Marketing 101 tells us the most important thing is to know your customer! As operators, it is crucial that we understand our customers. Importantly, many in the industry have done a better job than others, including myself, in working to better understand the Hispanic shopper. Since the year 2000, Hispanic shoppers have increased spending more than 200 percent and by the year 2017, Hispanic consumers’ spending power is estimated to be $1.7 trillion.
Hispanic consumer demographics vary throughout the country and by region, but there are some universal things we can do to cater to this market segment. Attending NATSO's International Study Tour in Chile, I recognized how critical communication is to business success and having the ability to speak to guests in a language they understand can provide a sustainable competitive advantage.
Shame on me for not, at minimum, maintaining an ability to speak a limited amount of Spanish. Upon arrival in Santiago, Chile, Jeff Murphy, who helped coordinate the tour, invited us to attend Mass with him at a cathedral where the priest and parish members were all very gracious. Unfortunately, all I could say was ‘si’ and ‘gracias.’ Later, when visiting the large shopping mall in the center of Santiago, I again found myself un- able to communicate with anyone, which was frustrating and concerning.
I feel, very strongly, it’s critical that English remains our country’s primary language, but as business owners we have to face reality that many of our customers are not fluent in English. Therefore, upon returning I asked my daughter, Ericka, how we launch company-wide training so all of our employees could learn Spanish? She suggested the following:
- Recruit Spanish speakers, which will have the most beneficial results as those who speak Spanish can re-enforce any in-house initiatives we provide by giving our single-language team members someone to practice actual conversational Spanish with. As part of this, we advertise a preference for Spanish speakers and offer a slight “experience” pay or “premium” pay (+.25 an hour) for those that speak conversational Spanish. There are simple paragraph translations we can ask them to do to evaluate how fluent they are.
- Offer the same incentive to current team members who take the initiative to learn conversational Spanish on their own. The same evaluation applies.
- For a few hundred dollars, we can have Spanish language software onsite if we want to require team leaders to log some hours per month as part of their leader development. The more they know, the more the team will hear it while they work.
- Have translations of key phrases used regularly in our work environment available in each work station. These can be recipe-card size, laminated and ring bound and placed next to each register. The teams can provide insight into regular phrases they would use in each work center.
- Have Spanish-to-English conversation books in each work center. These are widely used by travelers and most people appreciate even just seeing the book and knowing you are trying.
- ￼￼￼In each monthly team meeting, include a segment for speaking common phrases to each other. Reward improvement month over month.
- Give special recognition to those who are using the words they learn during their shifts and those who we get positive guest feedback due to their use of a second language.
The key in any attempt to create a bilingual work environment is repetition. Employees need to speak it often to retain what they learn and to be confident enough to do anything more than frustrate themselves and the guest. What we don’t want to do is arm them with just enough to be dangerous, distracting and potentially offending a guest.
Not only is knowing Spanish an important aspect of customer service, as an industry, we have a lot to gain from this market segment. A recent article in Latin Post reported that Hispanic shoppers are influenced more once they are in the store or in a shopping mindset rather than by brand ads on the radio, TV, newspaper or Internet. For us, that means we have the opportunity to spur sales among our Hispanic customers.
There is a reason why food companies, retailers and consumer product goods suppliers are increasing their focus on the Hispanic population, and the truckstop and travel plaza industry needs to be a part of that trend.
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