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TechBytes: Three ways automation is changing workforce management


The recent KronosWorks 2015 conference was held in Las Vegas, a city built on taking chances. However, increasing automation of workforce management tasks is helping retailers remove the risk from activities such as scheduling, staffing and hiring.

Here are three hot automation trends highlighted at KronosWorks that are helping retailers win the workforce management game.

Help Yourself

Retaining, never mind engaging and motivating, hourly store associates is no easy task. Macy’s is successfully improving both retention and engagement of its store associates by using self-service scheduling technology.

Macy’s store employees are allowed to select when and where they want to work, swap schedules, and find and offer extra work hours. By investing in self-service scheduling infrastructure, Macy’s has provided store employees with control and flexibility in their jobs that has reduced turnover and improved employee engagement.

And for those who think this type of scheduling technology investment only produces “soft” benefits, consider this quote from Macy’s senior VP of associate and labor relations Mike Zorn.

“Engaged associates lead to engaged customers, which leads to higher sales,” stated Zorn.

Automatic for the People

Dan Schawbel, partner and research director of executive development firm Future Workplace, discussed how the confluence of rapid advancements in automation and developing socioeconomic trends will profoundly affect store staffing.

“The minimum wage is rising and there is pressure to do more with less,” said Schawbel. “There are also rising benefit costs with Obamacare. At the same time, there are smarter robots.”

Schawbel estimated that machines may be able to perform half of the jobs currently filled by humans within two decades. Retailers are already starting to reduce store staffing levels with customer experience-enhancing applications like kiosks, self-checkout terminals, beacons, and mobile devices.

Schawbel cited specific current examples, such as the customer service robot being piloted at Lowe’s and the self-service tablets that Chili’s customer use for ordering, payment and entertainment.

In addition, pioneering retailers like Hointer are leveraging mobile self-service technology and automated fitting rooms to virtually eliminate the need for human associates.

However, as artificial intelligence continues advancing, it easy to imagine that every facet of human customer service could someday be provided by a “smart” digital device.

This device, which could be a robot or even a handheld, could recommend specific products based on general shopper inquiries. The device could also recognize and remember customers and their purchase histories and preferences.

Welcome Aboard

Hiring store associates can often be a chaotic and disorganized process, with store managers using individual criteria to make hires and little centralized tracking or processing of paper-based applications.

Nashville-based Genesco Inc., operator of specialty apparel and footwear banners such as Lids and Journeys, automated its previously paper-based, distributed onboarding process. Genesco has experienced a number of benefits.

“We know how many applicants we get per week, per store, and who’s meeting hiring goals” said Kieran Cloonan, senior manager of corporate systems at Genesco.

Genesco also gained the ability to track performance of hires and accurately measure applicant volume. In addition, the retailer has linked its digital applications to online recruitment platforms such as Facebook and job boards, and has automated compliance with different hiring regulations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada.

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