Customer experience in retail is more important than ever before, but businesses are struggling to meet the expectations of the modern consumer. Numerous socioeconomic and macroeconomic factors have created a perfect storm of challenges that has business leaders feeling the heat.
Issues such as inflation and the ongoing supply chain crisis don’t seem to be going away, so businesses only have so much control over material and product shortages. However, a significant driver of quality customer experience and business success is employee experience, an area where companies have complete control.
According to McKinsey, there are 30 million retail and hospitality employees in the United States, representing 20% of the total workforce. However, the industry has a quit rate more than double the national average, and research shows more than half of frontline workers are considering leaving for another industry. Just as consumers expect high-quality service when they walk into a store, employees demand respect from their employers and consideration of their wants and needs, both personal and professional. Any organization is only as good as its people and that is especially true in retail, where direct customer contact is a constant.
Retail leaders need to be laser-focused on empowering employees through learning and training opportunities. Investing in your people builds a stronger organizational culture, which in turn builds competitive advantages to propel your business to the top of the industry. Leaders need to pay particular attention to managers, who play an outsized role in frontline retail: McKinsey data shows that managers are significantly more likely to leave their position (63%) than non-managers (36%). Empowering managers with the knowledge and skills to lead will create a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the business.
Here’s why and how you should invest in winning strategies to dominate the modern retail world.
Investment Equals Engagement
Disengaged employees are detrimental to the morale of the workplace and harmful to the business’ bottom line. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in significant challenges in the workplace, some of which had a decidedly negative impact on employees; 49% of organizations with frontline workers saw employee engagement decline. An engaged workforce leads to a more productive business, but engagement isn’t something that just happens overnight. It takes time and effort to communicate and build those lasting relationships between employees and employers.
Despite ongoing concerns about coronavirus transmission, many consumers still visit brick-and-mortar retail locations. When everything from groceries to clothing to a new family vehicle can be purchased online without any face-to-face interaction, there isn’t necessarily any reason to shop in-store. But many still do because of the customer experience that isn’t possible with a chatbot or on a Zoom call.
If you’ve walked into a store in the past two and a half years, you have probably noticed the difference between an engaged workforce and a disengaged one. When employees are fully engaged, they work hard to create an atmosphere worth leaving the house to experience. Managers and their superiors have an important role to play here: sharing impressive sales statistics or highlighting positive customer interactions from individual stores can show employees the value of their hard work.
In the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns, the retail industry was hit hard by a historical labor crisis. Even as we’ve returned to a relative “normal,” turnover is ever-present in the minds of retail leaders. The Deskless Report from Nudge showed that turnover is the No. 1 issue facing retailers, as 37% of workers are looking to leave. Employee attrition can be incredibly costly: organizations have to hire and train new employees, knowledge and experience are lost, and with every employee who walks out the door, team morale takes a hit.
How to Build a Winner
Building a successful training program requires careful thought and consideration of the needs of the entire organization. Learning is a continuous process and knowledge is the foundation of performance; companies can — and must — use training to close knowledge gaps and strengthen the whole team.
Start by setting specific expectations and clear goals for the training program. Managers need to define parameters and be able to articulate them clearly, or training won’t even get off the ground. Goals need to be measurable and tied to organizational objectives and key performance indicators. For example, if the objective is to boost companywide sales of men’s sports coats by 25%, design a module on the principles of upselling.
Training needs to be purposeful and presented with clear values and end goals. It shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment when employees are assigned a new training session, and it’s crucial to use positive reinforcement and listen to employee feedback on previous sessions. Managers should go through modules at the same time as non-managers so they get firsthand experience with the material and can reasonably discuss any hiccups or hurdles.
Training must also be an equitable experience. The same methods aren’t going to work for everyone. Particularly in a retail environment, when employees need to be on the sales floor with customers, it might be beneficial to implement micro-training sessions that can be completed within five minutes before an employee starts their shift.
Always be Learning
For retailers, continuous development is the name of the game. Consumer habits change daily, and to ignore those changes is to fall behind your competitors. But employee priorities are also changing, and their needs must be met, too.
Just as technology is being increasingly implemented to improve the customer experience, employers must embrace technology to do the same for their employees. Watching someone stand in front of you and demonstrate how to fold a shirt is not a very exciting activity, but BYOD technology can make it fun and engaging. Mobile training solutions that offer prizes, rewards and incentives to keep learning mean employees can log on from their own devices in the flow of work Companies like Walmart are ushering in the future of learning with immersive technology.
Learning is the backbone of success. Without a skilled workforce, businesses simply cannot succeed. Good organizations train their employees to do a job. The best organizations engage and empower employees, building a two-way partnership that adapts to the needs of the moment and vaults them both to the top.
Jordan Ekers is SVP Business Development at Axonify. He is a recognized technology entrepreneur with extensive experience in customer loyalty, rewards strategy and mobile technology, and has worked with many of North America’s most prominent retail and foodservice brands to help improve the customer experience. He co-founded Nudge to help brands find a better way to communicate with, engage and reward employees for exceptional performance. Now on Axonify’s senior leadership team, he’s committed to building a single digital workplace to enable frontline workforces to execute consistently and confidently every day.