Turning improved EX into happy CX at rue21

In today’s competitive and evolving retail market, every touch point customers have with your brand can be a make-or-break experience. That’s why forward-thinking specialty retailer rue21 knew it was essential to invest in their frontline’s development— especially during difficult times.

At the onset of the pandemic, rue21 partnered with Axonify to deliver training to over 8,000 associates, because their existing training system was just not meeting the needs of their diverse and dispersed workforce.

“Our prior training system was 300 pages in a clunky binder that probably weighed 30 pounds, says Mikki Cook, rue21’s Senior Director of Store Operations. “And you think about the culture of a teen retail organization, you’ve got to be young at heart. Doesn’t matter what age you are, but you’ve got young, fun, excited associates who are coming in. They don’t want to read 300 pages. They don’t want to read three paragraphs. They want to learn quickly, and they want to learn in a way that they’re used to learning, which is downloading content, watching video, something that’s engaging to them, on a device.”

Mikki Cook Headshot

“We believe so much, that happy associates equal happy customers. And Axonify really fits into that brand mission that we have.”

Mikki Cook, Senior Director of Store Operations, rue21

Now with the information they need to succeed at their fingertips and a newfound confidence, rue21’s associates are more connected to their customer mission than ever before.

“We believe so much, that happy associates equal happy customers. And Axonify really fits into that brand mission that we have.” explains Cook. “Great training has an incredible impact on the culture of an organization, as well as the results. It’s all about those happy associates who then create happy customer experiences.”

Cultivating a positive training culture starts at onboarding

The same-old approach to integrating new hires by firehosing them with everything they “need to know” leaves them vulnerable to the forgetting curve. By the second day after training, they’ve likely already lost a staggering 70% of the information they learned. When it boils down to the frontline, forgetting the important stuff brings real-world consequences: on-the-job accidents, poor customer reviews, lost sales opportunities or worse.

“The other thing that Axonify really helped us with, is, our past training, not only was it long, but it was overwhelming. And there was this expectation that even a sales associate, brand new to the organization, they’re going to work two days a week, they have to know everything. That’s not the reality, ” explains Cook. “So you need to narrow it down [and figure out] what’s most important.”

Acknowledging that forgetting is just part of how human memory works, Axonify has helped rue21 support their associates’ desire to do a good job every day with right-fit support to fill knowledge gaps and keep them from making errors in the moments that matter.

“You have to resist the temptation to think that everybody has to know everything right away. And remember you’ve got reinforcement training and you’ve got continual learning,” says Cook. “Everything doesn’t have to be right at the beginning.” The result? A more confident frontline that’s ready to deliver the all-important customer experience.

“Our associates are confident, and they know how to speak to the customer. And what a difference that makes.”

rue21 Store Interior
rue21 store interior

Reaping the rewards of a more informed frontline

Identifying their frontline’s knowledge gaps and targeting the areas where they need more support makes training more meaningful for them. By following a personalized learning path that acknowledges success and delivers increasingly more difficult questions, subject mastery is measured and more easily achieved.

Over the course of the last year, rue21 has seen their store locations with the most training investment outperforming the rest.

“What we found is, the stores who are best at training, they have the highest conversion rate. And if you’re a retailer, that’s a big deal, because it’s all about that customer conversion. We can control that experience when the customer walks in, right? As a store manager, you don’t always have control over what product is bought with the price we sell it at, things like that. But the environment that you create and the vibe that you give off, that does come from leadership, and that does come from our managers. And that is, again, part of that customer-obsessed culture that we’re building.”

What it looks like when you actually put the customer first

Maintaining brand resilience in an industry that evolves as quickly as retail is no easy task. One way that rue21 sustains relevance is collecting feedback from frontline employees about what they can do better to grow their customer obsession.

“We are definitely obsessed with building a customer obsessed culture,” admits Cook. “And again… that starts with our people. How do we put them first? How do we let them know how appreciative we are? Every day that they show up for rue21, that they greet our customers with high energy, that they create a fun shopping environment, that the store looks beautiful.”

Disruptions can be difficult for large-scale organizations to weather, but no matter what challenges are still to come, they’re confident their frontline workforce will be able to perform at their best.

“The Axonify training tool allows us to stay flexible, adjust it where we need to, but continue to build that culture of being customer-obsessed. And as our product categories change, as we further develop our ability to engage with the customer, we can use that tool and continue to drive that message very seamlessly.”

“Axonify helps us to stay relevant and evolve in the short term or in the long term. And we absolutely love that about the company.”