Retail task management and your frontline performance goals

Retail strategy may be set at HQ, but it lives or dies on the frontlines. Your ability to execute depends on getting your associates across all locations to do the right things, every time—no small feat with a workforce that’s highly dispersed and always on the go. 

Frontline training and task management tools both tackle the challenge of consistent frontline performance. But, they do so from different angles and with different end goals. We’ll help break down some differences to consider when determining the right fit to support your frontline.

Owner Of Fashion Store Using Digital Tablet

Retail task management tools are designed to ensure the efficient execution of routine operations—like changing over store displays, completing open/close procedures or pulling recalled product off the shelves. Leaders can assign tasks to stores and get confirmation when they’re done, giving them confidence that the necessary boxes have been checked. 

Are these operational tasks important? Without a doubt. 

Do they need to be done, as efficiently and consistently as possible? Of course.

But will task completions lead to better CSAT, NPS or Lifetime Value? Probably not.  

Frontline performance can’t be distilled to a to-do list

It’s impossible to assign a task to build customer loyalty. Or to make someone’s day with your hospitality and friendliness. Or upsell customers and increase basket size with just the right product recommendations. 

Yet those are precisely the associate behaviors that set your brand apart from the competition (especially those super-convenient ecommerce alternatives). To deliver exceptional customer experiences, associates need to do more than complete tasks. They need to understand and apply the right on-the-job behaviors. And to do that, they need training.

Build the right mix of knowledge and confidence needed to change frontline behaviors.

Your associates are people, not robots

When Henry Ford introduced the first assembly line in 1913, it skyrocketed productivity—but it also increased labor turnover by 380%. Ford had to double wages to keep staff around. Chances are your store isn’t making Model T’s, but the point remains. Prioritizing efficiency at all costs doesn’t always pay off. 

For retail operations, plagued by fragmented communications and time-consuming processes, task management support is a welcome upgrade. But it’s not the only consideration when it comes to your frontline associates. 

After all, people buy from people. You depend on your associates to show up at work with those all-important human skills of empathy, patience and kindness. They can’t do that if they feel like a cog in a machine.  

Providing associates with training shows that you value their skills and are invested in their success. It keeps them engaged and growing. And it gives them a sense of belonging with the organization. That shows in their interactions with customers. 

Tasks vs. behaviors

Let’s make this concrete with an all-too-familiar example from the past year: implementing new health and safety policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Task management tools gave retailers an efficient way to assign a standard checklist of tasks to stores, like posting signage or sanitizing certain areas. It also provided a paper trail to confirm these tasks were completed. 

Training helped associates learn and apply the right behaviors to stay safe, effectively enforce policies and deliver great customer service within the new constraints. Retailers trained associates on: 

  • Basic virus prevention tactics like Hand-washing and Proper use of PPE
  • Critical customer service skills like Communicating while wearing a face mask and Providing customer service at a distance 
  • New skills to equip associates for the current realities in store, like De-escalating conflict, and Remaining calm and patient in difficult situations   

Tasks are an important piece of the puzzle. But it’s training that builds skills and ingrains the right behaviors to ensure associates consistently do the right things—not just once, but in every customer interaction, moment to moment, day after day. 

The poet Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Checking the boxes helps retail operations run smoothly. But it’s not what people remember about your brand. They remember if they felt safe, if they felt welcomed, if they felt heard and if they felt supported. Frontline training equips your associates to deliver these experiences consistently, bringing customers back again and again and driving the bottom-line results you need. 

Jordan Dilworth has spent the majority of his marketing career working with some of the world’s leading brands and retail organizations across the apparel, footwear and beverage alcohol industries. Prior to Axonify, he was the head of North American Retail Marketing at Columbia Sportswear Company for 125 stores across the portfolio of brands and store formats. At Axonify, Jordan leads the Demand Marketing team with a focus on the Retail and Food & Beverage Industries.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.