Keys to Train Seasonal Employees as Brand Ambassadors

Owning the customer experience means focusing the entire team on ensuring each customer’s true shopping experience exceeds his or her expectations.

By K.C. Blonski, Senior Director, Travel, Leisure, and Retail Markets, AchieveGlobal

Despite a still-sputtering economy, consumer confidence continues to grow as retailers up the ante when it comes to delivering customer service. With the holiday season in full swing, and retail success dependent on exceptional service, retailers cannot rely solely on holiday decorations and seasonal promotions to drive traffic and ultimately brand loyalty. They must focus on owning the customer experience.

The classic holiday film, Miracle on 34th Street, provides a great example of what owning the customer experience is all about. Kris Kringle, a seasonal employee hired by Macy’s, is depicted engaging with customers throughout the film on a personal level, taking a keen interest in their real needs and desires for holiday shopping. When children or their parents inquired about a specific toy, Kris directed them to the best places where they could find what they were looking for, even it meant sending them to another store. Customers were so appreciative of Kris’ assistance, they became positive ambassadors and pledged long-term loyalty to the store. Bottom line: Kris Kringle owned the customer experience.

While Kris Kringle cannot serve as a brand ambassador for all businesses, companies do have the ability to define their own unique customer experience through their seasonal workforce. Owning the customer experience means focusing the entire team on ensuring each customer’s true shopping experience exceeds his or her expectations—resulting in increased sales, maximized revenues, and greater customer loyalty. To ensure a jolly holiday season, businesses must prepare the seasonal workforce to own the customer experience by demonstrating commitment to training and focusing on the building blocks of customer experience success. Why? As Kris Kringle demonstrates, people are the most important brand builders.

Training For Results

In order for employees to provide exceptional customer service, managers must focus on training that instills the skills necessary that differentiate your brand from your competition. Training should not just focus on the operational elements of their job function, such as stocking shelves and managing the register. It should ensure that seasonal employees understand and embody the brand’s commitment to their customer’s experience. Providing targeted experience training that encompasses the interpersonal skills that build rapport and trust with your customers, and proper selling skills to offer merchandise in a way that adds value, are proven ways to prepare a workforce to own the customer experience.

Building Blocks of Customer Experience Success

Employee development, whether it’s seasonal or full time, is an essential tool in preparing a workforce to own the customer experience. However, a manager’s job doesn’t end once training concludes. Throughout the entire holiday season, leaders must stay vigilant in ensuring their employees are delivering on the brand promise and exceeding customers’ expectations. This can best be accomplished by focusing on the building blocks of customer experience success:

Shape a motivational workforce: Seasonal employees often have the most consumer-facing roles during the holidays and are, thus, undeniably valuable to the success of the brand or company as every customer encounter sets the tone for all future interactions. Therefore, promoting motivation is critical. The adage of seasonal hires just being a “body” to help out no longer works. They are representatives of your brand and can help or easily hurt your existing or potential customer base. Remember, those who shop during the holiday will determine the perception of your brand based on their experience. Do you really want to take a chance like that?

More than 40 years of research suggests that internal motivation stems from three psychological needs:

  1. Competence
  2. Relatedness
  3. Autonomy

Employees—even seasonal ones—want to grow, feel valued, and be in control of their career; by helping employees satisfy these needs, leaders prepare them to better own the customer experience.

While leaders can’t create internal motivation in their employees, they can give employees the opportunity to use their abilities, connect with others, and guide their own efforts. This is best accomplished by communicating in a way that is informative and instructive, taking into account the employee’s unique perspective, as well as offering opportunities for choice, within reason, that allow the employee to become actively involved with the final outcome.

Give needs-based feedback: Once seasonal staff is trained, too often companies throw them into the sea of holiday shoppers letting them sink or swim. While managers are understandably busy during the holiday season, the companies that stand out from the pack are the ones with management committed to ongoing coaching. Feedback that reliably brings the best results includes:

  • Engaging in a genuine two-way dialog
  • Expressing clear reasons for required structures and actions
  • Collaborating with the employee on solutions and next steps that are appropriate to the particular situation and encourage the employee’s internal motivators

Realize talent in others: Because seasonal employees are only signed on for a finite amount of time, it takes a dedicated and engaged management team to realize potential in their employees and provide them with the right opportunities and motivation necessary to support and develop these skills. Realizing the talent in others can help leaders not only identify high performers for the season but also indicate the top performers who would make valuable additions to the workforce beyond the holidays.

Offering the right type of recognition: Offering rewards as an incentive to go above and beyond is a tactic that can prove effective in the short term; however, leaders must be wary of competitive stakes in which there are clear “winners” and “losers.” While some people are driven by short-term competitions, they also can inhibit collaboration and a customer-centric mindset, deterring all previous efforts around motivation and owning the customer experience. Plus, as many retailers are looking to keep some seasonal workers beyond the holidays, it’s a good idea to choose an approach that lasts.

As an alternative, a more successful and long-term solution to reward employees is through appropriate recognition. When employees feel appreciated and competent, they will relay that feeling to the customers. Effective recognition is:

  • Genuine
  • Timely
  • Short
  • Interactive
  • Specific
  • Frequent

Service in a New Era

It’s no surprise that consumer expectations have changed post-recession to expect value beyond price and product. Once retailers establish what that value looks like, this vision must be instilled throughout all employment levels, beginning with top leadership, rather than letting the vision live as words on posters in the break room. Leadership drives culture, and it’s a culture of owning the customer experience, coupled with appropriate communication and ongoing training and coaching, that can create a successful seasonal workforce.

K.C. Blonski is the senior director of travel, leisure, and retail markets for AchieveGlobal (, which helps retailers strategically own their customers’ experience to drive results.



Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.