Helping Retail Employees Develop Digital and Communication Skills is Essential
In 2020, retail workers proved to be essential to the economy and society at large. Yet, it's not always clear whether they’re considered essential to employers’ future business plans. If retailers want to compete in an industry that — pandemic or not — is shifting more toward digital, they need to first invest in their employees. That will require focusing on pay as well as employees’ learning and development (L&D) needs.
Among deskless workers, retail employees are the least confident about staying at their current jobs, according to a 2020 CGS survey. This lack of commitment isn’t limited to employees looking for new opportunities. Retailer cutbacks mean many employees lack job security.
However, investing in L&D, particularly in the areas of digital skills and communication, can be a win-win. Employees can gain universally needed skills, while retailers can create a workforce designed to meet the industry’s evolving challenges. Talent with the digital acumen employers seek may not be easy to acquire and hire in the broader retail job market, however, a focus on upskilling provides new opportunities.
Developing Digital Skills
Retail executives’ top short-term business objective is to improve customer experience, and their long-term focus is primarily on modernizing IT infrastructure, according to a BDO survey. Fortunately, boosting employees’ digital skills aligns closely with these goals.
Training employees to manage online orders and assist customers in-store can help retailers more easily meet demand. For example, suppose online order volumes for in-store pickup spike higher than usual over a given weekend. If a retailer only has staff that can handle in-store purchases and can’t efficiently process online orders, customer experience will suffer.
Meanwhile, as employees advance their digital skills — perhaps even to be able to analyze data and leverage automated tools — retailers can more easily roll out IT infrastructure advances. Getting to this point requires being mindful of employees’ learning preferences.
Generally, employees across generations prefer instructor-led training, according to CGS research. Yet, demographic differences can also emerge. Gen Z is the most amenable to simulations, whereas Gen X is much more likely than Gen Z to prefer video learning.
Improving Communication Capabilities
In addition to developing digital skills, retailers can benefit from helping employees improve their communication skills. Training employees on interpersonal communication can benefit staff collaboration on solving customer issues and benefit retailers as e-commerce increases. They may need to assist more customers through social media and online chat tools.
Yet, CGS survey data reveals that 42 percent of retail employees haven’t received new digital learning or collaboration tools.
Through e-learning simulations and games, employees can practice everything from how to approach shoppers browsing in-store to how to write clear responses to customers’ questions online. In-person and virtual instructor-led training can also help improve communication skills. If employees can practice resolving issues with one another while role playing face-to-face, they may have an easier time dealing with situations like speaking with frustrated customers in stores and online.
Creating a Stronger Workforce
Focusing on employees’ L&D needs may not seem like a top priority among the retail challenges of today. Yet, if retailers want to keep their workforces engaged, reduce employee churn and meet customer needs, strengthening employee training can help. Trained retail workers who understand company goals, have the tools to collaborate with colleagues efficiently, and can navigate both online and in-store interactions can ultimately create a great customer experience.
Online shopping is here to stay. While COVID-19 accelerated this consumer shift, CGS research found 41 percent of U.S. and U.K. consumers will only shop online. Skills pertaining to this new normal must be addressed.
Doug Stephen is president, enterprise learning division, CGS, a global provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services.