Compete to win on the frontline with right-fit technology and training

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

This classic line from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke may evoke a feeling many frontline employees likely know all too well.

Although digital tools are making their way to this workforce, there’s still a large void to be filled. Your frontline needs access to the proper technology, communication and training. Anything less will also result in a failure to engage, empower and retain.

Grocery employee with device

During a session at AxoniCom LIVE 2021, JD Dillon, Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect, spoke with Tim Kane, an expert in retail trends and strategies and Retail Industry Principal at Zebra Technologies. Acknowledging the continued digital transformation of the frontline, they discussed exactly why decision-makers should invest in right-fit technologies and practices.

“What you really need to do is give your frontline associates the tools that they need to be successful,” Kane says. “Part of those tools includes a device that they can use when they’re working so that they can collaborate and communicate with their other associates. And, then, more importantly, is to put information on that device.”

The right tools are essential to closing the digital gap

To help employees push through the very real challenges they’re facing—82% are reporting a large skills gap, only 33% feel that they have access to the technology they need to make their jobs easier, not to mention widespread burnout and disengagement—introducing internet-enabled tools to the frontline workforce means giving them the right tools in the right place and at the right time. The rise of bring your own device (BYOD) policies speaks to how critical the access to tech-enabled devices is to keeping associates informed and empowered, sometimes right in the aisles.

“I often challenge people who don’t work in frontline roles today to think about how they would do their jobs if we removed the technology they rely on,” says Dillon. Detailing the unique needs of frontline workers, he pointed out that office workers can usually rely on having necessary resources at hand, while frontline workers, who typically don’t have individual email addresses or desks, often don’t.

“Imagine if someone came to you and offered you a job and said, ‘Oh, by the way, you don’t get any digital tools to do this job. Do you want to work here?’ You would have a problem with that,” suggests Dillon. “I think a very similar problem is that we haven’t looked at the frontline experience the same way we’ve looked at the experience of white-collar workers who use technology as a core part of what we do to collaborate, engage and communicate every day.”

AxoniCOM Live On Demand: The Digital Gap

Reversing this trend requires an approach that meets the needs of the worker, whether it’s a customer-facing associate or someone in the warehouse. The key is finding a way to make the technology fit the way each individual works.

So, how can businesses get there?

Helping the frontline cross the digital divide with purpose-built technology that employees can easily access from where their work takes place, makes sense for their specific roles and can be equitably provided to all workers is a great place to start.

Dillion points out that part of the process of developing frontline training solutions involves examining, and eliminating, any barriers to access. He shares an example of lift truck drivers who spend all day moving around the warehouse, with little to no time for training. That is, until a short window of time when the drivers had to stop to charge the trucks turned into a golden opportunity.

“That meant we had five minutes of time where we could kind of enhance the experience by adding an opportunity for communication, for information, for training and those types of ideas,” says Dillon. “In that case, we actually physically moved desktop computers from that backspace where they weren’t being used to the charging stations because that’s where the people were. So we moved the opportunity to the people. And now with the advent of mobile technology and handheld devices, we don’t have to make that move anymore. Now we can just leverage the mobility of technology rather than having to build in those access points.”

Timing is everything

During the first wave of the pandemic, Kane says he spoke to one retailer that had 147 process changes in just 30 days. It’s just not humanly possible for a manager to effectively relay that many changes to their team.

“We’re in a world right now where things change more quickly because now people realize they can make quicker changes,” says Kane. “And along with those changes, you have to give the associates notice and training about what that new change means to them and what it means to the customer.”

Frontline workers need timely product, safety, process change and compliance information. They need to feel supported, connected and empowered. And when they do, they’ll feel more confident to make the right decisions on the job, even in the face of change.

Replace guesswork with certainty

“Just like everyday life, you leverage contextual technology in order to make the decisions to improve how you go about your day-to-day,” says Dillon. “You don’t just guess how to get from here to the store that you’d never been to before. There’s technology guiding your way.

“I think that’s the big thing we’re really talking about is how do you make sure that as you make the frontline experience an increasingly digital work experience, you’re also adding that layer of support and taking advantage of everything that technology can do.”

It comes down to eliminating friction from the employee experience, which, in turn, impacts the customer experience and business performance. With a significant financial cost connected to reduced productivity, you can’t afford guesses. The way forward is to build certainty and clarity by making sure that your frontline is equipped with the technology, tools and training they don’t just want—they need.

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