By Jason Deleon and Sarah Thompson

This is it. Less than 12 days to check off those holiday wish lists, and the retail workforce is feeling the crunch. Luckily, the reinforcements have arrived!

The seasonal workforce kicked in when college students headed home to earn some extra cash as associates at their favorite stores. But how do retailers get these temporary workers – who have been in a classroom studying history, engineering or broadcast journalism for the past few months – up to speed on customer requirements and able to answer questions?  How do retailers assure their reinforcements offer good information, and accurately represent the retail brand at the point of need in the store

With the holiday rush ratcheting up, these workers don’t have the days or weeks for the training most full time associates get. Foregoing traditional classroom training sessions for technology-enabled informal learning will actually help these modern learners retain more, and be more versatile with the application of their knowledge. They will be more motivated, engaged, and ultimately more effective if you teach them in-store, with content they can access in a self-taught, self-constructed way.

Here are four tips for turning seasonal help in to shopping sales success:

Activate Mobile Learning: Digestible content should be accessible at the point of need via tablets, mobile apps, or in-store kiosks.  Users should be able to alternate between short practices and focused topics quickly and easily, but not through multi-tasking. This short-sequence construct allows learners to identify their own gaps quickly and fill them accordingly.

Help with Focus: The customer comes to the store for an experience – you want your associate focused on providing that experience, versus simply making the sale. The content you provide on specific products, services or features, has to be set into the context of the desired experience.  The associate must be able to find it, understand it and share it, without losing track of the experience –all in in less than four minutes in order to assure the positive customer experience remains intact.

Power the People: Just as your associates have to adapt to customer behaviors, your learning infrastructure must be adaptable to support your associates. Content should be managed from a single source – and updated based on factors like usage, buyer reaction, sales or net promoter scores.

Give Access to Experts: While modern learners do best with a hands-on, self-directed learning environment, they also need the ability to access a lifeline when the situations demands it. This can play out in several ways – they can use other in-store experts for assistance, engage an expert or a community of experts quickly via a mobile device. They may also take advantage of a regional coaching model where experts drop by regularly to reinforce brand experience, and assist with advanced questions or sales situations.

The most successful retailers mobilize temporary staff to be ambassadors for their brand – making it an experience, rather than a sale. You want customers to walk away with a simple thought: “That was really easy” or “They were great.” In-store learning that is joined to technology, and well-designed content helps these temporary ambassadors deliver the experience that shoppers expect.

(Jason Deleon is an integrated service manager, and Sarah Thompson is a principal consultant. They work in Xerox Learning Services.)

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