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How to Empower Your Workforce to Create Repeat Loyalists

No industry faces disruption as acutely as retail right now. Online-only retailers are challenging every piece of a retail puzzle that has not changed much in the last century. How do traditional retailers grow market share and revenue? Upon first glance, faster shipping and more customized in-store experiences seem like the most obvious answers. There is one critical component that retailers tend to overlook, however: workforce productivity.

Some describe it as having the right people with the right skills doing the right work. I prefer to visualize it as a handful of factors simultaneously moving in the right direction – talent, technology, culture, benefits, well-being and workplace satisfaction. Each element contributes to the success of the others. When they are all pulled together correctly, they fit together beautifully and help drive the overall success of the organization.

If those same components are disjointed and moving in different directions, or if there are gaps, workforce productivity can plummet and the whole organization suffers.

In the retail sector, the living operation is especially dependent on the efficiency of all moving pieces working in conjunction with each other. On the surface, it’s clear that robust technology, sales associates’ knowledge and collaborative culture within a retail location contribute to a positive and efficient experience for shoppers. When we pull back the curtain, however, we see that what’s happening in the back office, not visible to the customer, are often the most important factors to running a smooth operation and staying up with the competition.

I believe in the power of a great in-store experience, and I take pride in helping retailers strategize and align all of those moving pieces so each customer that walks through the doors has a positive experience.

Here are a few ways that retailers can enhance workforce productivity to stay ahead of the changing industry.

Double-down on technology available to associates. Historically, retailers have survived through manual effort, but that needs to change. Handheld devices in the stores enable associates to quickly deliver the experience and instant answers that customers have become accustomed to. A one-to-one associate-to-device ratio is necessary, but even more so is making sure all employees are comfortable with the technology. Tech-savvy associates will outperform others who are not as proficient, which will cause more workplace riffs than healthy competition. Retailers must prioritize and invest in proper training, which will lead to happier associates with better performance, and, eventually, less turnover.

Intuitive interface design from the sales and marketing departments can be applied to internal systems. In other words, the same approach sales and marketing takes when designing websites and mobile apps for customers can be just as valuable when it comes to helping associates find orders and mitigate inventory problems on their in-store devices. The best part is that the technology is already developed; it just takes a mindset shift to enable the employees.

Build an intuitive network. When a network anticipates the needs of an associate based on the current environment of the store, that associate can save time by minimizing the number of clicks to get the information he or she needs. For example, wayfinding technology on an employee’s handheld device tracks his or her location and can automatically pull up inventory from that portion of the store – easily searchable for any shopper needs. Taking away the hunt for information increases associate satisfaction, allows more time for more interaction in the store and ultimately creates a more seamless customer experience.

Armed with the right tools and mindset, traditional retailers can reimagine their purpose to compete in this new environment. Thinking of their stores as both showrooms and a convenient way for their customers to quickly get their hands on product paves the way for staying relevant for the customers who have become accustomed to personalized interactions and instant service from online retailers.

As the retail world morphs with the changing needs of the consumer, brick-and-mortar stores have the advantage of face-to-face customer interaction that can turn one-time shoppers into repeat loyalists. Leveraging that advantage means operating as efficiently as possible to compete with online-only retailers. Workforce productivity and the right technology will make or break that effort to survive and thrive amid the disruption.

Jeremy Witikko is senior retail practice advisor at Cisco.
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