Workforce management can be the difference between a retailer becoming a cautionary tale or thriving and going the distance to increase market share and meet customer expectations. With agile omnichannel execution, expanding fulfillment options and seamless customer engagement increasingly vital to brand loyalty and profitability, retailers are tasking their associates with more responsibilities than ever before. In-store associates are leveraging more advanced point-of-sale (POS) functionality to save the sale and deliver personalized shopping experiences.
Store associates are also increasingly tasked with fulfilling online orders and accepting returns from online shoppers, all while keeping in-store customers happy with personalized shopping and clientelling becoming the new normal. Warehouse associates are dealing with increasing fulfillment pressures and the adoption of new technology and processes. With customer engagement at stake, more care needs to be taken to ensure a retailer’s workforce is thriving.
Training is Key
Human capital comprises one of a retailer’s largest investments. High turnover comes at a cost to productivity and customer service. It’s vital to not only hire the right people, but to also give associates the training they need to deliver a customer experience that aligns with a company’s goals.
Develop training programs that can be executed immediately for new hires. Training should teach store associates how to perform all tasks. Long-time associates should also receive that training if new tasks — e.g., fulfilling online orders in-store — are being assigned over time. Providing training on an annual or semi-annual basis is a way to ensure best practices remain in the forefront for associates who have been working for the retailer for a number of years.
Keep Goals Manageable and Measurable
Whether working within a retail store, warehouse or distribution center, consider developing and implementing some form of task-based expectations to ensure goals are well-defined, reasonable and measureable. Morale and even customer service suffer when associates feel pressure to pick up the slack for other associates.
Tracking individual performance against manageable goals ensures associates have ownership in their own success, removes subjectivity in performance reviews, and serves as a basis for incentive programs that reward associates for attaining productivity goals. Training and change management are key to making labor productivity programs successful. In the end, a well-trained and motivated workforce impacts delivery to your customer and drives out internal waste.
Promote Two-Way Communication
Retailers can empower their associates by promoting open communication. A good idea can come from anyone, no matter their title or rank within the company. Listening and responding to workforce feedback is critical to establishing trust and identifying gaps. Open lines of communication will lead to better practices and increased productivity when associates feel like a valued member of a team and not just an interchangeable part.
Instituting reward programs for top performers is another way to make associates feel empowered. This doesn’t always have to include an increase in pay or bonus. Incentives can include additional break time, leaving early or late on a particular day, lunch hosted by the company, a relevant gift, or simply praise. Rewarding top performers encourages those associates to sustain performance levels while enticing colleagues to keep up.
Associates Impact the Customer Experience
In conclusion, retailers that are innovating and optimizing their supply chains and store operations should make the well-being of their workforce a priority. By providing training, pinpointing realistic goals and rewarding top performers, retailers will extend the value of their workforce at a time when customer service couldn't be more important. Your associates should ultimately be your front line and best brand advocates, helping you not only engage customers but also keep your promises to them.
Tom Stretar is a senior director at enVista, a global supply chain consulting and IT services firm.