NRF 2017: Frictionless Workforce Management

by | Jan 24, 2017

Frictionless retail was a hot topic at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show 2017. It seemed like every booth, from supply chain vendors to point-of-sale providers, demonstrated technology to eliminate barriers and streamline the customer’s path to purchase.

While retailers may be driving towards a frictionless customer experience, retail workforce management is still pretty abrasive.  Retailers are struggling to fill shifts and execute promotions consistently.  A recent EKN Research study sponsored by Axsium Group found that retailers spend “less than desired time” on training which impacts the customer experience and, ultimately, sales.

Meanwhile, associates want a better employee experience.  They want more control over their schedules, the shifts they work and the number of hours they work each week.  They want to feel more connected to their employer.  They want their voice to be heard.  And, they want to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work.

Traditional employee self-service and mobile workforce management applications help to eliminate some of the resistance but prevent workforce chafing.  Right now, the best technology solution for frictionless workforce management is provided by the employee engagement solution providers.

Employee engagement is a new class of software for messaging, training, task management, schedule management and more through an intuitive, easy-to-use app available on mobile phones or a web browser.  Employee engagement software is more than employee self-service.  It is a communication hub between store associates and the rest of the organization, providing them with knowledge, training and information needed to be more efficient and effective in your stores.

WorkJam was the first to market with such a system, formally launching themselves and generating a lot of buzz at NRF last year.  This year, WorkJam had their largest client, Shell Oil Company, speak about their experience deploying WorkJam to 500,000 employees at over 45,000 service stations around the world.

Shell selected WorkJam as a way to help deliver its value proposition consistently, improve marketing campaign execution, recognize top performers, improve staff retention and optimize productivity. Since the deployment, WorkJam has been well-received by Shell.  According to one manager, “I can eliminate my log book and track completion of activities digitally.”  A franchise owner said, “This app helps make promotional launches more engaging and rewarding for [associates] and results in higher sales.”  Ultimately, WorkJam helps Shell delight its customers by creating more engaged associates.

Bong Fadullon from Shell Oil Company talks about his company's success with employee engagement provider WorkJam at NRF 2017.

Bong Fadullon from Shell Oil Company talks about his company’s success with employee engagement provider WorkJam at NRF 2017.

While WorkJam was first to market, three new entrants were at NRF this year: gloodoo, Shift Messenger and Branch Messenger.  gloodoo was created by retail veterans at the REPL Group in the United Kingdom.  It incorporates a broad set of features including communication, productivity and social tools, and is clearly targeted at the large retailer.  Shift Messenger is a venture capital-backed start-up based in San Francisco while Branch Messenger comes out of retail-giant Target’s incubator and is based in Minneapolis. Branch Messenger and Shift Messenger focus on messaging and shift management whereas gloodoo and WorkJam offer a wider set of features.

Where is the rub with employee engagement solutions?  First, these solutions are still relatively new.  While each vendor can point to successful retail clients, deployments are still pretty limited.  Second, employee engagement software includes features like mobile training and campaign management that store operations teams have not deployed in the past.  Deliberate strategies will need to be developed to help maximize the value received from the solution.  Finally, it represents an added cost, and if you have already license mobile and/or employee self-service from your workforce management vendor, you may feel like you are paying twice although an employee engagement solution will provide its own return on investment.

It has been interesting to see how quickly the employee engagement market has evolved.  And, I look forward to seeing how frictionless workforce management evolves before NRF 2018.

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