Profitable Times Newsletter

Best Practices for Staffing Structures Part II

This second article on staffing structures addresses skeleton floor staffing levels, the use of volunteers and a couple points regarding staff policies and procedures.

Skeleton Floor Crews

Guidelines in this area are generally applicable to whether there will be a skeleton crew for an extended period of time, perhaps because of budget constraints or short-term because, for example, a staff person didn't show up. In both instances it's helpful to establish priorities to be used by whatever staff you have.

At the top of the priorities is taking care of the customer and doing what needs to be done to operate the store properly. There may be orders to write and reports to run, but a customer in the store is the top priority. Staff should be instructed to drop whatever they are doing to pro-actively attend to the needs of the customer. This is especially important if the reason for the reduced staffing is budget oriented and every sale has special importance.

As part of dealing with the customer do all you can to make the customer's time in the store a pleasant shopping experience. This includes warm greetings, smiles, reasonable approaches and a sincere thank you, and being busy but available straitening, dusting and generally sprucing up the displays and merchandising.

It's also important the staff know how to spread themselves around by handling more than one customer at a time. The key points to doing this includes:

  1. While working with one customer, subtly acknowledge the presence of other customers.
  2. Flow from one customer to the next, suggesting things the first customer can do that will occupy their time while you've stepped away.
  3. Tell the first customer you'll be back with them in a moment.
  4. Set a pace that gives adequate and appropriate attention to each customer.
  5. When returning to a customer, thank them for waiting.

One of the reasons I like having a small work area behind the cash-wrap is so projects, which can be worked on between customers, are easily accessible without leaving the sales floor and cluttering the cash-wrap area or the top of jewelry counters.

Also high on the list of priorities is the daily need to open, close and operate the store properly. For example, regardless of staffing levels the opening till should be counted carefully, the ambient music turned on and at the end of the day receipts, bank deposits and the securing of the store must be executed as per procedures.

To lessen the number of times an absent volunteer leaves a hole in your coverage it is recommended the following procedures be established.

  1. Prepare a contact list of all volunteers qualified to work in the store.
  2. Distribute the list to all store volunteers.
  3. Require a volunteer who is going to miss their shift to contact X number of other volunteers to try to find a replacement before contacting store management.

When established this helps to assure sufficient floor coverage, reduces management's need to deal with scheduling issues and builds team cooperation through the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) pressure of the pool of volunteers on those who do not regularly fulfill their responsibilities or do not volunteer to substitute for others.

Providing adequate floor coverage during breaks, lunch and required meetings, and enhanced coverage when the store is busy, leads to the listing of another important aspect of working with a skeleton crew. Cross-training store staff and others in the museum administration, especially those who work close to the store, will allow for flex coverage as demanded by circumstances. This incremental staff should know how to basically complete a transaction and should have a friendly demeanor to help mitigate not being as knowledgeable about the inventory and other aspects of the store as the regular staff.

Paid and Volunteer Staff

My core belief is that anything a paid staff person can do the right volunteer can do equally well. If pressed, however, such as for this segment of the article, there are some differences that deserve attention. It may be best to view the difference between paid and volunteer staffs as skilled versus differently skilled with a resulting division of responsibilities.

The one area where the line seems to be most frequently and clearly drawn is the handling of cash. If the division of responsibility is because of the misperception that a volunteer can't count or separate cash from checks as well as a paid staff person the division seems misguided. There are chains of responsibility and legal ramifications, however that often makes it necessary to have a paid person handle cash. The extreme of this policy restricts volunteers from even operating the POS while more reasonable restrictions generally apply to opening and closing cash-handling routines.

It's also important to make sure paid employees don't feel their jobs are in jeopardy of being taken over by unpaid volunteers. Such feelings can lead to acrimony and make teambuilding very difficult. Ideally the volunteer should be presented and perceived as complementing not challenging the paid worker.

Building a cohesive mixed team also requires taking volunteers and their suggestions seriously. In this area it can be argued that volunteer opinions, provided without fear of losing their 'job', are more unvarnished.

If the purpose of volunteers is to increase effectiveness, enhance visitor satisfaction and, in turn, grow revenue and profitability, one role may be of particular value. This role is as a sales ambassador on the floor answering questions and helping to find products for visitors who, at the end of a museum visit, are often pressed for time.

Volunteers with long associations with the museum often bring special warmth to the process that is usually welcomed by the customer. This connection can be enhanced by having the volunteer wear a nametag that includes language like, "Associated with the Museum Since (Year)". This simple statement often triggers a people buy people relationship. If the volunteer has been with the museum a long time the conversation frequently includes shared 'remember when' moments. If the volunteer is new to the museum the conversation may take off from "welcome".

Two last comments:

  • Personal sales should be rung up by someone with higher authority than the person making the purchase.
  • In-store demeanor rules:
    • Smile.
    • Eye level to eye level contact. Stand up when someone is in the store or, if necessary, use a tall stool.
    • Demonstrate enthusiasm.
    • Maintain an open body posture.
      • No crossed arms.
      • No hands in pockets, jingling keys and coins.
    • Uniform, not uniform, attire and name tag.
    • When visitors are present:
      • No eating.
      • No telephone or conversations with other staff.
      • No reading, even of related material.
      • No attention to personal care.
      • No negative comments of any kind about any subject.

See the complete list of Profitable Times™ Newsletters.


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