How store employees can be hospitable from a distance

As fashion retailers prepare to reopen in the US, the rules of living and shopping in times of the coronavirus pandemic can still seem unfamiliar. How can you successfully serve a customer at a distance? How do you distance yourself from the customer but still maintain hospitality? FashionUnited asked etiquette expert and owner of Dutch ‘Het Etiquette Bureau’ Anne-Marie van Leggelo how “safe shopping” and “hospitality” go hand in hand.

At the beginning of the telephone conversation, van Leggelo clarified that the coronavirus pandemic situation is completely new to her. As an etiquette expert, she pays attention to manners that are derived from observing society. “Before, I’ve been able to draw on what etiquette was already in place. Now, a new one is emerging.” Society’s behavior is currently being redefined through safety regulations and manners are constantly adapting over time, she said. Nevertheless, her recent discoveries could prove useful for shopkeepers.

Good hospitality starts at the very first interaction

Humans are creatures of habit. Although in the back of people’s minds they know what the safety regulations are, their behaviors are not yet fully adjusted to them. Van Leggelo therefore suggested reminding customers of these measures by hanging up posters and putting markings on the floor. “Stay informed. A new standard must be constructed in society.” Research commissioned by the Dutch industry association ‘INretail’ showed that, one day after the introduction of the responsible shopping protocol, at least 87 percent of retailers had already drawn customers’ attention to safety regulations by means of posters, while 86 percent of retailers actively abided by the 1.5-meter rule. The coming weeks will show how fashion retailers in the US will handle the situation.

Creating a good atmosphere that starts at the door is important, said van Leggelo. Good hospitality begins with the very first interaction that consumers have with the shop. The expert therefore advised to put someone in charge of standing by the entrance to keep an eye on store capacity, but also to act as a first point of contact for anyone who has a question. “It’s important that this is someone prevalent and that he or she creates distance in a respectful but perhaps also humorous way. This person is the first employee that anyone sees, so make sure that they radiate confidence and positive energy.”

The staff is thus very important. “Lead as a role model so members of staff will have someone to follow. If you don’t follow the rules, you will lose any say as an entrepreneur. As a manager, it’s necessary to ensure that employees also comply with all safety regulations and that they do not get too close to one another,” she said. In the case of supermarkets, for example, you can choose to temporarily close a shelf when it is being refilled to ensure that visitors do not approach too closely. This can also be done in clothing stores when shelves need to be restocked or a new collection has to be hung up. “It’s also important that employees consider when they will or will not provide assistance. Sometimes it’s just not possible without physical contact,” Van Leggelo said. She indicated that in a situation like this, it’s a good idea to refer to store measures imposed by the government, so employees can then point out that they “unfortunately cannot provide further help right now”.

Etiquette expert gives tips on how to keep a distance in stores

Van Leggelo also stressed that people are much more receptive to positive messages. “Thank them for coming, for their support and for keeping their distance.” Then they are positively reminded of the rules and maybe also that they did not stick to them very well. Visitors can either be thanked over a PA system or by staff.

What if you catch someone who doesn’t follow the safety guidelines? Van Leggelo also had some advice on this. “The most important thing is your non-verbal communication such as your attitude.” Don’t look angry or irritated, don’t be reproachful and speak softly. “Start with giving background information on the situation. ‘Good afternoon, because of the coronavirus, we have been forced by government and company measures to keep a distance of 1.5 meters. You are not quite following this yet.” Then go into action and react to people’s feelings. “I would like to ask you to keep your distance. I regret to have to inform you of this.” Next, you can refer to signs and posters that have been put up regarding safety regulations. “Above all, never assume that anyone does it on purpose. Though, in case they do and things get out of hand, the manager or, if available, security staff can always be called in.”

The last few weeks have shown that retail in times of the coronavirus pandemic is challenging. But where there is a challenge, there is often room for (creative) solutions.

Photo Credit: Pexels

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL, translated and edited.


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