My Top 3 Skills
Skill #1: Communication
"I leverage my communication skills to create consistency and to produce productive results in all circumstances."
My work experience helped me tremendously to push me outside of my original communication-comfort-zone, in both my personal and professional life. When my work pushed me outside of my comfort zone, I took it as an opportunity to improve, and I can say with full confidence that I drastically improved, and I had fun doing it! I may not have enjoyed communication before, but now I thoroughly enjoy it. Namely, there are 3 different methods of communication that I learned to leverage.
Face to Face Communications
My first job was a retail job at my local Converse store. I was quickly thrown into talking to people whether it was comfortable or not. As an introverted, first-time-at-a-job, 16-year-old homeschooler, it was ridiculously uncomfortable. Over the course of time, face-to-face communication became fluid and felt natural and fun. I learned to tailor my verbal communication with customers to achieve the best results. I’ll never forget something one of my coworkers told me, “I tell the customers that laces are on sale today.” Adding today to that sentence was a subtle but effective trick for him. He noticed that customers were more likely to purchase an additional item or two, which increased our sales and conversion. Later in my career, I figured out that asking a series of questions was the most effective way to find out what my customers wanted. I became adept at asking questions, and I was able to easily determine whether an open-ended or closed-ended question would be more beneficial in conversations. I utilized specific types of questions for specific situations to identify certain needs.
Through asking the appropriate questions I was able to identify what my customers needed and wanted, so that I could recommend product tailored to their interests, ultimately elevating sales. Verbal communication was one tool I put in my communication toolbelt.
Phone & Email Communications
One of my favorite memories from working at Converse was during December of 2016 when the store’s phone started ringing. I picked it up and greeted the caller, he introduced himself to me by the name of Blake. He told me about a dilemma he was having: his wife fell in love with a pair of sneakers at another location, but they didn’t have her size.
I told him that I would gladly check our inventory for him, and I asked him for the Style Code (SKU) of the sneakers. When he gave me the code, I realized that he had another dilemma on his hands. The code that he took from the sneakers his wife had tried on was called a B Grade.
“What’s a B-Grade?” you ask. Well, essentially, when sneakers are manufactured some of them come out with minor defects so they slap it with a B Grade code and reduce the price. It gets more interesting, though. B Grade codes are compiled of dozens of different types of sneakers, so when any Converse employee types the B Grade code into their inventory database, the database will show them all of the B Grade sneakers the store has in stock, but there is no way to tell what the sneakers actually are unless you find the actual physical product. For example, when the search results come up it will show that the store has 2 size 6’s and 5 size 7.5’s, but since they’re B Grades I could have 7 different pairs of sneakers on hand.
I asked Blake if he would mind if I put him on hold while I checked our inventory, to which he said he wouldn’t mind. I checked and returned to him without finding the sneakers. I told him about his other options, like we have similar sneakers, check online, etc. He didn’t want to compromise because he knew his wife really loved that specific pair; I could tell that he was really hoping to find those sneakers. He said, “Oh well, I’ll just check with some other stores.” I immediately knew that he probably wouldn’t find them. The chances that he calls a store and talks to someone who is willing to go the extra mile was slim to none, and I could tell he was really hooked on finding them. I figured, what the heck, I should at least try to make this guy’s day. So I told him, “I’ll be honest with you, you’re probably not going to have the best luck calling another store because you’ll have to explain the whole B-Grade situation, then they’ll have to do a ton of work to search their store, on top of that it’s December so stores are pretty busy, and I hate to say it but a lot of retail employees simply aren’t willing to go the extra mile. How about I call some stores for you and see if I can find it for you?” After insisting that he didn’t want to be a bother, I told him I really wouldn’t mind, I would actually enjoy doing it. He accepted and I told him that I would spend the next couple of days contacting stores. I told him that I couldn’t promise anything, but that I would try and get back to him before the end of 2 business days.
To make a long story short, I called over 2 dozen stores nationwide. I remember speaking to a couple of store managers who directed me to stores that they thought I might have had some luck with. I ended up calling a clearance store in New York and talking to one of my now favorite long-distance-working-relationship-managers, Jessica. I caught her at an awkward time, he store had just opened, she was a new manager, and her store was busy, but she had the drive to help me out and make this guy’s day. She told me she would look for them and get back to me by the end of the day. She sent me an email with several sneakers that she found, and oh my god she actually found them. I was blown away. I immediately contacted the store and had them put on hold so that Blake could call the store and purchase them.
After that, I left Blake a voicemail telling him that after hours of searching I finally found them, and I included all of the information he would need to order them. Leaving a voicemail as the end to my working relationship with Blake didn’t feel complete, but oh well, at least I gave him everything he needed.
The store got a call a little while later, “Thanks for calling Converse in Leesburg, this is Lydia, how can I help you?” The person on the other line laughed, “Lydia, are you the only one working there?” I was beyond confused, who wanted to know if I was alone, “Uhhh…” I stuttered, and before I could finish the person on the other line (thankfully) interrupted and identified themselves- it was Blake. He told me that he was blown away. He thanked me profusely, and then I swear I could have heard something in his brain click, “Wait,” he said, “you’re not going to get any credit for this, are you?” I said no, but I was honestly just happy that I could find the sneakers for him. He must have believed that wasn’t good enough, so he told me to give him my manager’s and district manager’s email addresses so he could personally email him. It was my turn to be taken aback. In all my time as a retail employee, no one had ever considered doing me such a kind favor in return for my efforts.
On top of that:
- I made someone’s day- and his wife’s day (and possibly their Christmas.)
- I networked and built relationships with other Converse stores.
- I got a glowing customer story!
- I gained recognition in the company: I received several glowing thank you’s from my Store Manager, my District Manager, and the Director of Stores from Converse Corporate, and on top of that, Blake's email was featured on the company's front page of the retail employee website. You can read the email below.
None of that would have happened if I just told him, “yeah we don’t have it, sorry, bye.”
Thanks for bearing with me this far, Reader. What’s my point? Good question. I’m using this story to illustrate some of my communication skills in the realm of phone and email:
- I communicated with my customer in a timely manner.
- I gave him a time frame and I stuck to it.
- I forwarded him an email for clarification
- Jessica had sent me a photo of the sneakers she found, so I forwarded it to Blake before he made the purchase.
- I was honest and realistic in my communication with Blake
- I didn’t make any promises that I knew I couldn’t keep, and I was driven to do my best. If I did pull it off, it would be a pleasant surprise!
Now, onward to Skill #2.
Skill 2: Strategic Thinking
"I identify areas of opportunity, create strategies, and produce results."
When I was a manager at Converse, one of the changes that I made was implementing their Refill Report.
I noticed that our store was struggling to keep the storefront stocked, especially after the weekends.
Our store was absolutely crushed after the weekend rush and it was nearly impossible to recover during the week, leaving our store a mess.The weekends were our busiest time of the week, therefore we sold a lot of product in a small time frame, which means that our sales floor easily lacked products and vital sizes. On top of that, we didn't have any strategy for replenishing, so it was never thoroughly done.
This is where the Refill Report comes in. The Refill Report is an automatically generated report that collects information from the day’s sales and compiles it into a document that is a tool for replenishing the storefront. It lists the items sold, beginning at either the start of the day or the time when the previous Refill Report was generated, and it breaks each item down into how many were sold, the sizes, the colors, the price, and the location of where to find it in backstock.
I realized the value of the Refill Report and immediately started taking action with it. I gave a presentation on the value of the Refill Report and how to use it during our bi-weekly management meetings so the leadership team was on the same page. I trained the whole staff on how to use the Refill Report. One of the most vital factors to the Refill Report’s success was when I created a scheduling system.
At the beginning of every day, one of the managers would print out a daily schedule that every manager and associate would check at the beginning of their shift to see what the daily goals and tasks were and where they were zoned each hour. Every week, I made sure to pre-emptively go through the upcoming week’s daily schedules and insert times to execute the Refill Report. Saturday and Sunday we would start around 1pm or 2pm and run the Refill Report about every 2 hours. This strategy worked like a charm. By the end of the day, only a few areas needed refilling. We no longer felt overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of us. As my dad would say, “By the inch it’s a cinch, by the mile it’s a trial.”
And so I continued overseeing the Refill Report’s successful implementation. After a while, I didn’t have to delegate to anyone, everyone already knew how and when to do it. People started taking initiative.
Training my team to strategically utilize the Refill Report was one of the most successful moves for our store, it resulted in a store that was more operationally sound. Implementing the Refill Report made everyone’s lives so much easier, tasking became more fluid, customers had a seamless shopping experience (since the products they were looking for were actually on the sales floor,) and our sales climbed upwards.
Skill 3: Drive
"Ain't no mountain high enough... No matter the circumstances, I work as hard as it takes to succeed."
I’m a big-picture person. I always have been. I realize that the tiny steps you take today affect every single one of your tomorrows. This mentality has helped me tremendously throughout life, even in the midst of struggles I have had the drive to push through and reach my objectives because I’m always looking for the bigger picture, and the purpose behind any given task. No job is too small, no task is too meaningless in my mind.
At my current internship, the company is developing an image recognition software to detect items of clothing. Ultimately, this will be the main function and purpose of the application they’re launching, Chelfie. Essentially, the user will be able to take a photo of any outfit and the app will display where the user can shop that look, thanks to the image recognition software.
My first day on the job I was tagging images. There are thousands of images. I was sitting in front of my laptop all day, clicking boxes around clothing items, tagging it with the appropriate label, and repeating that all over again. It was tedious, time consuming, and monotonous. At the end of the day, my boss asked me if I understood why image tagging is important. I hadn’t been given an explanation, but I told him that I figured that every photo was creating a guideline, that it was teaching the program what to do. He said yes, and further explained that it’s like teaching a child to talk: first you teach them the letter A, then the letter B, then the letter C, and so on.
My first week I tagged almost 1,000 images. The following week I tagged 903 photos in under 5 hours. What’s the point in those numbers? The point is that as mind-numbing as the task was, I recognized how important it was without anyone explaining it to me, and I put my mind to it that I was going to get it done as efficiently as I possibly could.
One of my top skills in life is putting my mind to something and just doing it.