Sunday, November 8, 2009


Communicating with the retail staff at stores in India can sometimes be a very challenging affair. I have had many such experiences where I have had to make a lot of effort to understand what they are trying to convey or explain my requirement. Recently, a friend told me that the retail industry suffers from high attrition among store level staff and therefore training is a high pressure 24X7 operation.
When a steady supply of quality input (job applicants) is impossible, the HR department experiences enormous pressure. This compromises the hiring standards and the investment in training increases. This has been the saga in the software industry too and we see it in the retail industry now.

Very often when I have tried talking with the retail staff in English, they seem ill at ease. But whenever I have quickly switched to one of the regional languages or sometimes, Hindi, I have found better communication and result.

In India, all training programs for the retail store level staff are in English. In a maximum of 7 (or sometimes even less) days training, these employees are expected to acquire a level of language proficiency where they can interact with customers in English to sell products or services. This, I feel is a daunting task for most of these trainees who may lose the big picture and focus only on language.

Worldwide, for most customer interactions, the goal is simple and straight: to quickly establish rapport, quickly understand customer needs and complete the interaction successfully. While this remains the primary goal, the secondary goal is to use an appropriate language to make this happen. If you look at it this way, you may think, why should the retail staff in Cafe Coffee Day or Big Bazaar in Lucknow, Thane, New Mumbai, most parts of Mumbai, Patna, Jaipur, and Chandigarh be forced to converse in English? Especially when in such cities you are most likely to get at least 80% Hindi speaking customers who will feel at home with a Hindi speaking retail executive than someone struggling in English and making the conversation difficult, boring and worse, not establishing any rapport with the customers.

Somewhere in the euphoria to professionalize customer interaction, our HR and training heads consider that interactions must always be in English, regardless of the outcome of the interaction. This does not make business sense. First you train these people and burn cash as training expenses. Next you deploy them on the job to create poor rapport and boring interactions with the customers so that you lose customers, which amounts to burning cash again. After all this, you still lose most of the staff due to high attrition.

Does learning English language become more important and fashionable? Do we sometimes use incorrect tools like English language in this case, to achieve business goals? Retail Industry is just an example. Such problems exist in other industries as well. Training programs must also focus on the use of correct tools to achieve business goals. Using incorrect language in the process of interaction dampens the pursuit of achieving business goals and does not make business sense.

1 comment:

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