Friday, October 12, 2012

Leadership and Customer Bias

"Women have gone to the back rooms crying because of how customers are treating them," she said. I was talking recently with a young woman who works in the high-tech retail store. She's one of two in this particular store and has talked to some in other locations. Customers have a tendency to ignore women in this store and the chain's other stores. They look past the women and ask to speak to "that guy over there". Rumor has it that wealthy patrons are really obnoxious about it. There seems to be an unspoken bias towards male support. It even happens at the "expert" desk. Customers want to talk to a man.

Unconsciously perhaps, retail management has caved in. The retail staff used to be split fairly evenly between the sexes. Now the staff is almost all male. Even if management hasn't succumbed to the pressure, there may be some self-selection occurring. If customers won't interact very often with the female retail associates, their numbers will be lower. They will struggle to meet sales goals and leave voluntarily.

In a way, I've seen this bias in low-tech stores too. In a retail setting with a few males, customers assume that the male is the manager or assistant manager.

Leadership should be aware of this and figure out some solutions. They may be losing some great sales staff. Perhaps many of the women that have left have the ability to overcome objections or increase enthusiasm for the products being sold. They're not given the chance.

So, what should they do? Watch their balance in hiring. Have an explicit policy that associates will not cannibalize on another associate's initial interaction with customers. Require associates to 'throw' the customer back to the original associate...unless the customer throws a tantrum, but then they don't deserve excellent service; get them out of the store quickly. Have male staff 'loitering' while female staff appear to be rigorously solving tech problems. Have the females give the demonstrations on the capabilities of the equipment.  There are probably more ways to reinforce the competency of your female staff.

Don't give into your customers' prejudices however. Be courageous in your leadership.

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