Twenty years ago, a change in shopper behavior began. A small fraction of shoppers was doing research on the Internet before coming into stores, and these shoppers knew more about the products than the sales associates who spent all day walking around each item. Today, this small fraction has become the majority of shoppers who arrive educated and armed with a smartphone. As a result, associates are under pressure to know more about products, brand norms and the store processes. They also must provide instant answers to sometimes daunting questions. At the same time, retailers are doing their best to trim costs, often cutting associate schedules and limiting training time for employees. That’s a tough combination.
In combination with a perpetual culture of associate turnover, this creates a significant business challenge. According to a September 2019 study, an astonishing 31% of frontline retail associates receive no training at all. Of those who are trained, 27% percent said their training was ineffective and boring. Only 41% of employees have access to training designed for developing their skills for the future.
The move toward innovative training
Building a great in-store experience is a priority in contrast to these facts. So, to address the gap, retailers need to think outside the box and take advantage of the shared knowledge in the employee network. Retailers must enable every associate to be as knowledgeable as the sum of their teams by having instant, hands-free access to other associates, computer databases and expert groups.
If employees are consistently supported and can get fast answers without disengaging from the customer, everyone wins. The store wins by being an efficient place to shop, a place where the brand image shines, and a business where there are more conversions driven by highly efficient staffing. The associates also win by continuously learning new information right when they need it, driving greater job satisfaction (and possibly commissions) and ultimately, improving retention rates.
What’s more, they’re given confidence and are empowered to help every shopper that enters the store. And of course, the shopper wins by having the knowledgeable attention of each associate without them having to step away to answer a question or look down at a screen.
Instant communication with teams
Imagine a shopper asks someone a question about a product. Anyone who appears to work at the store is fair game for shopper questions. That shopper does not know the difference between a sales associate, stock clerk, register operator or visual team member. The usual course of events is that if a shopper asks for help from the wrong person, they are either ignored or are told to wait for the right person to arrive (which, all too frequently, never happens).
Instant voice-enabled communication with teams and store systems gives any employee, regardless of their role, the ability to help out right away or to know who will help and when they will arrive. Given the full support of an on-demand team, employees can assist customers at every opportunity, while the shoppers experience a seamless, uniform shopping journey.
Learning on the go
In the moment question-and-answer learning is one way to train associates, but it is not the only way. For example, artificial intelligence-powered solutions allow employees to learn during unplanned gaps in their day. Knowing when associates are in locations such as the break room or stock room creates an opportunity for transferring valuable knowledge, such as how better to communicate the brand image or details of corporate policy and procedures. While not engaged with a shopper, knowing when associates are near a certain set of products, is another opportunity to offer up relevant product knowledge that is better retained because the associate is looking at the product when it is being described.
Training and motivating associates are challenges for which today’s technology makes all the difference. Good people, combined with an intelligent hands-free communication platform, are an unbeatable combination – for the retail brand, store economics, employee growth, associate retention, and, most importantly, shopper loyalty and experience.