Deciding which mobile phone to buy is something which just seems to get harder all the time. The bewildering array of functions, handsets, accessories and price plans can even make it difficult to know where to start. However, one thing is certain: the frontline sales staff in mobile stores around town won't be slow in coming forward with information, recommendations and advice.
At any of the 30-plus retail outlets operated by SmarTone-Vodafone, sales personnel are expected to make a key proposition in just ten seconds, says general manager Nicholas Fung. The aim is to "engage our clients" in as short a time as possible, while considering the customer's actual needs rather than trying to sell the most expensive products or services.
Given the relatively short attention span of today's typical consumer, Mr Fung believes that the first contact is all-important. This makes it vital for the retail team to be able to read each situation accurately and to understand how to manage the most common types of encounter. "Finding just the right approach for each individual customer helps to ensure a successful sale," he says. "Apart from explaining the benefits of what we provide, we must also make customers feel special by offering personalised attention and treating them in an engaging way."
With this in mind, the company expects candidates for sales positions to have excellent people skills. "We prefer applicants who are genuinely interested in helping others and have demonstrated a flair for salesmanship," notes Mr Fung. "Of course, good communication and presentation skills are also needed." Those who fit the bill can look forward to a structured career path leading from the entry-level position of sales executive to roles as supervisor, store manager, and sales or area manager.
According to corporate communications manager Eleanor Chan, SmarTone-Vodafone has adopted a set of guidelines known as "U ACT principles" to promote a positive retail culture. As she explains: "The acronym stands for understanding customer needs and aspirations; agility in adapting to changing needs and circumstances; clarity in presenting benefits; and teamwork to offer a great experience every time."
Just as pivotal are training and other forms of retail support. Mr Fung points out that the industry is very dynamic and that retail personnel are therefore required to sell not just mobile handsets, but also voice functions and the latest multimedia content. To prepare salespeople for the increasing complexities of the job, there are regular and extensive training sessions.
"Every member of our frontline team is kept fully up-to-date and, in the event of a major product launch, our CEO will personally conduct a briefing session for the entire sales force early on the day it's to be introduced," he says. The company has made a commitment to being second to none in terms of training and is backing this up with the necessary investment.
As store layout can have a big impact on sales, the company has taken great trouble to redesign retail outlets in order to complement the efforts of frontline staff. "For example, we have installed interactive kiosks with LCD monitors and touch-screen panels for customers to learn about new products and services," Mr Fung explains. "We also showcase a greater variety of mobile sets and accessories which people can touch and hold."
Besides that, there is now more floor space to allow customers to browse, and specially designed work stations have been brought in so that retail staff can explain product functions more easily. If necessary, they can call up details of technical specifications and service information via their PDAs.
"Generally, the new design has helped to provide more efficient and personalised attention," Mr Fung says. "The new facilities also let customers experience the benefits of our multimedia services."
However, he believes there is still more to be done. For example, extra information about new products will be sent to customers by text or email. This will keep them in touch with all the latest news and allow them to learn about special promotions even before visiting one of the stores.