Retail technology that focuses on employee experience is more customer-centric than you may think.

Is Investment in Employee Experience the Key to Delivering Successful Customer Services?

The post-pandemic era — that we continue to move closer to — is defined by uncertainty. And every day, experts, futurists, and commentators from the corners of every industry desperately question how the pandemic will have shaped their sectors’ short and long-term futures.

Retail, however, has arguably just begun to settle into its place within the unpredictable global landscape. Upping their investments into heightened digitisation and improved customer experiences, they are starting to prioritise strategies that can offer them adaptability, agility and resilience to the unforeseen situations that will surely continue to come their way.

These strategic rising investments come at a time when elusive loyalty is becoming harder to capture, with 73% of consumers who have shopped with different retailers during the pandemic intending to incorporate new brands into their routine. Whilst — needless to say — technology continues to revolutionise how entire supply chains operate.

However, the consumer-facing employees tasked with harnessing retail technologies to strengthen their own workflows are inconspicuously deliberating the success of these investment categories. And as a result, they are able to provide customers with the immediate, personalised, and memorable omnichannel experiences they progressively desire when they shop.

Because the experiences of customers and employees are undeniably interconnected, in fact, businesses with happy employees attain 81% higher external customer satisfaction. And many more studies elaborate that when workers are engaged, committed, and fulfilled in their everyday roles, it improves their ability to deliver valuable services to customers.

So to retailers currently refining their post-pandemic survival strategies, we suggest exploring the impact that employee experiences can have on growing customer gratification.

Employee Experiences are Vital as Retailers Up Investment in Technology and Customer Services

Since the pandemic began, these impactful employee experiences have increasingly relied on technologies. Particularly ones that enable individual workers to connect to their everyday professional lives remotely. From social media, robotics, learning and development, wearables through to virtual and augmented reality, these applications are targeted digital solutions that can optimise the everyday activities of diverse workforces.

And as the retail sector’s recovery from the damages of Covid-19 slows, it is unsurprising to see that in order to stimulate its revival, investment into retail technology that simultaneously enhances customer and employee experience has reached an all-time high, and 79% of high street retailers plan to implement more technology solutions this year.

Retailers are rationalising their investment into digital transformation as a surefire method of capturing emerging post-pandemic consumers by extracting value from current employee willingness to harness innovative technologies and imbed them into their own everyday roles.

Now, four months on from the reopening of physical stores, this is particularly relevant for retail’s frontline workforces — such as shop-floor assistants, stock allocators, and delivery drivers — whose adoption of employee-first technology solutions will subsequently drive effective customer-centric services as brick and mortar stores attempt to reclaim their market share.

Designing Positive Post-Pandemic Customer Services

Moving forward, customer adoption and retention are becoming critical to the continued survival of any consumer goods organisation. Yet, retail’s intensifying focus on customer-centricity is due to increasingly demanding shoppers whose mindsets and behaviours have been moulded by the pandemic.

Considering the characteristics of post-pandemic customers — in an article last month — Detego defined these emerging consumer’s as elusive with their allegiances and fluid with their engagement. For example, digitally-savvy shoppers are becoming more adept at bringing competition with them into stores, using their smartphones to concurrently browse rival offerings online and offline.

Post-pandemic behaviour such as this makes it increasingly complex for retailers to control customer journeys and ensure they are providing competitive services at every possible online and offline touchpoint.

So, with physical retailers facing such an immense task in reacquainting themselves with customers returning to their stores, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that retail technology investments should focus on improving the activities of employees first and customers second.

But in reality, workforces are the greatest asset a retailer has in generating customer loyalty from positive engagement. And they mustn’t risk underestimating the importance of their employees who — to customers — bring brands to life by personifying their voice and embodying their personality.

Recent research by PWC found that 46% of all consumers will abandon a brand if employees are not knowledgeable.  And at the same time, 71% of consumers claim that employees significantly impact their overall customer experience. With employees having an impact this sizeable on consumers, these statistics reinforce the outpouring of retail experts and researchers who assert that “happy employees create happy customers” and emphasises the need for retailers to refocus their technology investments into solutions that advance employee contentment.

The Current Retail Employee Experience is Far from Perfect

However, improving the employee experience is not an easy task.

Last month’s ‘Pingdemic’, which forced thousands of high street workers to isolate and understaffed retailers to subsequently shut their doors, stressed how crucial retail workers are to organisations. So much in fact that retailers are already strategising on how to mitigate the risk of employee shortages both in the short and longer future.

Without intervention, the global retail sector will continue to struggle with these workforce issues. And recent research across the UK and US exposes that millions of workers intend to leave their jobs post-pandemic — with retail employees quitting their jobs at record rates — as the reality of professional dissatisfaction continues to confront employees as they emerge from their homes and back into their places of work.

As a result, these emerging workforce trends pose a critical threat to the retail sector. The increasing pressure to deliver exceptional customer services with understaffed stores and low employee morale could create a vicious cycle of discontent between employees and customers.

The Features of Effective Employee Experience Technology

Both existing and emerging retail technology’s must, for these reasons, help employees to attain three objectives in their everyday tasks to boost emotional satisfaction, job retention, and digital engagement:

1 Productivity

Solutions that generate productivity help workers reduce time spent on individual activities — allowing employees to achieve more objectives throughout their days and enabling retailers to optimise their operational costs. For example, RFID software Detego helps store, head-office and distribution staff remove the manual processes of stock checks and collate data insights to inform merchandising decisions swiftly.

2 Efficiency

Providing employees access to various solutions allows them to exert agency in their own working styles, honing techniques that suit them and reflexively selecting applications within changing circumstances and outputs. Take match-making platform Uber as an example, in offering several options to consumers such as courier, taxi, and food delivery services, its roster of drivers are enabled to be their own boss and use the app to control their schedules and self-determine their objectives.

3 Creativity

Allowing users to harness technologies to innovate within their daily roles, solve problems and uncover different applications for their work, technologies that enable creativity help workers to express themselves to both internal team members and external consumers. For example, as a wardrobe digitisation application, Own-Kind allows retail employed personal stylists to virtually style outfits for their customers, paring the products in their directory with existing pieces in a customer’s wardrobe.

Yet overall, what defines all three use cases’ ability to enable agility, creativity, and productivity are the user-friendly interfaces designed to satisfy customers on the front-end and enhance employee capabilities at the back-end.

While there are many examples of RFID’s application in industry, recent instances of retailers emboldening their use of the technology to strengthen their post-pandemic strategies are impressive. 46% of respondents to recent Accenture research indicating that they have focused on RFID in response to COVID-19. And although the term inventory software may seem like a dull back-end technology, there are already many new use cases emerging and harnessed by retailers in innovative ways to modernise their offerings.

Investment in Consumer-Focused Retail Technology is Already Impacting Employee Experiences

It is essential not to forget the existing digital solutions within retail that — although consumer-focused — are already empowering the roles of retail employees through unintentional yet valuable emerging use cases in some of the most critical technology categories experiencing an uptick in investments.

E-commerce 

Social shopping is one of the fastest-growing commerce trends, with live-stream shopping expected to reach $60 billion this year in China alone because, throughout lockdown, customers continued to crave human engagement within their shopping experiences.

By expanding e-commerce channels with social shopping, retail store staff have a chance to engage with their customers in virtual environments and the physical ones they typically inhabit. In addition, for retail employees who have been furloughed over the past year, this is an opportunity to future-proof their work and expand their roles through omnichannel strategies.

On-Demand

Consumer demand for instant messaging with in-store sales assistants, stylists, and personal shoppers has steadily risen for several years. But messaging software like WhatsApp revealed themselves to be tools for survival when the pandemic began and physical retailers — particularly those with a limited online presence — were at risk of losing carefully built relationships with customers.

Bicester Village is an insightful use case for the quick integration of virtual shopping. In uploading their catalogues to WhatsApp, store staff can now engage with remote consumers they otherwise wouldn’t have met and subsequently increase their sales and commissions.

Supply Chain Logistics

Same-day delivery and collection have revolutionised consumer expectations for fast and immediate fulfilment when shopping both online and in-store. The increase of retailers offering such fulfilment services means that businesses providing consumers inventory visibility allows them to decide where and how they receive their purchases.

By providing shoppers with inventory transparency, allocators and store staff are also able to view stock insights in real-time and transform their abilities to pinpoint, distribute and sell stock on micro and macro scales.

The Retailers Already Directly Investing in their Workforce’s Technology Adoption

At the same time, innovative retailers are investing in directly improving employee experiences using these digital advancements. And as employee-first solutions, they exemplify the reverberating impact that their adoption of technology can have on pivotal moments of the customer journey.

Apple and Efficient POS systems:- When 25% of consumers admit to missing human interactions when shopping online during the height of COVID-19, it is clear that rather than replacing staff, technology should be used to enhance their reach. In fact, research from 2018 already demonstrated that consumers were looking to engage with real people alongside technological advancements. Apple’s commitment to blending digitisation into its brick and mortar stores is exemplary, as employees wander the stores equip with the ability to access customer profiles and finalise sales.

Adidas and On-Demand Delivery:- With retailers continuing to take advantage of the omnichannel surge, many businesses realise they must upskill employees with the capabilities to execute these strategies online and offline. Sportswear brand Adidas for example, have recently trained their employees to use RFID software to optimise their understanding of stock levels and inform their instant knowledge of inventory availability, popularity, and locations through data display and insightful reports.

MATCHESFASHION and Personalisation: To compete with the personalisation provided by their online counterparts, retailers have begun to explore how they can create attractive propositions and help store staff to blend consumer data into the intuition of their everyday roles. Luxury department store MATCHESFASHION, for example, has recently granted in-store employees access to online customer wishlists, helping them to empower their product recommendations with contextual customer information.

The Challenges of Implementing Employee-First Technology

Yet — as always with technology — challenges surrounding its adoption continue to cast doubt on future implementation. And, in the case of retail, many of the obstacles are from internal players. According to research by Fourth, for large retailers, cultural resistance, lack of technology management, upskilling staff and removing legacy systems are the most prominent points of friction when introducing new digital solutions.

Understandably, in practice, if these reasons were to act as barriers to retails digital transformation, the cost of rejection could be steep. For many retailers whose employee turnover remains high, investment into technology management, upskilling staff and replacing old processes could seem like a risky move with limited prospects for an ROI. But it is crucial to keep in mind that when focusing on improving employee experiences through technology, retailers are simultaneously investing in job satisfaction and overall workforce retention.

Additionally, to tackle cultural resistance to these changes, retailers should open up communication with employees to understand how they themselves want to enhance their own experiences using technology.

After all, aren’t employees experts of their own experiences?

Investing Now Means Optimising Future Success

It is compelling to consider that if the pandemic were to occur only 20 years prior, entire industries would have crumbled in a time where technology was not as mature, diverse, and inclusive.

Last year, when Covid-19 began, technology was ripe for adoption and ready for acceleration — ultimately covering a decade worth of growth in mere months. So, moving forward, retailers will need to take advantage of this rare occurrence where an entire demographic of employees and consumers have simultaneously evolved their use of technology — feeding into its rapid evolution and revolutionising the future of retail operations overnight.

In fact, it is clearer now more than ever that employee and customer experiences are not siloed, instead, they entwine with each other and to bolster one stakeholder’s journey you cannot ignore the other’s.

Ultimately, investing in technology to generate win-win experiences for employees and customers is an innovative move for retailers. Especially now that effective customer services begin and end with employees’ adoption of technology.

And implementation should be strategic because if in practice, these solutions fail to provide employees with efficiency, productivity, and creativity, their resulting frustration will undoubtedly translate into customer dissatisfaction.

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Explore Detego’s resources to uncover how the organisation expertly uses RFID technology to improve employee experiences, whilst providing user-friendly interfaces, comprehensive employee upskilling and continued staff support.

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