Whether you call it omnichannel or multi-channel retailing, today’s retailers recognize the need to offer a fully integrated customer experience that is consistent across all touch points. In fact, 95% of retailers have either defined their retail strategy as omnichannel or are working towards an omnichannel approach.
But, while retailers provide a variety of touch points — such as bricks and mortar, mobile, kiosks, call centers and web sites — many consumers still prefer to shop at physical stores and are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate. In fact, retailers have identified that knowledgeable associates are one of the most important factors in a great overall shopping experience.
The problem is that associate training is one of the biggest barriers to becoming a successful omnichannel company. So, how do retailers ensure thatassociates have the knowledge and skills they need to execute appropriately on an omnichannel strategy? Here are our six tips for boosting associate knowledge and expertise, to deliver a successful omnichannel experience for customers.
Tip #1: Create Smarter Associates
Not only do your associates need to expand their knowledge, they need to know more than customers coming into your store: 81% of customers conduct research online before heading into your store, and they expect your associates to have a higher level of expertise to help them through the purchasing process.
It’s not enough to stick with traditional training methods that typically dump a ton of information on associates all at once. These methods have been proven ineffective. Instead, you need to use modern learning techniques that help associates learn and retain information for the long term. Some of these techniques include:
Microlearning: Breaks down training into bite-sized chunks to counteract information overload;
Question-Based Reinforcement: Asks employees questions about the information they’ve learned, to embed knowledge more firmly long-term;
Personalized Training: Customizes the information employees need based on department, location and job function; and
Adaptive Learning Technology: Modifies learning paths and learning content — on the fly — according to how your associates respond to questions served up during each learning session. The technology identifies strengths and weaknesses in subject matter knowledge and delivers learning required to fill the gaps.
Tip #2: Drive Associate Enthusiasm
Just like the old adage about leading a horse to water, you can create better training for employees, but you can’t force them to learn. To turn associates into brand ambassadors, they must be enthusiastic about your products. And to boost the effectiveness of any learning program, employees must be engaged in what they’re learning. Training technologies that incorporate gamification elements such as game interfaces,leaderboards and points systems have been proven to more fully engage employees in the learning process. And when employees are engaged in their own learning, the effectiveness of their learning increases, giving you more knowledgeable, experienced associates serving your customers.
Tip #3: Create A Culture Of Adoption
Omnichannel retailing places a much higher burden on your employees: They must not only know how to sell effectively, but must also become product evangelists, distribution experts and customer service advocates. But if they are resistant to changes or increased job demands, it will show in the quality of your customer sales and service.
So while it’s important to create and deliver more impactful training to more engaged employees, you also need to create a culture that revolves around omnichannel retailing — one that shifts employee attitudes and promotes buy-in.
Creating an omnichannel culture isn’t easy, but it can be enhanced by creating consistent messaging to all employees, and by starting and maintaining a conversation around your omnichannel strategy and practice, with daily communications. Gamified learning, too, can contribute to your culture: Because it’s fun, it ties the topic to a feeling of enjoyment. When employees recall information they’ve learned, it triggers a pleasant emotional response — one of the surest ways to shift attitudes. An eKnowledge platform gives you the ability to provide learning wrapped in a gamified interface and offer daily communications to keep the conversation going, plus keep critical practices and policies top of mind.
Tip #4: Communicate Constantly
Today’s consumers are far less forgiving of customer service ignorance across channel touch points. Research by CFI Group identified that more than three-quarters of the time, store associates are occasionally or frequently unaware of web promotions, and consumers occasionally or frequently received information from call centers that was different from other channels. To avoid this disparity in information — and to ensure that all associates have the most up-to-date information on products, services and promotions — constant communication is a must. Learning technologies that allow all associates to receive this information, and access it whenever they need it, ensures better service for your customers.
Tip #5: Provide Just-In-Time Knowledge
To provide the best in customer service, give your associates the ability to access information at the “point of need.” Mobile learning allows you to deliver information on any device that associates are using (or prefer), such as POS terminals, tablets, laptops and smartphones. Knowledge on demand systems give employees the ability to search and find information exactly when they need it — on the phone or on the floor — allowing them to better serve customers. And daily learning bites, combined with personalized and adaptive learning techniques, allow you to predict associate needs and deliver knowledge just in time.
Tip #6: Create A Culture Of Continuous Learning
The best way to ensure omnichannel retailing success is to create a culture of continuous learning and back it up with the appropriate techniques and technologies. Knowledge should be available on demand and training should be efficient and impactful, without compromising associate time on the floor. An omnichannel continuous learning culture should be based on:
A continuous cycle of knowledge and feedback to ensure associates are constantly learning and improving;
Daily learning and communications to keep knowledge top of mind, and encourage ongoing conversations that build a positive culture;
Anytime, anywhere access to knowledge that helps associates deliver superior customer sales and service; and
Technologies and cognitive science techniques that improve learning effectiveness, engage associates more fully in their learning, and offer timely insight for supervisors and managers.
While employee knowledge is only one facet of an omnichannel strategy, it’s a very large contributor to whether or not your omnichannel will be successful. By improving the effectiveness of your learning programs, you’ll not only increase employee knowledge, you will also help create a learning culture that’s focused on omnichannel success. Plus, you’ll give your associates the ability to have a very tangible impact where it matters most, on the bottom line.
Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify Inc., a next-generation eLearning company that combines game mechanics with brain science to drive knowledge retention in corporate enterprise. She is a much sought after speaker, presenting at high profile events such as the Fortune Tech conference in Aspen, HR Summit 2012 Impact99 conferences in both Vancouver and Toronto and TedxWomen in Waterloo. In 2012 alone, Leaman received three awards for presentations delivered on the future of learning. Prior to Axonify, Carol was the CEO of PostRank Inc., a social engagement analytics company that she sold to Google in June 2011. She also was the CEO of RSS Solutions Inc. and Fakespace, two companies she successfully sold to strategic acquirers.