The store remains the lynchpin of retail commerce. But with competition from e-commernce, and as omni-channel use cases like buy-online-pickup-in-store and online appointments become the norm, frontline associates are more vital than ever in delivering value.
It’s not enough that many companies have decided to invest in frontline associates by raising minimum hourly wages. This may be helpful to improve associate retention, but how about improving associate attention? Attention to the customer? To in-store excellence? Creating a customer experience in the store that doesn’t just mirror the online customer experience but exceeds it? Companies need to invest in associate engagement strategies that improve not just the wallets of our in-store associates, but their knowledge and ability to engage with customers. Retail leaders are using a wide range of techniques to do just that.
They are starting with treating in-store associates with the same level of attention as customers.
Customers often walk into stores knowing more about products and pricing than our associates. Let’s fix that. A customer’s intention is to discover, compare, purchase, be serviced, and all combinations of the above. We need to equip and empower frontline associates to better recognize and respond to these intentions, to satisfy customers with contextual assistance at each interaction-point, every time they walk into the store or down an aisle. Customers don’t want to compare notes or apps with a store associate. They simply want to fulfill their intentions.
Here are three transformational initiatives that leading companies are working on to empower frontline staff to deliver exceptional customer service in this increasingly transparent, convergent, omni-channel world.
Transformation of the head (tools and information)
First, the tools and information required by frontline associates to directly respond to better-armed customers need to be in alignment with customer intentions. If the customer intention is discovery, then rich product content should be accessible to the associate at the touch of a tablet. If comparison, then competitive products, alongside real-time contextual promotions and next-best-action recommendations, should be available. If purchase, then complementary items, ancillary services should be offered. Smart use of ‘commerce-in-the-store’ technologies is helping associates improve their ability to deliver exceptional in-store customer experiences.
Transformation of the heart (spirit of service):
Second, to transform the ‘heart’, we look towards making customer engagement fun—to techniques that both incent associates to adopt behaviors to better curate customer journeys in-store, to have more fun and to be more invested in doing so. Some of these techniques involve gaming technologies targeting immediate outcomes. For example, programmes that support virtual teaming of the same in-store functions across different physical locations and internal competition around KPIs, socialized internally and set up as a friendly competition, have been extremely successful across many brands and retailers in reframing in-store customer service as a more personal, fun, activity.
As the saying goes, everything is personal because everyone is a person. And people like games. Take a business process with traditional input-process-output flows and instead of sending out a new procedure booklet or offering another distance learning course, turn it into a desired-outcome based game. You’ll be amazed at the adoption and improvement in efficiency and effectiveness.
Transformation of the wallet (compensation and career-pathing)
As consumers seek consistent, relevant, contextual interactions and the store has become more important in their omni-channel journeys, traditional store associate roles are changing dramatically. Best-in-class retailers have programmes in place to recognize talent, invest in career growth, and cross-pollinate expertise to break down the silos inherent in traditional organisations. After all, it’s extremely difficult to support a seamless customer journey when we are not seamless ourselves. Career-pathing outside of traditional frontline operations is a practice that is helping deliver that seamless end-to-end capability.
Our frontline associates can’t read people’s minds, but properly equipped they can understand their intentions and satisfy their needs. Whether it’s a single-channel or omni-channel interaction, customers think and care about their intentions, not channels. The store associate is the last foot of retail, the last touchpoint to satisfy those intentions. Empowering associates with tools, information, support, and incentives to deliver exceptional in-store experiences that not just meet, but exceed, online experiences is a reachable target.
David Stover is global head of B2C omni-channel commerce and solution management with Hybris software.