Better communication can lead to a host of improvements for retailers, from enhanced customer service to lower labor costs. Walgreens is starting to reap the benefits of instant communications through the Theatro platform, which lets associates contact each other through hands-free devices. The retailer is deploying the solution at 1,000 locations in 2019, with plans to eventually equip associates at all 9,560 stores.
The tool lets associates communicate both with each other and with an AI-powered assistant to retrieve information, request assistance and help them handle customer-facing tasks, without abandoning the shoppers they are dealing with.
“The key focus with Theatro is driving better communication among team members throughout the store so they spend less time walking around trying to find items,” said Andrea Farris, VP of Development and Head of Solution Planning & Partnerships at Walgreens in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “For instance, they now have direct access to other team members, so they don't have to leave the customer’s sight if they need to retrieve an item from the stock room."
The system also lets associates remotely call for register backup, price checks and inventory lookups using automated commands. Taken together, these functionalities help the retailer offer better customer service in terms of both speed and responsiveness.
Additionally, Theatro helps with cross-department communication — an important benefit for a retailer that sells multiple types of medicines. In the past, customers who had questions about over-the-counter products had to either wait for an associate to get an answer or take the product to the pharmacist themselves. Providing a direct link between the sales floor and the pharmacy significantly expedites the process.
"In the pharmacy space, especially when it comes to interactions between departments, the team members on the sales floor may not have the expertise on over-the-counter products that our pharmacists have,” said Farris. “The solution lets them engage with the pharmacy on behalf of the customer and keep them more directly involved than ever before."
Communication Doesn’t Just Stay In The Store
Associates are the prime beneficiaries of the new solution, but it’s capable of improving communications across the entire business. For instance, managers can use the tool to record messages, such as morning briefings, and have associates play it back when they start their shifts, saving time that would otherwise be spent having multiple meetings across the day.
Leaders in corporate offices also can take advantage of these capabilities. A visitor to an individual store may not have the time to stop and thank every individual team member for their work, and an encouraging voice message that can be sent to every worker feels more personal than a letter posted in the break room.
"Every team member is connected, so our leadership can speak directly to them,” said Farris. “We leverage it for some of the initiatives that we run in our stores so team members can hear directly from our President or our CEO, in his or her voice, thanking the team for their accomplishments. It has gone a long way in making the team feel engaged."
Additionally, voice communication lets Walgreens inform associates about safety and weather concerns in real time. The retailer has used voice capabilities to stay in touch with associates during hurricane season in Florida, ensuring that they are kept aware of the latest developments regarding any active storms.
Hands-Free Is Part Of A Larger Mobile Ecosystem
While the hands-free messaging system has its advantages, Theatro is just one piece in a larger puzzle. Earlier this year, Walgreens deployed Zebra handheld devices for its staff. These also improve customer service and efficiency, but their capabilities and use cases are different from the new system.
"From my perspective, it's an ecosystem of solutions,” said Farris. “I don't think there is one silver bullet for everything, it's a combination. The tablets and the Zebra handheld devices continue to have a role when it comes to inventory management and performance metrics, like when you need to see a planogram for research and revisions. There is definitely an advantage to the scanners and screens that are available on the handheld devices."
The ability to connect multiple devices into a single, cohesive network is one of the key traits Walgreens looks for in these types of solutions, according to Farris. Together, these mobile tools help the retailer empower associates in ways that can best help them deliver an efficient, memorable customer experience.