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Reimagining the Retail Experience, Part 2: Aligning Employees

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the innovative technologies retailers can deploy to deliver a superlative customer experience. Here in Part 2, we look at another key component: front-line employees.

/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/retailstore_339433.jpgTo optimize the customer experience in a way that will increase customer loyalty, you need to deliver great service across all channels. Of course, customers don’t think in terms of channels. And they don’t care about the challenges that prevent you from providing the same experience at every touch point. Instead, they just expect you to meet their needs, wherever, whenever, and however they prefer.

But remember, the vast majority of retail sales still take place in stores. And while online sales are largely automated, there are still real people behind your call center and live-chat feature. As a consequence, delivering an excellent customer experience requires that your people have the right mindset, tools, and information.

Gaining Value from Values

Excellent customer experience starts with attracting, retaining, and developing people with the right values. Those values start at the top of your organization. And they need to be instilled throughout the enterprise with the right training and incentives.

Next, your people must be empowered. They need the flexibility to make the right decisions at the right moment to best serve the customer. That could mean the authority to offer an appropriate discount to a dissatisfied customer. It certainly means the ability to immediately get the answer or find the product the customer’s looking for.

Your people also should be armed with the information they need in every situation. They should know which products you have, how many you have, where they are in the store, how much they cost, and so on. If the product isn’t on the shelf, you should be able to find it at nearby locations or deliver it from your distribution center to the customer’s home or office. If the customer asks for a shoe in a certain size, the salesperson shouldn’t have to disappear in the back of the store to find out. If your people don’t instantly have the information customers want, it is guaranteed that you’re losing sales.

What’s more, the systems that provide staff with essential information must be easy-to-use. Otherwise, employees won’t use them, at least not enough to be effective. If a customer walks into your store and says they had a problem with an online order, your salesperson should be able to help them, not simply tell them to call the call center. If customers saw a promotion online, your salespeople should be aware of it, so they’re sure to offer it in the store.

One concern among retailers is that many of the people they hire are young, and often these people are using the job as a stepping-stone in their career. It can be challenging to instill in them the right values and invest in the right training. The good news is that young people today have grown up with technology. Most of them can very quickly figure out the technology they’ll be using in their jobs. That leaves them and you more time to focus on treating customers right and making sales happen.

Measure What Matters

How do you know your investment in employees is paying off? Ultimately it will be in your revenue and comps and margins. The cost of the sale should also give you insights. And as you provide better service across channels, you should see growth in all channels.

To that end, you need to structure your compensation models and measurements appropriately. For example, an online sale picked up in the store should be counted as a win for both the online and the in-store teams. If they aren’t, don’t be surprised by behaviors that thwart your efforts—such as store staff who mysteriously can’t fulfill an order placed online, even though the product is in stock. Similarly, store teams should not be penalized for returns of on-line purchases.

There are other simple tools that can incent the right behavior. Gamification of apps can allow your people to gauge their own performance against that of their peers, or work toward a shared team goal. If employees have real-time sales data, they can act on the data immediately, and see immediate results.

Ultimately, if your employees are having an excellent work experience—with the information, tools, and incentives they need—then they’re far more likely to deliver an excellent experience to your customers.

Learn more at the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Convention and Expo, January 12 – 15 in New York. Don’t miss it – Register now!

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