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Keeping employees and customers healthy and happy while in stores are high priorities as retailers look to recoup money over the holiday following COVID closures and increased online shopping. Now is the time for both retailers who have been operating as essential businesses, and those in various reopening stages to provide training on health and safety, customer communication, and employee resilience. 

Health & Safety Training

There are three critical areas your health and safety training should cover in our current climate: safety precautions, COVID policies, and how to limit workplace violence. Many of these topics are new to your staff, so your training must be thorough and allow for repeated testing to ensure understanding and retention. 

Safety precautions 

Retail employees need to understand how the virus spreads, learn how to identify and reduce risks, and be taught what tools are available in the workplace to limit risk. They also need to have a sense of accountability instilled in the importance of adhering to safety precautions.

Retailers should include tips from government and industry advisory bodies, such as:

The CDC's tips on social distancing, health checks, and personal protective equipment (PPE) 

  • OSHA's advice on how to route traffic inside stores, minimize direct and cross-contamination risks, and safe work practices 
  • The National Retail Federation (NRF) advice on new workplace policies and protocols that take into account applicable state and local government regulations

Access the COVID-19 Retail Compliance Tool

COVID policies

Many COVID-specific policies need to be established and then communicated well to your retail employees. Retail employees need to feel you are looking after their safety. They also need to know there are provisions to remove themselves from posing exposure risks to other employees and customers. Your COVID policies should include:

  • An increase in breaks to encourage hand washing
  • What employees should do if they believe they are sick
  • What paid leave is applicable if an employee contracts COVID
  • What paid leave is covered for parents with a child who as contracted COVID
  • The required medical certification employees must present in paid leave claims
  • COVID-specific complaint procedures and whistleblower protections 
  • Information on PPE expense reimbursements 

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Limiting workplace violence

Stressful shopping experiences can lead to violent outbursts and physical harm to employees and fellow shoppers. Customers may experience stress when they are required to wear masks, social distance, and follow other COVID safety rules. Customers may also experience stress when they are in close proximity to more shoppers than they are used to due to an increase in holiday traffic.

In the first instance, retailers should prepare stores as best they can to reduce shopping stresses. They can do this by posting clear safety signage in multiple languages, scheduling a minimum of two employees at all times, and by offering various transaction options to reduce contact (i.e., delivery, personal shoppers, curbside pick-up). The NRF has put together retail-specific resources to reduce risks, including retail reopening checklists and social distancing store signs in several languages. 

In terms of training retail employees on how to help reduce violence among shoppers, topics should include:

  • How to recognize potential threats (i.e., elevated tone, swearing, clenched fists, threatening body language, escalating situations, etc.)
  • The ins and outs of nonviolent conflict resolution 
  • The procedure to take when an employee feels the threat of impending violence, including a nominated safe place they can retreat to  

The Ultimate Guide to Training Retail Employees

Customer Communication Training

You should cover two essential concepts in your customer communication training: how to deal with hindered communication and how to communicate with empathy. 

Hindered communication

Masks muffle voices and cover facial clues we use in daily conversations.  Facial expressions facilitate good (or bad) customer service and can hide welcoming intentions and limit the ability to soothe anxious customers.  

Retail employees require guidance on how they can create good customer experiences despite masks. Tips to share are:

  • "Over act" facial expressions and use expressive hand gestures
  • Maintain a smile, which helps with voice inflections and eye expression
  • Maintain eye contact in a nonthreatening manner
  • Be very patient, never annoyed, at being misheard through masks

Communicating with empathy 

As BJ's Executive Chairman Chris Baldwin said in an episode of the NRF's COVID webinar series, many customers are anxious right now, and empathy is a powerful way to help relax them. Many retail employees likely have some empathy skills due to their customer service training. Still, it is good to go over training on how to show customers understanding, sensitivity, and kindness.  

Retail Employee Resilience Training

Lastly, your training right now should include pointers on recognizing stress and burnout, particularly heading into the holiday season, which is well known as an extremely challenging time for retail workers. Your workers are likely already dealing with COVID-related issues in their personal lives on top of dealing with holiday shoppers and new COVID policies. High stress and burnout can impact their ability to create good customer experiences or deescalate bad situations. 

Inform staff of all the physical and mental signs to be aware of, and make sure they know about any company benefits or community-supported programs to address mental health concerns.  

Preparing COVID Compliance 

As you develop your health and safety training, you may want to take advantage of our quick-to-deploy compliance feature that helps store leaders meet OSHA, state, and local safety requirements for COVID-19 testing and certification. 

The tool is accessed via the SellPro app and provides safety training, self-certification, and health checks for employees and other authorized personnel, with real-time reporting to document compliance. To learn more about our COVID-19 Compliance tool, you can book a meeting with a SellPro consultant. Or you can learn more by clicking below. 

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Additional Resources

Communication is Key: Planning the Return to Retail
Thinking Beyond The Crisis - How to Bring Back Your Retail Staff
Ultimate Guide to Training Retail Employees