The Missing Piece in Achieving Retail Operational Excellence: Tech Enablement for Frontline Workers
Today’s retail organizations are under enormous pressure to make their operations more agile, resilient and productive. However, in many cases they're overlooking one of the main areas where it’s possible to quickly and efficiently make major productivity gains.
I’m talking about frontline teams. Many retail employees currently feel neglected by their employers. Almost two-thirds of frontline workers say they feel disconnected from their organization’s leadership, and less than half believe their official onboarding left them prepared for their job.
That’s symptomatic of a broader problem: While organizations have invested in software and tools to support deskbound “knowledge workers” back at HQ, there has been a dearth of investment in deskless employees. Even as offices have gone digital, frontline teams — i.e., the folks who drive the customer experience, generate sales, and serve as brand ambassadors — have largely been stuck with the same old tools they’ve always used.
That’s a problem, but also an opportunity. Because they’ve been underserved for so long, frontline teams are now the retail sector’s biggest potential pool of untapped productivity gains. By investing in modern tools and technologies, retailers can dramatically elevate frontline performance and boost productivity in ways that translate into increased employee engagement, greater sales and customer loyalty, and higher revenues.
Why Frontline Teams Get Sidelined
It might sound strange to say that frontline teams are being neglected. Retailers know, of course, that customer-facing employees are a vital part of their operations. However, there’s a significant gap between recognizing that fact and building out infrastructure to unlock frontline workers’ full potential.
By definition, frontline teams don’t spend their days in front of a desktop computer. Any solutions for frontline employees need to exist within their workflow and be deliverable via mobile devices, tablets, kiosks or other tools.
While some mobile apps seek to address this, employees struggle with a portfolio of different tools, and organizations struggle to coordinate functions such as onboarding, communications, training and development, and operational execution. Fragmented software tools leave managers with less insight into how teams are operating, too, making it harder to optimize performance and deliver consistent solutions across large retail networks.
Start Aiming Higher
Still, with well-run retail locations often seeing a 20 percent revenue gain relative to less high-performing stores, companies that neglect frontline teams are leaving money on the table. To turn things around, we need to erase the imaginary line that separates deskbound “knowledge workers” from frontline employees. In today’s retail environment, all workers are knowledge workers.
That doesn’t mean retailers should simply give frontline teams access to the same tools used by workers at HQ. To empower and engage frontline employees, companies need to build out unified mobile-first digital infrastructure tailored to the unique experiences and workflows of frontline teams.
These solutions — known as frontline employee experience platforms (FEXPs) — are already unleashing enormous productivity gains for retailers, while also dramatically improving working conditions for frontline employees. Here are a few of the key benefits we see as retailers roll out FEXPs across their operations:
- Faster onboarding: Turnover in retail has always been high, but with in-workflow knowledge management tools and micro-lessons, it’s possible to onboard new hires quickly without removing them from the customer-facing roles in which they’re needed.
- Scalable coaching: Learning shouldn’t stop once a new hire is onboarded. With intelligent mobile tools, employees can keep growing and sharing best practices — and managers can monitor performance, recognize success, and ensure consistent excellence across their entire team.
- Active communication: Forget sending out all-hands emails or pinning announcements to staff-room bulletin boards. An effective FEXP gives retailers a robust, real-time and inclusive communication channel connecting all employees, managers, and HQ.
- A sense of belonging: Social tools and the ability to create organic online communities based on common interests can help employees feel like they truly belong. That’s especially important for frontline teams who may otherwise feel isolated by the shifts they work or the locations they serve.
- Elevating knowledge: FEXPs empower frontline employees to increase their product and market knowledge, as well as to share insights with one another. This improves the customer experience and helps employees see themselves as "knowledge workers" which will help them take real pride in their work.
- More intelligent retail: Frontline teams are the primary point-of-contact with customers and a good FEXP helps retailers capture real-time intelligence about customers’ evolving priorities and needs. It also helps managers to optimize workforce resources and monitor performance, driving gains across the organization.
The bottom line is that when you invest in your frontline teams and give them digital tools that rival those used by office workers, you can elevate the entire frontline experience and performance. That has direct bottom-line benefits: According to Gallup, more engaged employees show up to work more often and do more work, driving up to an 81 percent improvement in absenteeism and a 14 percent productivity boost.
For retailers, the shift to FEXPs goes far beyond simply digitizing communication, training and task management. The new generation of frontline workplace tools essentially bring frontline teams into the same ecosystem as managers and colleagues back at HQ.
Instead of viewing frontline teams as cogs in a machine, FEXPs enable a human-centric workforce strategy that delivers a higher quality experience across the employee lifecycle — from onboarding, to day-to-day operations, to career development. That’s especially important as retailers adapt to the needs of a younger, more social, and more tech-savvy workforce that wants a sense of purpose, belonging and pride in their work.
Therefore, if you’re looking to drive productivity gains for your retail organization, bear in mind that the answer might be right in front of you. Progressive retail leaders are finding that FEXPs are a powerful tool to drive productivity, agility and resilience not just on the frontline, but across all their operations — and ensure enduring success, even in the toughest of times.
Christel Grizaut is the senior vice president of marketing at YOOBIC, a digital workplace that helps businesses empower their frontline teams for success.
Related story: Resilient and Flexible Workforces Are Key to Retail Success
Christel Grizaut, senior vice president of marketing at YOOBIC, brings more than 20 years' experience running marketing operations for Fortune 1000 companies in the United States, EMEA and APAC. As marketing director for Acronis and later VP of marketing for Akeneo, Christel brings a wealth of experience developing global marketing and PR strategies for leading B2B tech innovators.