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Preparing for What’s Next in Retail: Ensuring Your Frontline Associates Are Ready for Anything

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Adam Blair

Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s webinar, Preparing for Retail’s Return: Ensuring your Frontline Associates Are Ready. I’m Adam Blair, the Editor of Retail TouchPoints, and I’ll be moderating today’s session.

Retailers are understandably focused on the near term as they scramble to deal with the impact of COVID-19, but it’s also critical to prepare for the post-pandemic environment. Associate training and ongoing education will remain critical during every phase of this process, even for workers who are temporarily idle during the crisis.

When consumers return to retail stores they’ll be hungry for social interactions and, more than ever, will want to fel they are being taken care of during the shopping experience. This will require associates who have been given the tools, techniques and training to provide this, along with the sensitivity to handle unforeseen issues as they come up.

Our speakers today are going to be sharing a lot of information about this topic and we encourage you to share some of your datapoints and takeaways on twitters. Social information from me, the series and the speakers is available on this slide. This session is part of the 2020 Connected Consumers Series. During the series, attendees have the opportunity to hear from leading industry experts who are discussing the most important topics on retailer’s minds today. By registering for one session attendees will have access to all complimentary presentations, live and on-demand.

For those of you who may be new to retail touchpoints, here’s a quick overview. We’re an all-digital media company publishing two weekly online newsletters, daily news, special reports and multimedia presentations. If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We welcome input from you and feedback through traditional means, phone and email, as well as social media, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Our website is www.retailtouchpoints.com.

For today’s presentation we’re using the ON24 platform. Right now you should be viewing the ON24 dashboard that chose the live viewing screen. By clicking on the questions widget on the right hand side of the screen you can type in questions during the live presentation and press submit. You can also find a widget named resources under questions. Here you can download assets or presenters are provided, all you have to do is click on the resource and it will automatically download.

Now, just a few housekeeping details. The presentation is slated for approximately 40 minutes and there will be time for live questions at the end. Again, I encourage you to submit your questions as they come to mind so that they rise to the top during the Q&A session. We’ll get to as many questions we can, and I also encourage to follow-up with our speakers on social media if you want to discuss some of the session’s takeaways in more detail.

Also, the webinar is being recorded and all attendees are going to receive an archive link to the presentation to go back and review or share with colleagues.

Now, a little bit about our speakers. Carol Leaman is the CEO at Axonify and the brains behind the Axonify Learning Solution. She’s also an award-winning thought leader with an impressive track record of successfully leading tech companies. Prior to Axonify, Carol was the CEO of PostRank, a social engagement analytics platform that she sold to Google. Her articles appear in leading learning, business and technology publications.

We’re also very pleased that we have Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor. He’s an internationally recognized business strategist, customer service expert, sales coach, marketing mentor, author and motivational business speaker. He was named one of the top retail influencers of 2018 and his website and blog have been named Best on the Planet for Retail by FeedBuzz. It was listed on over 20 retail influencer lists in 2018. Bob’s 30 years in the trenches of retail have included stints as a corporate officer, franchiser and an entrepreneur.

Because things are moving so quickly with the coronavirus pandemic, the panelists and I wanted to take the temperature of the room, of the audience, in terms of your current thinking about the topic of associate training. We have this live poll. You can vote in the poll from among these five different selections. Please selection the option that best describes company’s present attitude towards training.

First attitude, training is a low priority while we deal with COVID-19’s immediate impact. Second option, training is one among multiple priorities as we deal with COVID-19’s impact. Option three, we’re interested in ongoing training for temporarily idled employees. Option four, we’re interested in training options for our employees reassigned to new roles and jobs. And number five, training and onboarding are high priorities as we ramp up hiring to deal with COVID-19.

Bob and Carol, I would like to bring you into the conversation while people vote in the polls and we’ll show the results in just a moment. I wonder if you have any thoughts about where you believe people’s attitudes are and what might be influencing their thinking about training at this point, as we’re, as I said, in a time of a lot of rapid change. What are your thoughts on that?

Carol Leaman

Well, I’ll jump in, Adam. I think that the first few weeks people were scrambling, trying to understand the impact to their businesses and what we’re seeing, certainly, is now a little bit of breathing room to turn their attention to how they can best use the resources that are still at work and keep things moving forward so that when the world returns the normal, they’re well-positioned to take advantage of that kind of return to work. A shift to I think a little bit in the middle of the poll, actually, is certainly what we’re seeing.

Bob Phibbs

Yeah, I think-

Adam Blair

And Bob.

Bob Phibbs

Yeah, I think the challenge is that if training was never important to you, I doubt that this is now going to make you think training is important. But I will say, what I’m saying to all my clients is, “You’re going to have to sell your way out of this.” I don’t care what happens, we open in two weeks, two months, it doesn’t matter. The effect of the virus is burning off all of the extraneous, and ultimately retail has always been about being brilliant on the basics. How do I create an exceptional experience?”

The language is using is, “It’s not how can you wait on people, it’s how can you show you care for them?” Because I think wellness is going to have many ways it goes through retail and through our businesses, and that feeling of being cared for doesn’t happen. Quite simply, if we are dealing with a … I don’t know how many retailers, millions of people are out of work and furloughed, where you’ve essentially cut the company culture off at its knees because, quite simply, you have to survive.

There’s going to be a lot that you have to bring back to it, but make no mistake, those early adopters who come back to your store are going to need to have a so much better experience, even if you have to have face shields or masks, and you’re still at six feet, you have got to be able to say, “We are better than we were before,” and not thinking like, “Oh, we just have to turn the lights on again.” Does that make sense?

Adam Blair

Sure does, yeah. And it looks like, I mean, there may be an element of self-selection since people are attending this webinar, but a good chunk, it looks like 60% say, “Training and onboarding are high priorities as they ramp up hiring to deal with COVID-19.” We’ve certainly seen while the layoffs are very severe among some retailers, others like Walmart and Amazon are hiring and, I believe, Kroeger as well are looking to fill spots in both front of house and also at distribution centers.

Let’s move on from the poll. The format today, I’m going to be talking, as I said, to Carol and Bob and asking some questions about some of the things that we’re going through now, and also some larger questions about training issues. I’m going to start first with the elephant in the room that everyone is dealing with.

Even given that retailers and their employees are facing unprecedented challenges from COVID-19, are there also opportunities for these companies to rethink elements of their value proposition, culture and training? Carol, what’s your take on this?

Carol Leaman

A resounding yes from me. Actually, I’m thrilled that the poll result was what it was. To know that 60% of respondents think training is a high priority I think is so wonderful because it is an opportunity, and so all of the things you mentioned, culture among them, I think it is a perfect time to be thinking through all of those things that you’re going to set yourself up for when the world does come up. And so training is just one of those staples of any business that, when well done, can have such a measurable impact.

As Bob said, it’s just simple. There’s going to have to be a whole lot of customer engagement, a whole of sales to move things back to an even keel. Training is just so central to that and I do think things are going to need to change with respect training and what gets trained on, and now’s the perfect time to be thinking of that.

Adam Blair

Bob, do you have any thoughts on that?

Bob Phibbs

I never have a thought. I’m shy and retiring.

Adam Blair

Such a shuttered violet, yes.

Bob Phibbs

Exactly. The example I’m using now is to say we are in … We’re after 9/11, I mean, you think about what happened after 9/11. The planes were all in odd places, we had to find a way like, “How do they get back to the right airports? How do we build a new schedule?” And then the new early adopters came out and they raised their hand and like, “Is it safe to fly,” and then all their friends are like, “Hey, it’s safe to fly.”

Ultimately, the airlines had to go way out of their way to build trust and I think that’s exactly what the retailers are going to have to do, that who is the one most susceptible right now to freaking about all of this? It’s apparel retailers because, quite simply, they’ve had their distribution centers, their stores locked and closed for weeks and probably will end up be months, in many cases. All those fashions are going to have to go on sale quickly and try to end up getting new merch in, even though stuff may not be on the water. So there’s going to be a lot of confusion.

I think if you don’t realize that your employees are no different than your customers, that they’re your internal customers, they’re looking for someone to say, “We’re going to be fine and I have hope that we can get through this.” That comes through everybody understanding, “Here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s the guardrails of what we don’t want to do. Here’s what we want to empower you to do,” and ultimately realize that retail is a game of hope.

People come to a brick and mortar retailer and yes, I get it, people are like, “Oh, it’s all online.” I still say who won in this is brick and mortar. We still went to the grocery store. We still went to the physical hardware store and other places and ultimately, it’s going to be us that has to realize that the guy who lost 50 pounds and wants to come in and get a new suit, or the woman who goes through and just got a divorce or moved to an area, the guy that wants to get the girl, the girl that wants to get the girl, whatever it is people are going to come back with hope and say, “Can I get a feeling that I matter.”

And so the days of serve yourself warehouse and unengaged employees who would rather do anything then work retail, I think, are going to be gone because, quite simply, unemployment’s going to be higher and I think a lot of retailers are going to be able to upgrade their staff in many ways because some people are just say, “I don’t want to work retail,” and other people are going to say, “Hey, this is a really strong culture. I want to be a part of that.”

Adam Blair

Great points. [inaudible] shoppers from when they were brick and mortar stores. Carol, what your [inaudible]? What kinds of experiences or what kinds of just interactions do you think people are going to be looking for when they do get a chance to go back to a brick and mortar store?

Carol Leaman

I think it’s going to be different. I think that customers, consumers are actually going to be invigorated to be able to step outside again and go in a store and re-experience the things that they’ve been missing for so long. I can certainly speak for myself. I’m a huge shopper. I love the experience of going in, touching merchandise, looking around. There’s something in that and I think that consumers more than ever are going to be looking for those experiences to reengage them, to refresh their memories about why they love certain brands, to be looking for new merchandise again and to be able to see it, and feel it and touch it.

I think retailers have a unique opportunity to provide a level of service that is really going to capture, I think, some pent-up demand in terms of spend that they can help capture through associates who they have some very specific things that they do and say that are going to give them the maximum opportunity to get that opportunity realized into revenue.

I think consumers are going to be excited to return to stores and wanting to be reminded of why they love shopping in the first place. I certainly know that’s going to be true for me.

Adam Blair

Let’s get practical about that. I mean, what are some steps that retailers can take to best prepare for meeting those needs that are somewhat different than maybe what has typically been the norm in retailing? What kinds of steps should they be taking today and what types of longer term plans should they be making? Carol or Bob, what’s your thoughts on that.

Bob Phibbs

I think that again, culture took the hit. There’s no two ways about it. When you’re furloughing executive offices, and buyers, and managers and store crews, suddenly you’re kind of feeling like the foundation has been wrecked. And let’s be honest, there are big chains, I don’t have to say the names, but this is going to give them great cover to say, “We’re not going to open in those D&C malls again and we are going to be leaner.” This gives us the coverage to say, “Oh, we just couldn’t make the numbers work,” and I think what we’re trying to do is to say, “How do I bring that team back together.”

And, again, a charismatic leader, I can’t overstate at the top that can inspire the managers. It’s like you are opening a new brick and mortar store and you’d better know who the hell you are, and what you stand for, and who your customer is, and understanding that hope has to go be there because I can tell you, if you just open the doors and the news is not going to be we get it all clear.

I’m in New York, I’m not in the city, but I can guarantee you as they slowly open things up, the news media’s going to want to say, “It could come back and bite us on the butt again. Be careful, be careful, be careful,” and so those early adopters that first walk out that maybe they do have to wear face shields. I’m not so sure. I’m working on another companion course to How Do We Retail in COVID? The aftereffects, I think the first two weeks you open you probably are going to have face shields and masks available for your crew. And understand that we have to overcompensate to say, “It’s safe here and we’re here.”

But the danger is that we actually keep this virtual distance between us and we’re afraid of people. I think that is something we have to feel our way through to, but it’s going to come from someone at the top saying, “This is who we are. This is who our customers are. Here’s what we’re going to do to protect you. Here’s what we’re going do to protect them, but make no mistake. We’re still here to make that other person feel that they matter and to feel that they’re cared for. I can guarantee you, without training, that’s a thousand different ideas of what cared for could be.

Carol Leaman

I think you’re making a great point, Bob. I believe that there is going to be a transition period. A lot of retailers today are training on COVID content, COVID-related content, work from home sorts of topic areas. But there’s going to be a period of time when we do go back into stories where there will be some trepidation. I think that those that train their associates on a sensitivity to that and are observant of that, and then know how to deal with customers, to engage them most appropriately, are going to be the ones that are most successful.

It is not just going to be business as usual. There are going to be new sensitivities in retail stores that the most forward-thinking retails are going to be needing to think about, capture procedures around and do training around so that they don’t turn away customers that have reemerged.

Bob Phibbs

Well, I’m going to build on that because, quite simply, if we stay in the … We’re now in the Food Workers Union. Right now it’s like you have the triple sinks and everything else we do in restaurants. If that’s what retail becomes, then that’s a really big switch. If that’s where we stay, I think we will have left this opportunity to bring out the best of your employees behind. The danger of that is we all become germophobes and now we are afraid of everyone working, and shopping, and people don’t relax when they feel like they’re being looked at or spied.

If I sneeze in your store now, is everyone going to move away from me and can I train that? Right? I think ultimately we have to figure out a way to say, “It’s going to be awkward. It’s going to be messy and we’ve got to hold this ambiguity in place, but make no mistake. If employees volunteer to come back and they want to be part of the brand, then I think they’re part of that solution and have these actual dialogues about what they can do to do better.”

Carol Leaman

Okay.

Adam Blair

So, it definitely sounds-

Bob Phibbs

Would you agree with that, Carol?

Carol Leaman

I would, absolutely. Yup.

Adam Blair

It definitely sounds like there’s going to be different roles for training and education in this post-pandemic period. I’m curious, maybe drill down to some specifics. How do you potentially see it changing as we get through what Bob just described, and I think that’s very accurate. There will be an adjustment period and then, even further on as more people come to stores, more people get comfortable.

I wanted to combine that also with the next question about are there any pitfalls that retailers should avoid as they go through these processes? Any red flags that you’re aware of that are just things to watch out for or to make sure they don’t do? I’ll start with you, Carol, on that. The changing roles [inaudible] issues.

Carol Leaman

Yeah, yeah. Great questions. I really do think that training and education are already changing in the retail environment, given the world today. I think that retailers are realizing, having had to in a mad rush send people home basically overnight, that they lack ways to easily communicate with people that are on furlough. Many don’t have email addresses associated with the organization and how do you keep those people engaged, learning, interested while they’re on furlough and what topics do you deliver to them?

All of those things changed so rapidly that I think they will have a long-lasting impact in terms of what the focus of information will be when conveyed to the associate. I think that old ways of training, the standard old, same old, same old has been given a real jolt. And being able to access people with up-to-date instant information that’s topical, relevant, that prepares for the return is just so essential. You can’t wait in this environment for everybody to come back to work and then fire hose them with all kinds of new things that they instantly need to learn, and retain and operationalize for you.

One of the biggest things I would say is having access ongoing and interactivity with the associates needs to be something that stays, that exists, is utilized today and then stays through that period of time when they come back to work and it’s just an ongoing activity, with potentially different topics and different ways of training people, very different from the old standard.

That’s what I would say. And the truth of staying away from things, just don’t go back to doing what you always did. The world has changed and what the consumer is going to expect from the experience in your store has changed, and how that employee, that associate interacts and gets the maximum sales dollar from each consumer as they return. Those things require focused effort and focused training ongoing. Just don’t go back to the same old.

Adam Blair

Bob are your thoughts on this? Either the changing roles or red flags to watch out for?

Bob Phibbs

Carol, you’re totally wrong. I just wanted to say that because we were just agreeing too much. We are in like mind, although I will say retail has always been a game of being brilliant on the basics. The basics are how do I engage a stranger? How do I build enough rapport that I become a trusted advisor? How do I sell them the merchandise they came in for and something more?

Make no mistake, you’re going to have to sell your way out of this. And so the thing that I look at in a lot of organizations is a lot of times well-meaning people have training that really doesn’t speak to an associate or say, “The goal is to sell the merchandise.” It’s about, “How do we do stock transfers and take online orders? And what to do with slip and fall?” And all of this other stuff I think the danger is it gets pushed to the front and the whole reason the business needs to be there is to sell enough merch at a profit.

When you have employees who have seen their … I’m not saying anything out of turn, look at the news and saying, “These are the 10 retailers bound to go out of business after this,” and some of them might, but realistically you’re going to have to make sure those employees feel secure enough to take any training and not feel like it’s going to be off with their heads at any moment.

To Carol’s point, I’ve always said, “We have to get out of this idea that training is something we did.” “Oh, so we had to learn how to use face shields and gloves and do curbside. Oh, we did all that stuff.” No, training is something you do. It’s something we do every day and ultimately who won in this? I think online training certainly has been the one that wins because the days of having a trainer, we hire Bob who goes out and he goes from store to store training people, realistically never made sense in the last few years, but you can’t scale it.

So when you are opening your stores, this is a gift for most retailers that when the word comes out, we’re going to open, whether that’s going to be in May, or June or God forbid, later, we have a deadline when we’re going to be ready. How do we get our associates up to speed to get their head in the game enough? How can I do virtual role-playing to see how well my crew understands it? How do I get interactive enough and testing and certification behind it so that I can hold them accountable?

Because, frankly, that’s part of the other reason why … Training gets me excited, sorry. Why so many people fail at training is there’s no accountability. “We trained them. We came up with a smart selling system. Suggest …” It’s all of these kind of … “No, no, no. That’s not really it.” My goal is to let the best of your employees come out into this interaction with another human being instead of they go to the door, they unlock it, they clock in and they’re brain dead waiting, “Let me know if you need anything,” and ultimately that doesn’t do anything for anyone.

Retail’s responsible for one in four jobs in America. I don’t think that people quite understand the engine is selling in a retail store, as much as people are loving to say, “Oh, we’re going to be online,” and, “No one’s going to a brick and mortar store again.” That’s baloney. Of course people are going to do it. We’re see it in China. We’re seeing it in Seoul. We’re seeing in Italy that people definitely return. The question is, how much pent-up demand there is, but it seems like we go back to regular demand.

But unless you’ve a clear focus we are going to concentrate on being better at having an engaging experience with our customers, I think you’re going to squander this time because I’ll tell you, one of my clients who use online training, they’re closed now, apparel store, and they have committed to stay open regardless, with curbside delivery and I think they’re in Florida. What they’re doing is doing inventory, and cleaning and role-playing, and they’re doing it in fuzzy house slippers and they said, “We are going to kick everybody’s butt when we get back in our regular game,” and they’re doing social content et cetera.

Verus I know of other people that are like, “Well, I don’t know. We just have to wait.” And I’m telling you if you’re watching this, your competitors are already two steps ahead of you. Walmart, is it amazing that Walmart, two years ago, announced they were putting 200 training centers in place and they had their best year, best quarter, last whatever.

Same thing with Target. We’re going to invest in our people. So when you look at some of these brands are in trouble and you look at, “Oh, there is a training program,” is it a wonder that everyone’s questioning their viability because they haven’t figured out the most basic thing, how do I engage a stranger, discover the shopper and yes, make the sale. And I’ll get off my soapbox so Carol can talk.

Adam Blair

All right. Thank you, Bob. I wanted to get a little bit more detail about the types of modern learning that Axonify offers and what is different about it than may either have been people’s experiences or their ideas about raining. Carol, I’ll throw that you to you. What are some of the key differences?

Carol Leaman

Well, thanks for asking, Adam. The differences are actually many and varied. Really what we’ve tried to do is create an experience of learning for the associate that is so irresistible that they want to have it very single day, voluntarily, from three to five minutes. How we’ve done hat is by getting away from traditional learning, which is often one and done, no reinforcement, no way to track what anybody knows or doesn’t know, no way to understand how they’re applying knowledge in the business.

And so it’s an experience on any device anywhere the associate has three to five minutes a day and they play some games, it’s gamified, highly engaging and personalized to their role so that they aren’t learning just anything. It adapts day in and day out by person to keep it highly relevant and personalized to the individual. Because what they know and don’t know every single day is tracked, we are able to then tie it to the business outcome associated with that knowledge.

For the first time the retailer can understand truly what knowledge are they delivering to the associates that they’re retaining and operationalizing that is impacting my top line revenue, my customer service scores, areas of loss, like OSHA reportables, for example. Whatever the training is oriented to for those roles can be very granularly analyzed and elevated to get the most knowledge acquisition and then a behavior change benefits the organization. Three to five minutes a day, so very different from a traditional learning experience.

Adam Blair

Great, thank you. Well, I know Carol, and to some extent Bob, you’ve been involved in a lot of different deployments of training, the more modern style that you just described. I’m wondering if you have some best practices or key learnings from those deployments and, if you did encounter challenges or pushback, how did you deal with those, how did you overcome those? Both Carol and Bob, I’m sure you’ve got some great thoughts on this.

Bob Phibbs

Well, I think it-

Adam Blair

Why don’t you start, Carol?

Bob Phibbs

… ope.

Adam Blair

Oh, no. Go ahead, Bob.

Carol Leaman

You brought this up.

Bob Phibbs

I think that you, for one thing, have to get over this idea that training is a one and done. We did that. We’ll do it. When I sell my training people are like, “How long does it take to get through it, get over it?” And you have to first off say, “That doesn’t work.” I think number two is, you have to get someone at the top who believes in it. Carol and I were on a panel at NRF recently with … I forgot his name. Carol, who was it? Footlocker.

Carol Leaman

Yes, Footlocker.

Bob Phibbs

Tony?

Carol Leaman

Yeah.

Bob Phibbs

Footlocker. He talked about … They’re on the Axonify platform and the CEO and the Head of the Board login to it every day, so you know that throughout the organization training is important. What frustrates me sometimes is I’ll get contacted by a training manager and they’ll say, “Well, what’s the ROI on this?” And you’re like, “This isn’t like that because training touches every single conversation. It touches every single interaction with a customer and so the ROI is huge because theoretically you can now deliver the same branded experience.”

My third thing is, you can’t take learning as something that goes in the head. It’s behavior training, right? You can read a diet book. You can go through chapter and verse, “Oh, I shouldn’t eat a lot of carbs.” But until you put down the bagel, I mean let’s be honest here, it’s not going to work. So knowing has to go from, “Oh, it’s nice to know,” to the other side of the bell curve, which is, “I do it because instinctively I understand it. I’ve got it in my body. I’m a conductor.”

You see conductors, we do this all the time when we’re conducting, we can do it without thinking. Well you certainly don’t say that’s how you conduct, you have to learn the basics and what my last part is, that you have to understand what it takes to engage a stranger and actually put your heart out there in front of somebody else so that they can connect with it. You got to give them something to go with instead of pulling back and expecting that people can figure out.

Because I’ll tell you, especially in younger generations who are texting, and certainly after we’ve gone through virtual like this, that idea of being close to somebody with your heart open is going to take a lot of retooling and, in a lot of ways, starting from ground zero and say, “Here’s how we build that by first listening to somebody else instead of waiting for that chat pane or something else different.” What would you add to that, Carol?

Carol Leaman

Yeah, so those are great comments, Bob. What I would add is in terms of objection it’s really interesting. One of the hurdles that you asked about, Adam. People assume, because we’ve had decades and decades of history of training retail associates a certain way so objects would be, “Well, three to five minutes every single day? We train people when they’re hired and we might have a weekly huddle where we convey information. We put up stuff in the breakroom. Every single day? They’re not going to want to do it.” All of that kind of, “It’s just not going to work. We’re not going to get adoption.”

What we’ve proven time and again is that people want to learn. People actually, I don’t care what job you have, whether you’re a brand new, 18-year-old associate on the floor to a manager of a department, to a manager of a store, people, as human beings, want to do a good job. The vast majority of us want to be knowledgeable, want to feel confident in what we’re doing and, frankly, not screw up.

When you make available to them in a way that they’re so used to receiving it now, we’ve become a snack sized society. We want information instantly at our fingertips relevant to what we need to know right now. And when you make training that easy for them, people volunteer to have the experience and what we know is that when they do it and they do it frequently, they learn extraordinarily quickly and they change their behavior in ways that, quite frankly, have saved companies I could talk about at length, millions and millions of dollars a year, just through tiny, little bits of information.

There’s a mindset shift that needs to happen which is the old way we used to do it simply doesn’t work to achieve the business outcome we need. That is to have our associates performing at peak. We have to go through an explanation of that and provide proof points to get over this hurdle of it’s just so different that we’ve made training and information accessible in the past, but it works.

It’s because those associates, all of us, and this crosses generations, anybody in the store wants information, wants to do a good job and used to getting it anywhere, any time. They have a couple of minutes and they have a question, so we just need to give them that experience related to training that they’re having in their personal lives.

Bob Phibbs

Can I add to that-

Adam Blair

That’s a great-

Bob Phibbs

… very quickly?

Adam Blair

Go ahead.

Bob Phibbs

I think the one that I tend to hear also is, “Well, we can’t get them to take the training. They’re already trained. They don’t need it.” And it’s, “Well, if you can’t get them to take the training, how do you get them to come to work on time?” “Well, we fire them if they don’t come on time.” “Well, why don’t you look at training the same way?” Because it becomes an optional, right, and that’s the other problem I think we run into is some of the crew will want to do and some will adamantly not.

You know what? Those couple that don’t can ruin it for everybody, so whatever you call it, however you do it, it has to be, “We’re all doing this together,” which again, goes back to bringing people onboard to reset for a new retail when you’re able to open up again. But I think the options becomes, “This is what we all do,” instead of, “It’s nice to know and if you want to do it, you can.” Because the stakes are only getting higher for retailers.

Let’s be honest. Some of your competitors are going to go out. Some are going to be there, but the smart ones are going to get smarter and they’re going to be looking to clean your clock because they see the opportunity is still going to rely in people, not really in a new widget or another 20% off coupon or something.

Adam Blair

Well, I think you guys are hitting it right on the head there. The last questions I wanted to ask were about some of those benefits. Carol, you alluded to some of them, and the combination with the last question, what kinds of metrics would you recommend that a retailer apply to gauge the success of a training program? I’m assuming that if those metrics are met, and metric seeded, that will help either expand the program or make it go on. But I’m curious about what you’ve seen with customers you’ve worked with and what kinds of benefits do they see?

Carol Leaman

Another great question. It’s so exciting that retailers have so much that they can measure and that very directly impact top line or bottom line, so we see retailers inputting data, tied to the knowledge of their learners related to specific product category sales. So we’re going to measure the sales and we’re going to measure what people know about those products, and then statistically tie the learning to growth in sales. We’re going to target a 5% increase in this new product launch that we’re introducing in the stores and we’re going to promote that content through learning very rapidly, and see how that ties to sales.

Those sorts of things are entirely possible. We also see retailers measuring things like loss, so shrink in the stores, OSHA reportable incidents in stores and distribution centers. And I can tell you that there are many, many return on investment, I can’t mention the specific retailers around, but Bloomingdale’s, they have gone on record. Bloomingdale’s is a small to mid-tier retailer, as many of you know, 10,000 to 15,000 associates. Bloomingdale’s, just in reduction of safety incidents saves $2 million a year on average through better learning, better memory and retention, better behavior change specifically and statistically tied to success in learning of those safety programs.

I can tell you there’s another retailer quite literally is saving several hundred million dollars a year in reduced OSHA reportables in their distribution centers. Sales, we’ve seen sales with retailers grow in a product line, new introduction as I mentioned, to the tune of 25% growth in sales of those products for the specific group on the platform versus the control group over a period of 90 days.

So all of these things translate into massive amounts of money for these organizations and very measurable because there is so much data about outcomes, and now there’s the availability of data about the knowledge of the people driving those outcomes. So very exciting things going on.

Bob Phibbs

I would add to that that [crosstalk]-

Adam Blair

Bob, what are your thoughts on this [crosstalk].

Bob Phibbs

Well, the thing that you have to remember is your sales associates are going to more likely than ever to be selling from their own wallets and what does that mean? So you get this new beautiful sweater in, $125. They aren’t going to sell that at all. You’re going to think you’re an idiot if you pick it up to go try it on, so you mark it down to 50% off, so now it’s in the $65 and now they can sell it. Except the point of them being there is to sell it when it’s at $125 and we’ve missed that in retail. We’ve let people be able to use whatever training they have with product knowledge to sell it when it’s half off, which is not when it needs it.

What is the benefits? If you don’t fix this what happens is you keep bringing in these better products and because they don’t sell because your employees are selling from their own wallet, they’re only selling it when it’s half off or whatever, which reduces margins, which says, “Our customers don’t support this price point,” so now you are just continuing to drive farther down into the toilet because you’re now going after something you can get margin on at $62 except it’s really not, like $125, so your unique position in your product mix is gone and now you’re competing all the way at the bottom.

I think before that most people would say product knowledge was the key, all it was about. I’m telling you in 2020 it’s going to be about people knowledge. It’s going to be about being able to read different personality styles, it’s going to be about looking at body posture. It’s going to be about understanding, “Did I really hear this person?” And, more importantly, are you employing people that like the game of selling?

I’m a sales guy, I’m looking at the number of items that go out for sale from my team and I don’t think that’s gotten old at all. I know there are people say, “Does it matter where they buy it? It’s one channel,” well, that’s generally true, except at the end of the day if you’re trying justify training and I could tell you I gave you a three point change around, you’re listening. “Wow, what would that be to do that?”

And to Carol’s point, saving OSHA and markdowns, it still comes down to you have to have people that actually believe in your product and, if they don’t, why are they there? Because selling is no more than a transference of feeling, so if their attitude is, “I like being here. I like representing Bloomingdale’s,” or Hudson Bay or Gap or whoever it’s going to be. You give them the tools to say, “If you do this, then this happens,” and just watch.

One of my clients said, “Since using your sales training all of our customers got nicer,” and I said, “Uh, Marsha, your customers didn’t get nicer, you did.” She goes, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Well, that’s what it should feel like. A well-trained person is like a well-trained server. I think restaurants have … People keep talking about the death of restaurants because nobody wants to be a professional server anymore and make my day as the diner.

It’s like, “Do you have any food allergies? These are the specials. Is that it?” And that whole idea, I think if we recapture that in retail, in restaurants, to have professional people regardless of your price point you’re going to end up being able to survive because people will walk in and say, “It’s different here.”

Adam Blair

Well, thank you Bob and Carol, some fantastic insights. We did get some questions from the audience and I’d like to relay those to you. We have one question, we’re hearing that once the pandemic is over it won’t be quote “over”. Many are expecting that things will be fine for a few weeks and then another outbreak will happen and we’ll have to back on lockdown. How do you prepare your employees for that and manage your workforce with that in mind?

Carol Leaman

Well, I would suggest, and I’ve read similar sorts of predictions about this. I would suggest that the first step is being transparent at what the possibilities are and what you, as an organization, are prepared to do. Whether that’s support them through these hill and valleys and, if it is the case that stores get closed again for a period of time, how you anticipate training and enabling them during that downtime again to prepare for the next reemergence.

So conveying information and not leaving people in the dark about what the possibilities are and what your plan is to deal with them. I think everybody was scrambling through these least few weeks to come up with a plan. Now we see the future, it’s incumbent on the retailer to anticipate this, to plan for it and to communicate what those expectations are to employees before it happens.

Adam Blair

Okay, great. We do have another question-

Bob Phibbs

I was just going to say-

Adam Blair

Oh, go ahead.

Bob Phibbs

I was just going to say that nobody knows what’s going to happen and we haven’t seen any of the stores have to close like that in China, in Seoul and other places, so I think you have to hold it may not happen at all or it might, but I think this impending doom is not a leadership position. I think ultimately what’s going to happen is the governor’s are going to say, “Can our hospitals keep up with whatever’s going on? Are we at our max but we’re able to deal with this?” They will reopen the society, I am convinced of that.

If they did have to go into lockdown I think they will be the ones, the public health officials, when that all … It won’t be an all clear, but when they gradually open places, I think that is more the case than to go to this place that we’re going to have to close down in two weeks. And let’s face it, this isn’t going to be the last one of these we deal with in our life.

There’s going to be new procedural changes I’m sure. I wouldn’t be surprised in 10 years that there’s biometrics when, like Star Trek or something, you log in to work, maybe on the Axonified platform, and it would read it and say you’re okay, you have no fear or something, no fever.

Adam Blair

I think we’ve just got time for one more question. Unfortunately, we’re getting close to our end time, but I do want to put this one through. I’m going to have less staff per store initially. Any suggestions on how to get the most from them since they’ll have to take on additional responsibilities?

Carol Leaman

Again, I think that setting those expectations with those individuals early, giving them the maximum opportunity to learn and acquire what those new responsibilities will entail. Getting prepared for that ahead of the return is essential and not just throwing it at them, “Okay. Now we’ve only got 10 people in this store instead of 20 and you’re all going to be expected to pick up and do more.” The more you can prepare your workforce and your [inaudible] for that potential and, again, I believe in the resilience of humanity.

I think where people see an opportunity to learn, grow, develop skills and contribute more and be more valuable to an organization, they pick up that baton and they run with it. So raising awareness, giving them the training, anticipating it and embracing it as a positive I think is the way to go.

Bob Phibbs

I would just say make sure that you prioritize what they’re supposed to do because most retailers are already doing more with less already. I know last fall when I went through stores and I was shocked at how many people were one coverage, so they can’t do it all. Something will drop. So I would certainly say prioritize what they can do best and realize that if you overburden them, especially because they’re going to be as fragile as your customers are, that you may easily lose your best people. So always be talking about that and seeing what they see as the way that they could do that and then make adjustments. Don’t just throw it at them and say, “Well, deal with it,” because that never works.

Adam Blair

Well, I want to thank both Carol and Bob for great insights, great conversation and also thank everyone who attended today’s session. If you did not get an answer to your specific question, we will provide them to the speakers and they’ll be able to respond to you directly.

We hope you’re going to join us for our next CCS presentation, which is titled, The Path to Individualization: Improving the ROI From Your Personalization Investment. That session’s going to start tomorrow, April 9th, at 12:00 PM Eastern. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day.

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