Future-Proof Your Retail Frontline To Improve In-Store Experience

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Debbie Hauss:   

Hello, everyone and welcome to today’s webinar called Future-proof Your Retail Frontline To Improve In-store Experience. I’m Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief of Retail TouchPoints and I’ll be moderating today’s presentation.

We’re honoured to be joined today by two industry experts, Abby Strother, from The Wireless Experience and Carol Leaman, from Axonify, who will share insights into how to improve the in-store experience by arming store associates with more knowledge and training.

This webinar event is part of the Retail TouchPoints 2018 Connected Consumer Series. During the series, attendees have the opportunity to hear from leading industry experts who are discussing the most important topics on retailers’ minds today. By registering for one session, attendees have access to all complimentary presentations, both live and on demand.

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So, before I introduce today’s speakers, I want to remind the audience that the presentation is slated for approximately 30 minutes, with time for live questions at the end. We invite you to submit questions in the ON24 “questions” area as they come to mind. Our presenters have agreed to stay online following the presentation to respond to your questions. And I just want to let you know that the webinar is being recorded and all attendees will receive an archived link to the presentation to go back and review or share with colleagues.

So, our speakers today consist of two industry experts. Abby Strother is the Development and Strategic Initiatives at The Wireless Experience. With years of success in the retail and technology industry, Abby’s currently responsible for training and development, strategic initiatives and internal social media presence.

A recognized leader, she also focuses on large-scale project management and works across multiple departments to achieve one main objective while ensuring attention to detail along the way. Those who know her know that she loves what she does, and she’s never bored.

With 12 years of experience in management, more than 10 years working in or with the operations department, two years as an area direct manager, more than six years in the learning and development department, and two years as a director, she’s excited to put her expertise to use at a great company with a people-first culture.

We’ll also hear from Carol Leaman who’s the CEO of Axonify, a disruptor in the corporate learning space and innovator behind the world’s first employee knowledge platform, proven to increase employee knowledge and performance necessary for achieving targeted business results. Prior to Axonify, Carol was the CEO of PostRank, Inc, a social engagement analytics company that she sold to Google in June of 2011. Previously she held CEO positions at several other technology firms, including RSF Solutions and Fakespace Systems.

Carol is a frequent speaker, a regular contributor to Fortune magazine and a well-respected thought leader whose articles appear in various learning, business, and technology publications. She also sits on the boards of many organizations, both charitable and for-profit and advises a variety of high-tech firms in Canada’s Technology Triangle.

Carol’s won multiple awards, including the Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Intrepid Award in 2011, and the Sarah Kirk Award in 2010 for Canada’s leading female entrepreneur, and she’s a finalist for the Tech Five’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2017.

So, with that, I’m going to turn the presentation over to Carol.


Carol Leaman: 

Thank you very much, Debbie, for having us today. We’re really excited to convey to your audience what is hopefully some really interesting information around what’s going on in retail today.

So, I’m just going to start off by saying something that I think is fairly obvious, which is that retailers today are really, really fighting to keep pace with what’s going on in the market with their consumers. And it’s very fitting that you call this series the Connected Consumer, because consumers’ demands are more than they’ve ever been before and it is very difficult to keep pace.

As a result of consumers being as knowledgeable as they are, associates also need to know more than they’ve ever known before. It is just simply the case that consumers expect it and the associates need to deliver on that expectation.

There was a survey done by Forrester in the last couple of years that was trying to get a pulse on how the associates were feeling in retail and one of the key things that they discovered was that on the other side of the coin, 71% of shoppers felt that the associate just wasn’t knowledgeable or helpful with what they were looking to know about, or hear about, or learn about, when they went into the store.

And it goes back to what I said a moment ago. Consumers today have so much information at their fingertips that when they do approach an associate and look to ask a question, their expectations about what that associate will deliver, in terms of knowledge and information, are just beyond anything they’ve ever been before.

We also did a survey recently of retail associates through Ipsos, a research firm, and discovered something that just continued in the same theme, which is that 32% of retail associates literally receive no formal training when they join their organization. So, one out of three associates that you might encounter as a consumer has had literally no training on the job.

And then, 64% of them say that their training was, frankly, less than effective. It really didn’t get to the heart of what that associate felt that they needed to know in order to do their jobs really well. So, two-thirds of the people that you meet in the store are feeling that way.

And on the other side of it, 92% of those associates felt that training would positively impact their engagement, in terms of being engaged with their job, also engaged with the retailer that employs them. So, despite the fact that most are not getting training or adequate training, they all still believe that appropriate training or effective training would be hugely impactful to their performance. So, there’s a massive gap there.

What do associates want? Well, they told us, through Ipsos, that they really want knowledge on demand. So, 88% of them responded that they need information in the moment that they need the information. So, at their fingertips, when they need to answer a question or find information. For example, product information, service information. They really need it to be available right then and there.

They also want information and training that is very personalized and relevant to them. So, 91% said that they are not interested in what is “one size fits all,” tell me things I already know. Those 91% really want information that fills their own personal knowledge gaps so that they, in fact, end up becoming top performers. So, there’s a recognition of that.

And then, 71% want access to it on any device. It hasn’t been the case in retail that retailers have allowed employees, in large number, for example, to use mobile devices on the floor. They don’t really want them doing that, but it makes it very difficult then, for the associate to have ready access to information right at that point of need.

So, they’re looking for that ready access and it’s just the way of the world today that most of us have a mobile device in our pocket. And do use it, in fact, when we’re looking for information.

So, what is the actual problem? The problem, really, at the core, is that retail training, for the most part, is seriously broken. We’re still doing things that we’ve done for decades, frankly. We are pulling retail associates off the floor, away from their jobs … So, disrupting their workflow … And pulling them into a room or an event that basically fire hoses them with all kinds of information that is not personalized to them. It’s “one size fits all” and they hear it once and then they’re expected to remember it and employ that knowledge on the job with absolutely no reinforcement after the fact. And, the reality is, most people don’t remember.

The measure of success of training is as it’s always been, which is, they participated and maybe at the end of the training they tested out in a quiz or some kind of test and they scored high, which, as it happens, most people do immediately after they’ve learned something.

So, it really isn’t validation of actual knowledge transfer and learning that the associate will then operationalize. And those training events just are simply not agile. They do not serve the needs of the business, which really is agile, and has a pace that’s unprecedented.

So, the way we’ve been doing things for so many years is just broken, in terms of meeting the needs of that modern associate. The bottom line of all of that is, retailers simply can’t measure the impact that the training they are delivering, if they are delivering it at all, is having on their businesses. So, there’s a complete disconnect, right from the beginning of the process through the end, in terms of performance.

So, what’s the solution to the problem? The solution really is bite-size training that impacts. So, what do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is that, you need training that continuously builds and then also reinforces continuously, the right knowledge. Not just any knowledge for any learner, but the right knowledge for that individual associate that adapts to what that associate has, as their individual knowledge gaps, in real time, as they’re learning, day in and day out. So, again, not that “one size fits all,” one-time event, but something that starts, and goes on forever, and adapts to the individual.

You also need a solution that drives the right behaviors. So, in terms of the content, you need those little bite-size chunks to be directly relevant to the individual and the job that they’re doing so that when they have to do something, or know something, they specifically know exactly what to do and exhibit that right behavior.

You also want something that fits very easily and naturally into the workflow of the associate. So, whether they need to know something first thing in the morning, or later when they address a customer and they need that information right then and there, it has to be accessible in a way that allows them to instantly gain the knowledge that they need.

And, in order to engage the employee in wanting to get information quickly, you really should make it fast and fun. There are lots of techniques available today that allow you to make the learning experience or knowledge acquisition on the part of the associate really fast and fun so that it does engage them and make them want to have the learning experience every single day.

And finally, you need something that’s pivotal to the overall success of the organization. In other words, what you really need is something that is purpose-driven to tie to and drive the specific business imperatives that the organization has. So, whether it’s revenue growth or expenses reduction through reduced OSHA reportables, for example, in the retail store, you need information in the heads and at the fingertips of the associates that ties directly to those business imperatives.

So, let’s just turn to microlearning for a second. So, the word has been used prevalently, about the last year and a half, in the learning world. And, beyond the learning world, certainly in the business world, it’s not such a common term. We’ve been using it here for many years, but it is relatively new in the whole learning world, or business world.

So, what do we mean by that? Well, microlearning really is just a way of delivering content to your target associates, your target learners, in very small and bite-size chunks, something I’ve alluded to previously. It’s often confused with simply taking one-hour videos, for example, and chunking them down into one-minute videos. Just doing that and showing them once to an associate does not have the impact that the organization needs it to have. It really does go back to this continuous, reinforced way of learning that I spoke about on the last slide.

Having micromoments, microcontent, really is the first step, but it is about taking those micromoments and reinforcing them continuously and having those small bits of knowledge be directly tied to the performance and the behavior change you’re looking to achieve. And if you can do that, you will drive those bottom line results that you’re looking for. So, making it highly-targeted, highly-focused, in small chunks, will get you the outcome that you’re looking for.

So, why has microlearning become so hot so quickly? Why has it suddenly now exploded, in terms of what people are looking for to change the face of how they’re training their associates? Well, it is really the result of a three-point collision that’s happened in the last five to ten years that has made information and knowledge around how we need to address learners in the workplace. It’s become much more specific and has really elevated the way that we have available to us.

So, what are those three things? The first one is the characteristics of the modern associate. It’s just simply the case today that, unlike 10 years ago, associates are highly-connected. They have many devices at their disposal. They are distracted. They have lots of things coming at them at all points in time. They’re overwhelmed. They simply have tons of product information, customer service information, procedural information to know every day on the job that makes it really difficult for them to remember exactly what to do in the moment. And they simply expect the retailer to provide them information in ways that are going to help them be top performers.

The second thing that’s happened, in terms of that collision, is that customers know more than ever before and what that’s resulted in, is for the associate to know at least as much, if not more, as the customer who is asking them questions. And so, it’s not okay anymore for a customer to have more information about the product that they’re looking to buy and not be able to get incremental questions answered by the associate.

The third and final thing that’s happened is, there have been some tremendous advances in cognitive science and brain science around how the human brain best receives new learning, new knowledge, and then retains it long-term so that when the associate, or the learner, needs it in order to operationalize it on the job, they have the best opportunity to do so instantly.

So, the brain science techniques are absolutely key to driving long-term retention. And technology advances partnered with that have meant that accessing the individual associate with those small chunks of knowledge is very, very achievable today. So, whether it’s a mobile device or an iPad in the break room, a point of sale terminal, technology has allowed us to deliver information instantly, on demand, in ways that are unprecedented in years past.

I would like to turn it over to Abby, who’s going to talk about The Wireless Experience and their application of microlearning and these principles in their environment. So, over to you, Abby.


Abby Strother: 

Thank you so much, Carol. It was wonderful hearing about all the elements that we have really put into place.

So, hello everyone. I’m excited to talk to you about how we have implemented everything that Carol has just spoken about. And my name is Abby Strother and I’m with The Wireless Experience and we are an authorized AT&T retailer. I’m operating out of the Northeast and we have about 80 locations and about 450 employees currently.

We are a reseller of AT&T Mobility products and services such as DirecTV and DirecTV Now and we really pride ourselves in our focus on the employee experience, as well as our customer experience. So, you’ll hear me touch on a lot of the elements that Carol spoke about as well and how they fit into our culture at The Wireless Experience.

So, to speak to some challenges that we face and that I’m sure many people on this call have faced, from a retail perspective is, first really engaging a multi-generational, what we like to call a deskless, frontline workforce, meaning our employees are very mobile. They are helping customers. They are doing tasks throughout the day and staying caught up with things. And it’s very difficult for them to stay put and sit still from start to finish in a training session, as Carol spoke about. So, pulling them off the sales floor is very costly for us and also very unproductive for them. So, I’ll definitely speak to that a little bit more.

Also, a challenge these days is, information is oftentimes released to us on new exciting devices at the same time the customer can receive it. So, as awesome as technology is, we have search engines in our pocket at all times. That actually poses a challenge to us as a retailer. So, we have to be really mindful of that.

And customers truly walk in our store more educated than ever before. So, customers walking in with just an abundance of information at their fingertips. We literally have customers that search information as they’re talking to our frontline salespeople. So, we really have to teach them to be agile and Axonify does just that.

Also, they’re bombarded with emails. So, they’ve made very clear to us that communicating with them via email is really no longer effective in educating our frontline employees.

Huddles are very much a “one size fits all” and great for information just that you need to share very quickly, but also a fire hose approach is just not an effective way to communicate with our frontline.

And also, we were really running into not having any gauge as to what’s actually being learned and applied when it came to customers. So, we’re really looking to find a better way to go about doing all of that.

So, to speak to our solution, we implemented Axonify Microlearning Platform across all eight locations and to our 450 employees across the company. And it’s really an on demand training. It’s an in-their-pocket, very easy to utilize, quick hits of microlearning. And our training truly takes five minutes of their day.

So, we are not asking them to step off the sales floor and spend hours in a training every couple weeks that they’re not going to retain. And also, from an admin standpoint, I’m able to create training in a matter of hours and push it out to them in seconds.

So, it’s really become a lot more effective use of our time, of everyone’s time. Of me, as an administrator, and to our 450 learners across the company. And the nice thing is, it truly does not matter where we are, from a location standpoint. We can really train all of our employees, across all of our states, instantaneously and they can do it at their own pace.

And we’ve really found that a question-based approach truly gives everyone a much deeper insight into what our employees are able to apply, not just that they’re able to answer questions correctly once and then they’re done with it. We’ve affectionately referred to that as the “one and done” training that they plan to forget. So, Axonify has really taken an opposite approach on that. So, I’ll show you some very helpful statistics that I think you’ll find impressive.

All right. So, the results of what we’ve done, very simply put, we’ve really been able to decrease our voluntary staff turnover in the first 90 days. So, turnover, as a retail company, is incredibly costly to us. Add on the fact that we are a technology company and operating at a very fast pace. It is incredibly costly to us if we were to lose even one employee. So, that’s a huge hit for us. So, being able to decrease that voluntary turnover in the first 90 days of employment has been incredible for us.

We’re also able to measure products sold. So, we’re able to tie and make that quick correlation between employees that are more knowledgeable and that have gone through the microlearning are 73% more effective in selling. And that’s just an unheard of statistic in our world and it’s, in the past, been incredibly difficult to measure the effectiveness of the learning development departments. So, Axonify really does make that easy and it’s been quite a pleasure to watch our numbers raise.

Another statistic that I think you’ll find very interesting is that we have, on average, and actually, currently have right now, at this moment, 91% voluntary participation, which I’ll speak a little bit to, is a voluntary participation. We’ve tried every angle and we’ve made training mandatory. We’ve made it voluntary.

And when we rolled out Axonify, we were very intentional about not making it mandatory, because I was really confident that the platform itself would allow employees to enjoy it and want to be part of, literally, a new venture for them in learning about microlearning and brain science. And they’ve had so much fun with it that we truly do have 91% participation. I mean, that’s even counting our corporate folks. We have business-to-business, very high-level selling folks and so that’s truly incorporating everyone in our organization. So, 91% has been very exciting for us.

In terms of a knowledge level [inaudible 00:29:17] and confidence, we have seen a 79% knowledge level, which is absolutely amazing and 80% of our employees are saying that they are highly-confident. So, the folks who are selling, we’re making that correlation to show that they are highly confident and we’re also showing that the people who are in Axonify Learning are also the same people who are producing at a very high level.

So, we were very happy to work with Axonify and uncover different numbers across the board, everything from staffing to sales. And to be able to make that correlation on, frankly, a return on investment in something that we believe so strongly in, we were very excited to see the fruits of our labor with these different statistics.


Carol Leaman: 

Thank you very much, Abby, for sharing The Wireless Experience’s experience with Axonify and I think it’s just a stellar example of how these principles of microlearning can be tied very directly back to various business imperatives and business results that move the needle for the organization on many fronts. And so, again, thank you very much for that.

And, I would say, for the audience, that if you want to learn more about what Abby talked about where The Wireless Experience is concerned, there’s a case study that you can access on the resource list, along with many other things, including the Ipsos research study that was conducted around receipt of training for retail associates.

So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Debbie to close off.


Debbie Hauss: 

Thanks so much to both of our speakers. Fantastic examples and insights shared. I think that all of our participants and their colleagues are going to take home a lot of great information that they can use to improve their businesses with a better approach to employee training.

So, before we begin our Q&A with the speakers, I just want to remind the audience to please share your feedback on this session and the webinar series by taking the quick survey. And there’s two ways to take it, by clicking on the icon circled in red here, or waiting until the session concludes and then it will launch automatically. Thanks once again for your feedback.

So, at this time we can begin our Q&A with our speakers. And we have received some questions from the attendees and then I also have a few questions. And if we’re not able to get to your questions, the speakers will follow-up with you after the session.

So, first question is for Abby. Abby, can you go into a little bit more detail about how you roll out the new training approach to your frontline?


Abby Strother: 

Absolutely. I’d be happy to. First, what we did was, I worked with Axonify to learn the methodology to creating that meaningful bite-size microlearning content that Carol spoke to. And then, basically, we determined that we wanted to load about six months’ worth of content in order to get started, because I wanted to make sure that our employees were not consuming content faster than I could create it.

And then, I really took the time to lay out a project management timeline and just make sure it was communicated to everyone involved. Also, being very mindful to keep our leaders in the loop at all times and really took a tiered approach.

So, I personally was very hands-on. I rolled it out to every district, one by one. I did that personally. I wanted to make sure that I was answering all their questions as I went along and that we were making tweaks to the program as needed. So, it really allowed me to get both the leader and the employee buy-in much quicker than we had even dreamed of, really.


Debbie Hauss: 

Wow. And how many districts?


Abby Strother: 

We had about 12.


Debbie Hauss: 

Okay. That was a lot of work on your part. So, very impressive. Can you share what kind of feedback you received from store managers on the new approach?


Abby Strother: 

Oh, absolutely. Feedback was overwhelming at first and I mean that in a very positive way. They were very pleasantly surprised. I was prepared for push back as I have rolled out different learning management systems before and was very much prepared for people to push back to change, but to just put it simply, they were very pleasantly surprised.

They were surprised that it was nothing like what they were used to. They were surprised at how easy and fast it was and incredibly surprised once I started showing them their knowledge growth. So, that was very exciting for them. And also they were just really excited about the innovative use of technology. We are in the technology industry, so them being able to use the devices that are in their pocket was really exciting for them.

And the quick hits of learning and reducing the amount of time being in front of a computer, or being in an instructor-led training, or those cumbersome trainings that I get complaints about. They were so excited about that and just appreciative of how easy it was. And the forward-thinking dashboards and being able to measure that knowledge growth.

And I look at statistics like, what sort of usage do we have on them using it from the Internet versus being on their smart phones? And we actually have 94% of our employees using their smart phone. So, they love the app. They love the reminders and they were just incredibly happy about it. So, that was such a pleasant surprise.


Debbie Hauss: 

Yeah. That’s great. So, one more question for you, Abby, and I think this is probably something that a lot of our attendees are thinking about. Have you seen differences when you’re engaging millennials and Gen Zers in this program versus older associates?


Abby Strother: 

Oh, gosh. That’s a really good question, because honestly, I planned for it. I was very much ready to plan to have different conversations with different people. But truly, there isn’t. Once an employee downloads and logs into the app, they get to move at their own pace. They get to choose how they learn.

So, some of them choose the extra training. Some choose the game mechanics and some of them just answer questions. And they’re all consuming learning the way that they want to. So, they truly get to choose how and when they want to engage. So, they’ve really been able to engage themselves, truly in their own ways, and how they feel comfortable learning.

So, while I had already planned to address different needs and different generations, I ended up truly not needing to, because it wasn’t necessary.


Debbie Hauss:   

Wow. Okay. It surprised you and it probably surprised a lot of people listening in as well.

So, Carol, personalization is on the minds of a lot people in the retail industry these days. We have a question that came in asking you if the content is personalized.


Carol Leaman:

The content is personalized to the role. And what ends up happening is that, as the learner follows their learning path, we accelerate the associates through content that they clearly already know and adapt what they see each day to the things that they clearly don’t know and they need to have those gaps filled.

So, what happens is, the algorithm basically captures what each individual knows and doesn’t know, and then delivers the right information to close those knowledge gaps. So, if you’re a cashier, for example, you are going to get knowledge around how to use a cash register, or whatever solution you’re using to check out the customer, versus somebody who may be in merchandising. And you just follow that path and it adapts to you.


Debbie Hauss: 

All right. Excellent. I think we have time for one more question that I think that you both can address. And, I know that, Abby, you talked a little bit about how you motivate associates to participate in that, you didn’t make it mandatory. Is there anything else that you want to add that you’ve done to motivate the associates to participate in the program?


Abby Strother: 

Oh, sure. What I really did in the roll outs was I really took the time to talk about all the different mechanics that are available in the platform. So, in being very intentional about not making training mandatory, I really focused on things like, how to utilize the challenges that were … employees can challenge each other. They can wager points. They can play games.

There’s also some different mechanics in the platform about being able to invite someone, invite a coworker, and earn bonus points on that. So, we are in a very competitive environment. So, I knew if I fostered that, that it would truly take off on its own. So, I really did lean on the different mechanics that were built into the platform.

I also took the time to explain what the dashboards mean to our leaders, and go back and make sure that people understand it, and make sure they’re excited about it was a lot more impactful than me telling them that they had to do it.

So, that’s what was really successful for us and just getting them to interact with each other was more impactful than anything I could say to them. Getting coworkers to post on social media about how excited they were, is so much more impactful than someone who’s rolling it out saying how cool it is.


Debbie Hauss: 

Absolutely. And Carol, have you seen any other successful methods that customers have used to motivate associates to participate in the program and do some of them make it mandatory?


Carol Leaman: 

We don’t have a single client that has made the training mandatory. So, quite honestly, it’s everything Abby just mentioned. There are about 20 different game mechanics that appeal to all different ages, generations, demographics, that allow lots of choice in ways that the retailer can look at their population, make things available that they think will appeal to them, and want them to get on, and learn.

The reality is, pretty much everybody, just as a human being, wants to do a good job, wants to be a good performer at work, wants information, doesn’t want to feel a lack of confidence doing a job that they don’t really know how to do. And the real trick is just making it available to them anywhere, anytime, at that point of need, in a way that’s fast, fun, and digestible. If you do that, and the game mechanics is one aspect of that, it is incredible how you will find people volunteer to have the experience, repeatedly, every single day.

So, it’s a combination of many things, but the approach that Abby and The Wireless Experience have taken by employing lots of different techniques, particularly around the gamification, are absolutely key and work extremely well.


Debbie Hauss: 

All right. Fantastic. Well, thanks again to both of you for the Q&A, and I think we’re just about out of time, but I want to remind our attendees that, if you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to send them through, and our speakers will be able to respond to you, one-on-one, after the presentation.

So, before we wrap up for today, I just want to remind everyone that Retail TouchPoints also has a live event, the Retail Innovation Conference, coming up. It’s May 1st and 2nd at Convene, in New York City. You can see the website at And then, we also have the preview day, which is our exclusive store tours on April 30th at The Shops at Columbus Circle. So, I hope you all can check it out and join us for that live event as well.

Once again, thanks to our speakers today. It was a fantastic presentation, and I want to remind everyone that we have another session coming up tomorrow at 12:00 noon, 9:00 AM Pacific Time, called Digital Transformation for Luxury and Specialty Retailers. So, I hope you’ll all join us for that event as well. And until then, enjoy the rest of your day (silence).