Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Readers of Second Effects may recall a few weeks ago I began yet another business experiment: onsite staff at my store, Electric Pixels. The idea was to have a friendly face meet and greet visitors to the store, and to help them find items they could not locate (which is actually becoming an issue, since I now have over 150 items on the store shelves!)

My observation was that shoppers generally seem appreciative when greeted by a live person, and often I was able to help people find and buy items they probably would not otherwise have found. Also, you'd be surprised at the number of people who come randomly to a store like mine.

One recent visitor, Quanishia Tuqiri, has the bizarre habit of picking a random keyword, punching it into SL Search and then TPing to one of the search results. It turned out to be mine the night she came by, and after a lively discussion of many things, Quanishia is now a good friend. Visitors with no intention of shopping can often be transformed into customers with an explanation of your store's products.

Another important aspect of live interaction is to identify the need for products that don't exist. Shoppers frequently TP through dozens of stores looking for a specific item. If you are there on duty, you can find out precisely what they seek, and sometimes even build products for them right in front of their eyes! This can't happen unless you or your staff are present.

So I hired a very nice friendly face to work at the store. I set up a time clock and began paying hourly wages. Results were very unclear at first, because of the irregularity of SL shoppers - some days are good, while others are catastrophically bad. I decided to run the staffing experiment for a few weeks to see what happened over the longer term.

Unfortunately, after three weeks it was clear that there was no appreciable affect on sales. But there was an appreciable affect on my costs! Overall, I lost a considerable sum of Lindens, but I learned a few things about staffing in this type of sales situation:

  • Hourly (or by minute) payments are questionable. It's not clear whether your staff is actually working consistently even though they might be physically present, since its so easy to be busy IM'ing others. Meanwhile, someone may show up at the store and even slight delays in greeting them don't look good.
  • Difficult customers are hard to deal with. Somehow I am usually able to successfully interact with even the most dreadful personalities by being very careful what I say and how I say it. However, not every one is able to do so, and in one case I received a complaint during the staffing experiment. Inspection of chat logs revealed a catastrophic miscommunication. Understandable, but still not good.
  • Some customers just don't want to talk. Half of our visitors simply didn't respond when addressed. Perhaps they spoke other languages, or maybe they were in a hurry. Some were simple rude. Regardless of the reason, it meant that staff were not required to handle half of the visitors.
  • Some customers talk too much! It's fine to be engaged in a discussion, but when things get busy it's often tricky to disengage from one customer and start with another. This always happens in real-life stores, and Second Life is no exception. But staff have to be able to do this seamlessly. Hah - in one case, a randy customer became overly interested in my staff and asked her "when they got off work".

Will I hire staff again? Perhaps, but things will be slightly different. I want to organize a different payment scheme in which salary will be more directly tied to sales results. Not commission payments, exactly, but something close to that. That way the staff will have appropriate motivation to do the work. However, I haven't figured out the right formula yet. The hourly payment scheme attempted this month was just a bit too close to Camping for it to work effectively.

Another change would be to train the staff in sales techniques. While many people may think it's easy to simply jump into a store and start selling, there is actually a science to selling. I have a real-life friend who teaches such skills, and I am thinking of engaging her to train any new staff with proven techniques.

Finally, if I were to hire again, I would have an open job posting and either interview or somehow evaluate applicants until the right one came along. Hmm, that might be a good blog post in the future....


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