Evolving consumer behaviour has disrupted the way retailers do business today. No matter what stage of the consumer journey the customer is in, every brand is exploring stronger avenues to nurture the customer from awareness to consideration and finally purchase their product or service. This has become a challenging task for many retailers who are trying to create the right omni-channel experience for a multi-faceted consumer who display loyalty only as deep as his/her last purchase.
Tech savvy Millennial and Gen Z consumers, are disrupting the entire brick and mortar model to change the way consumers shop and the online platforms they frequent. It is therefore no surprise that retail is probably one of the most versatile, competitive and rapidly evolving industries that has been instrumental in deploying technology to optimise on the customer journey.
Most retailers deploy technology to better understand demand in real-time, service customers at point of sale and also forecast future inventory. This apart, brands are increasingly shifting their focus from merely making sales in a physical store to creating an enhanced digital consumer experience. For instance, retail giants like IKEA, Walmart, Tesco and Target are reassessing the consumer journey, by integrating physical and digital touch points to offer a seamless omnichannel experience.
While brands can exercise a good degree of control over online shopping experience, the offline brick and mortar stores are heavily dependent on their frontline workforce to drive similar experience as they peruse through the offerings and make a sale. Therefore, while brand image, an omnichannel first approach, and consumer experience are critical pillars of the current retail strategy; it is the frontline workforce that creates an indelible image of the brand, in the minds of the consumers.
However, the process which involves a frontline employee helping a potential customer at the store, does not allow retailers much control over the conversation or the customer journey. Furthermore, nonchalant employees, empty shop floors and untrained employees who fail to appropriately address customer queries, lead to disgruntled customers who hold a negative perception of the brand. Identifying this loss of control in physical stores as a lacuna, retailers are aggressively harnessing newer and emerging technologies to reimagine how associates can better service customer touch points and help create repeat business. This is nothing but business planning in the here and now.
In an attempt to streamline control and improve consumer experience, retailers today are taking advantage of newer ways to create employee schedules that align with employee preferences and keep them engaged while delivering bottom line results. For instance, unplanned absence on a shop floor can create chaos, especially during peak hours, when footfalls are high. In such cases, lack of appropriate manpower often leads to angry customers walking out of a store due to inadequate customer attention. To prevent such instances from repeating, retailers are leveraging the power of technology through intuitive workforce management tools.
Modern workforce management tools can help stores ensure that they are always staffed at the right levels. Most stores have POS data around their footfalls and sales volumes and this huge and invaluable amount of historical data combined with the right machine learning algorithms can allow organizations to forecast exactly how much manpower is required, by factoring in multiple variables including store variations, seasonal trends and even the weather.
Once the right number of people have been planned these tools can then help retailers automate schedules and fill vacant slots based on criteria like skills, experience, availability, preferences and burnout levels. While workforce management solutions predict resource requirements keeping in mind business priorities such as store traffic, volume of traffic and festival footfalls as well as the dynamic nature of each store, they can also consider employee preferences and constraints. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, these systems actually prompt the manager into making decisions that allow him greater consideration of his employee’s requirements, thereby ‘humanizing’ what would have been a mere optimization exercise. Additionally, using technology to automate some of these activities promotes a sense of fairness by actually eliminating unintentional biases in the scheduling process.
With intuitive mobile interfaces, workforce management tools can also give employees greater input and control over their own work schedules and promote work-life balance, which leads to improved employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. In addition to making the customer experience a fulfilling one, investing in the right workforce management tools can also contribute towards creating a positive work culture — backed by streamlined processes, fair labour practices, eliminating bias, and empowering technology — can successfully engage, motivate, and retain quality employees. At the end of the day, it’s all about building a culture that helps employees move to their greatest potential, after all - “great business are powered by great people”
The article has been penned down by Vanaja Kodungallur, Director – Business Consulting, India, Kronos Incorporated.