On a recent art museum visit we noticed several guards staring at their smartphones, oblivious as to whether anyone was intent upon mischief or even theft.  And it’s understandable that these digital devices offer a relief from the boredom that must come from sitting in the same room with the same art all day long.

The issue of boredom is unfortunately also one that members of a store’s retail staff face during quiet times. Of course we’d like to think that we have just the right number of customers to keep our employees comfortably busy at all times, but that is rarely the case. Is it realistic to expect them to be smiling and alert like the clerk in this photo when there’s no one present?

We’ve struggled with this issue for years, although it used to be a question of whether they were allowed to read during their shift.  We acknowledge that keeping busy with dusting and straightening displays is better, or working on special projects involving mailings or pricing merchandise.  But these activities mean that when a customer does need help, the staff is sometimes preoccupied.

When cell phones became commonplace it was not unusual to see sales clerks in some stores deeply involved in a personal call.  Many of us require our staff to limit personal calls during store time to emergencies, or very brief conversations. Happily the advent of smartphones has eased this problem, because the reading of text messages and emails is much easier to interrupt and put aside than a phone call.

I think it’s reasonable to require that sales staff do just this when a customer comes in the store.  By banning the use of smartphones while any customers are present, you know that employees will be ready to give their full attention to those needing service. This policy is also essential for preventing shoplifting. It’s not a perfect solution, but it may be a compromise that both management and staff find works well.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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