article.
Hiring Flexible Staff
Retail already requires a certain amount of flexibility. Applicants must be willing to work nights, weekends and holidays. Of course, this weeds out many applicants; but consider taking it one step further. Make potential employees aware that the nature of your business requires extra flexibility or a willingness to take on more hours. This probably won’t be an issue for commissioned salespeople; the truly great ones are willing to work when the traffic is there and flexible to add more hours as needed. In office, delivery and warehouse areas having flexible people is a key for planning and handling those surges. One company I worked for routinely asked corporate applicants if they were willing to work in stores over busy holidays or event periods. Not only did it keep those folks in touch with the reality in the stores but provided extra sets of hands and brains. Identifying applicants that can be called in on short or planned notice is one way to be ready when action occurs. If you have two applicants with similar qualifications then opt for the one with better flexibility.
Look for Alternative Players
Think about developing alternate sources of help. One company I worked for offered the spouses and partners of salespeople the opportunity to come in on busy days and be a helper. We paid these folks a small daily amount and gave them basic duties such as walking customers to the office for processing or keeping customers company while waiting for a salesperson. As a baby boomer nearing the golden years, I could certainly see myself enjoying that type of opportunity. Need extra delivery help or phone answering help for peak times? Sons and daughters of current employees might be a resource to draw upon. Certainly, training in advance will be needed. Couple that with a burger cookout and you get the benefit of building some team rapport as well as family members understanding what goes on in a retail environment.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Did I mention the importance of planning? With your historical data, plan your weeks and special events as thoroughly as possible. Failure to plan wastes any of the efforts you have invested in the aforementioned topics. Yes, planning is hard work and requires brain power from all departments. However, there’s a synergy that takes place when challenging everyone to think ahead and anticipate what might happen. Of course, we all know the best laid plans of mice and men adage but your store’s reputation and ability to compete in the market place rests in well executed plans. That little thing called social media can wreak havoc on your event or move it to new success with the touch of a button.
Build Schedule Templates
Making schedules is not an easy task. Develop your standard and weekly schedule templates around your traffic data but know how many need to be on duty to best service your customers. Make this process as much plug-and-play as possible thereby avoiding last minute schedule surprises for employees. You may want a template for end of promotions knowing that the final days or weekend of an event may be busier. Holiday schedule templates are important, too. If you’re bringing in extra or alternative help, scheduling further ahead provides a better chance of having extra help on hand. Your team will have greater respect and willingness to help when advance scheduling occurs. The last thing you want to hear or have employees think is “Poor planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part.”
Face it, there will be times you have a surge of customers for unknown reasons. Yes, if we could predict that, we would all be rich. Plans and schedules will best arm you for long term success. However, being in tune with your store and what is happening at the moment is important.
My dad would also say that the manager should not be in the kitchen cooking the fries. Instead, he said, he should be out watching what was going on. It’s easy to disarm impatient consumers with a “thank you for your patience” or “we want to respect your time and will get you on your way as soon as possible.” This is particularly powerful coming from a manager but equally effective from any employee. No one likes it when employees complain about not having enough help. Develop manager or sales manager schedules that ensure someone is monitoring the store for smooth customer processing and awareness of surges. Deal with surges in the right way and you may just find regular and repeat traffic increasing. As we know, that social media thing works both ways.