Today’s Retail Workforce Management: It’s Less About the Solution, It’s About How You Use It

by | Sep 2, 2011

I don’t know about you, but I take most of the articles I read about the retail customer today with a pinch of skepticism. If we are to believe everything we read, this species is rarer than the Giant Panda; have the research disciplines of Albert Einstein; have smartphones integrated into their souls; and can simultaneously shop, scan codes, exploit promotions, calculate the nutritional benefits of a cardigan, stream tweets and pay without blinking. Who are these people that we read about and where do they find the time to do all of that and wish their 130 Facebook friends a happy birthday on time?

Skepticism aside, I believe that retail customers know what they want, what they like and more importantly what they dislike, and they are craving to be heard and know that retailers truly appreciate them and the hard earned cash they spend. To that end, we come back around to the question what successful retailers are doing to ensure they deliver a consistent customer experience to the masses through a highly aligned Workforce Management strategy.

A great customer experience is a highly orchestrated journey of actions the retailer makes and reactions the customer has with the goal of maximizing its impact at the time the customer is about to make their decision…the moment of truth. This journey isn’t linear. Think of it more like a difficult shot on a pool table, where one ball has to strike another and another with the right speed and emphasis in order to make the pocket. This requires the retailer to not only understand the customer journey but also understand the moments of truth along the way, and then, have a plan to staff the associates in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge to maximize the chance of conversion, up sell and cross sell.

So how to do you start this process of alignment? It starts with understanding and acknowledging your customer journey and loyalty model. The first will help you understand where the journey starts, why they came to the store, what expectations they have, what happens in the store, where the journey ends, and what opinions are formed that affect future buying behaviors. The loyalty model simply explains the brand value proposition in terms of moments of truth along the journey, what the brand going to be renowned for, e.g., speed, selection, availability, prices, product, knowledge, quality, etc. Many of these moments are directly supported by behaviors that the associate consistently exhibit or activities they participate in, e.g., stocking, cleaning, education, consultative selling, being friendly, speed in which they work, etc. While some may be just table stakes, each has an impact on customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy..

If the retailer can achieve this, they have a blueprint that can be used to validate whether or not the WFM strategy is aligned and is capable of delivering on the promise. Can the retailer support those behaviors consistently across all stores based upon the labor standards, payroll investment, staffing structure and training? For some retailers, this may not be something they are ready to explore. Even so, there may still be some simple questions to ask and opportunities to uncover:

Do the labor standards and business process reflect what our customers need and expect today?

Do we have the payroll investment to service the customer effectively?

If we need to comprise, do we know where the compromises should be made?

Do the associates understand the customer journey, behaviors and activities we expect?

Finally, how do we do this locally to reflect regional, seasonal and format variations?

In meantime while we wait for the time when we can download ourselves to the mall, virtually hang out with that Facebook friend from school that used to steal our lunch and try on e-jeans, and get 123,765 immediate tweets on whether our bums look big or not, there are some simple things that can be done today. If my conversations with retailers over the last month are anything to go by, they know it too and are ready to invest.

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