Hiring Customers: Should You or Shouldn't You?

For retailers, loyal customers can be fierce brand ambassadors—they might also even be great employees. But, should you consider proactively reaching out to top customers to gauge their interest in becoming part of your team? It depends. Avid customers are a natural fit for certain positions but may not, necessarily, be right for others.

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Customers Turned to Staffers Can Delight Other Shoppers

Kenny Haisfield, founder of the clothing/lifestyle brand Kenny Flowers and a big proponent of hiring customers, recently hired one of his company's top patrons for a customer service role. “It's been a huge success," he says. “He knows how to empathize with our customers and understands the brand inside and out, from a customer's perspective, which makes a big difference."

Retailers' own customers, says Haisfield, are a great source of top candidates, specifically for customer-facing tasks. “They have the passion and loyalty to your brand—which is hard to train or teach—and can understand your customer needs, since they have been one."

As Haisfield asserts: “Talking about a brand they love day in and day out, and helping your business succeed, is a natural fit for top customers." That sentiment is backed up through research on the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Nielsen research suggests that 92% of people trust recommendations they receive from friends and family.

Employee Customers Boost Word-of-Mouth

According to research from Invesp, word-of-mouth marketing “drives $6 trillion of annual consumer spending and is estimated to account for 13% of consumer sales." These impressions, according to their research, result in five times more sales than paid media impressions. In addition, “people are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a brand recommended by a friend."

Consider how much more credible that recommendation will be when provided by an employee!

There's an added benefit as well, says Stacy Caprio, founder of Growth Marketing. Retailers' own customers are likely to buy more products while working in the store, she says. “This not only has a positive revenue effect, but also has the unintentional marketing effect of friends and family asking where they bought their outfits and buying more from the same retail store as well."

But Customers May Not be Right for All Positions

As more and more retail transactions are taking place online, retailers are hiring more staff for warehousing and delivery services than traditional customer-facing staff, according to some reports. During the 2019 holiday season, for instance, Barron’s, which covers U.S. financial news and market developments, reported that, “Given the ongoing shifts in consumer-spending patterns, it is no surprise that holiday-season hiring in retail has diminished in recent years, while hiring in warehousing and delivery services has grown stronger. This year [2019] saw not-seasonally-adjusted payrolls in retail trade increase by 466,400 jobs, compared with 494,800 jobs last November. At the same time, hiring in warehousing and delivery (courier) services rose by 132,900 jobs (not seasonally adjusted) this November, compared with a gain of 115,500 jobs last November."

According to Convenience Store News: “Nontraditional retail jobs—such as technology, warehouse and driver—have seen 13% year-over-year growth on Indeed.com."

Those behind-the scenes positions may not be the right place to place your customers, says Haisfield. In those positions, they're not in a position to as easily influence, compared to a retail setting. Warehouses and offices (outside of call center offices) simply aren't as conducive to positive conversations around a brand. But, as mentioned, customers can bring a big boost to in-store and other customer facing positions that require interactions with shoppers.

Your loyal buyers are ready-made brand ambassadors that can pack a powerful punch for any retail brand. There's no guarantee that a large portion of them will need or want a job when you need talent, but the potential benefit is too large to not consider identifying them, contacting them, and potentially adding them to your talent pool—and on your retail floor—in a labor market in which quality talent is so scarce.

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