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Retail Workforce Management Is About Understanding The Customer Experience

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I don’t know about you, but I take most of the articles I read about the retail customer today with a pinch of skepticism. If we are to believe everything we read, this species is rarer than the Giant Panda; has the research disciplines of Albert Einstein; has smartphones integrated into its soul; and can simultaneously shop, scan codes, exploit promotions, calculate the nutritional benefits of a cardigan, stream tweets and pay without blinking. Who are the people in these articles and where do they find the time to do all of that ― and still wish their 130 Facebook friends a happy birthday on time?

Skepticism aside, I believe that retail customers know what they want, what they like and more importantly what they dislike; they are craving to be heard and know that retailers truly appreciate them and the hard earned cash they spend. To that end, we come back around to the question of what successful retailers are doing to ensure they deliver a consistent customer experience to the masses through a highly aligned Workforce Management strategy.

A great customer experience is a highly orchestrated journey of actions the retailer makes and the reactions the customer has with the goal of maximizing the experience impact at the time customers are about to make their decision…the moment of truth. This journey isn’t linear. Think of it more like a difficult shot on a pool table, where one ball has to strike another and another with the right speed and emphasis in order to make the pocket. This requires the retailer to understand the customer journey and the moments of truth along the way, then have a plan to staff associates in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge to maximize the chance of conversion, up sell and cross sell.

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So how to do you start this process of alignment? It starts with understanding and acknowledging your customer journey and loyalty model. Consider where the journey starts, why they came to the store, the expectations they have, what happens in the store, where the journey ends, and what opinions are formed that affect future buying behaviors. The loyalty model simply explains the brand value proposition in terms of moments of truth along the journey and the brand’s expected distinction factors, e.g., speed, selection, availability, prices, product, knowledge, quality, etc. Many of these moments are supported directly by behaviors associates consistently exhibit or the activities in which they participate, e.g., stocking, cleaning, education, consultative selling, being friendly, speed of work, etc. While some may be just table stakes, each has an impact on customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.

Once the retailer understands its customer journey and loyalty model, it has a blueprint that can be used to validate whether or not the WFM strategy is aligned and capable of delivering on the promise. Can the retailer support those behaviors consistently across all stores based upon its labor standards, payroll investment, staffing structure and training? For some retailers, this may not be something they are ready to explore. Even so, there may still be some simple questions to ask and opportunities to uncover:

  • Do our labor standards and business processes reflect what our customers need and expect today? 
  • Do we have the payroll investment to service the customer effectively? 
  • If we need to comprise, do we know where the compromises should be made? 
  • Do the associates understand the customer journey, behaviors and activities we expect? 
  • Finally, how do we achieve this locally to reflect regional, seasonal and format variations?

In the meantime ― while we wait for the time when we can download ourselves to the mall, virtually hang out with that Facebook friend from school that used to steal our lunch and try on e-jeans, and get 123,765 immediate tweets on whether our bums look big or not ― there are some simple things that can be done today. If my conversations with retailers over the last month are any indication, they know about these simple things and are ready to invest.

Andi Needham is the Retail Practice Lead for Axsium. Needham has more than 25 years of combined retail industry, workforce management and operational experience. Needham joined Axsium in August 2011 from Empathica where he served as Vice President of Retail, responsible for driving growth in the retail segment. Prior to Empathica, he was Senior Director of Industry Solutions at Infor/Workbrain where he created and executed the company’s global retail and hospitality strategy. Needham’s workforce management experience also includes time with TimeCorp (now, RedPrairie WFM) and TempoSoft (now Oracle Workforce Scheduler).

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