No industry moves faster than retail.
Take fashion for example. Back in simpler times (when there were 2 seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter), inventory would change over once a year. Fast forward to the present, where leading apparel companies like Zara send new products to stores at break-neck speeds—there are now 2 seasons a week. That’s 104 micro-seasons a year! (It’s called fast fashion for a reason.)
This concept, though varied, is true across all types of retail. With these micro-seasons come increased customer expectations and operational challenges around new products, promotions, in-store displays and experiences. Tack on changing ecosystems, like buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) and buy online return in store (BORIS), new technology and heightened service standards (all of which are required to keep pace with the competition) and it quickly becomes apparent that expectations on store associates are higher than ever.
Today’s retail associates are expected to be technically savvy product, service, sales and even supply chain experts, brand evangelists and masters of CX. That’s a pretty fluid job—one that can be challenging to perform, especially for part-time and seasonal employees who aren’t in every day and might not be as informed or experienced.
In an industry where store associates generally get information by word of mouth or from printed materials (neither of which is terribly effective), keeping associate knowledge current can feel as futile as trying to swim upstream.
That’s because messages that are spread by word of mouth get distorted and become less accurate as they get filtered through multiple people. So employees in one location may be working with different information than employees in another, all because of how each store manager interpreted the message from their regional director (who got the message on a conference call with head office). Information can be even further distorted when passed along from one associate (who was half-heartedly listening during that morning’s sales huddle) to another (who happened to come in late).
Backing up information with printed materials is no better. By the time associates find lost reference binders or bulletins make it up onto break room walls, information is likely already outdated, or it’s too late and associates have already made misinformed decisions or taken the wrong actions.
In today’s digital world, leaders should have insight into exactly who has (or hasn’t) received a message, and employees should have access to up-to-date information. But what happens when associates don’t have easy access to the information they need (either in their heads or at their fingertips)? It results in bad operational execution and ultimately bad CX, which costs you dearly.
It flows both ways
Research shows that a third of customers will switch brands when an associate lacks knowledge. On the flip side, a third of shoppers rate salespeople as the strategy most likely to impress them when they walk into a store. So how do you ensure that your associates fall into the latter category and not the former? With real-time access to up-to-date and accurate information.
But in order to pull this off, you need to establish a direct path of communication between business leaders and frontline employees where information can flow in both directions so you can finally put an end to the telephone game. With push and pull communication capabilities, head office can push out messages directly to the desired audience—whether it’s all associates, a specific store or region, a category or role across all stores or an individual, and employees can pull the latest documentation and resources in the moment of need.
That’s the key to ensuring your employees, and your stores, succeed in this increasingly competitive time: providing them with a steady, reliable and accessible source of information. But remember…
Less is more
Whether you’re onboarding new associates, providing support around a product launch, preparing for a seasonal changeover or executing mandatory compliance training, your store associates have a lot to learn. When you flood them with too much information in one shot (as is usually the case with intensive, hours-or days-long training sessions), try as they might, they just can’t retain it all. And that’s where you come in.
You need to regulate and monitor the flow of information. Just like rivers have the capacity to handle a moderate amount of rain each day, your employees can absorb small chunks of information. As such, content and updates should come in a drizzle, not a downpour. When communication and information exchange occurs on an ongoing basis (rather than in one shot), your associates are able to retain more and build a strong foundation of knowledge and expertise—which is particularly helpful during peak seasons or moments of change, as they are able to absorb new information more easily and react accordingly.
Opening up the channels of communication and providing up-to-date and accurate information and resources in real-time ensures that your employees are always in the loop. And when your associates are armed with the information they need, you can be confident that they’ll do the right thing on the job, at the right time, every time—no matter the season.
Admittedly, Zara (with its 104 micro-seasons) is something of an extreme example of constant flux. But you can be sure that as new seasons (especially the holiday season) roll around—with new products, promotions and merchandising plans—it will put pressure on your associates. To ensure that they deliver operational excellence and CX that drives you far into the black, remember to feed your associates a steady sprinkle (not a tsunami) of information. Because, while red may be a festive color, you don’t want to end up in it this holiday season.