An interesting white paper by Zipline discusses how retailers count on their store employees to implement new technology, launch initiatives, engage with customers and work efficiently. And therefore, the success of these initiatives hinges on their frontline employees. The paper goes as far as to say, “The hardest part of running retail stores isn’t the technology, the supply chain, the product, or the pricing. It’s the people.” This couldn’t be more true.
“As we know from our own customer experiences, the service you receive from a store associate or online interaction shapes your opinion of a brand and your likelihood to return as a repeat customer. Basically, customer service is the holy grail that can set brands apart who are selling identical products. This means that fostering an environment where employees feel supported and empowered to serve their customers is the only way for a retailer to successfully rollout new initiatives,” says Hillary Cullum, Founder of HSC Advisors, a retail consultancy.
Let’s take a look at how employee engagement and empowerment can lead to unprecedented results.
“From a giant corporation to a small startup team, employee engagement is the number one factor that creates organizational change and transformational ideas. Employees need to feel that there’s transparency in understanding the full picture of the company’s status as well as feel individual agency that their ideas will be heard by leadership. If you have both of those, your company will be empowered to fix inefficiencies, act on feedback from customers, and ultimately thrive. Simply asking your employees how much agency they feel they have on a regular basis and improving that metric can produce outsized results,” says Annelise Hillmann, CEO & Co-founder of Frontman, a men’s acne care brand.
When employees aren’t privy to the inner workings of the company they work for and support day-to-day, it can become increasingly difficult to stay engaged or motivated. And moreover, it is an oversight on the company’s end because these frontline employees have so much valuable knowledge of how the company operates on a daily basis, and also what consumers are loving, missing, and frustrated by. These insights are a goldmine for companies to tap into. These insights should be the catalyst to initiate changes, and in turn, grow the business. Yet, time and time again, we hear of dissatisfied employees who don’t feel they are heard by their corporate counterparts, or can’t get a promotion into a management role even after years of service.
As stated in the white paper, “The more engaged a brand’s frontline becomes, the more quickly that brand can pivot.”
And it drives home this point very eloquently, “Truly engaged employees understand how their own best interest and their company’s best interest intersect. They have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their tasks and because they understand how these tasks contribute to their organization’s greater good, they are intrinsically motivated. Therefore, these employees show little need for continual oversight.”
Key Focus Areas
Zipline identified four key focus areas that retailers need to focus on in order to properly engage their frontline employees: employee connection, store execution, real-time feedback, and actionable insights.
Clear and positive communication directly correlates to employee retention. The retail industry is known for having exceptionally high turnover rates – an issue the industry has had for decades. In fact, 49% of retailers say one of their biggest challenges is hiring and retaining staff. Meanwhile, the average retail employee turnover rate in the United States currently sits at around 60%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Store execution is an area that can use significant improvement. With less than a third of the direction sent to stores from headquarters being executed correctly and on time, about 70% of all initiatives are not being put into effect. All the time and effort that corporate offices are putting into strategically planning out new initiatives, promotions, visual directives, and sales strategies are going by the waste side. And it’s not always because of a lack of work ethic or desire from store employees – with all that is being asked of frontline workers today, they are spread very thin. They are not only tasked with providing excellent service to each and every customer, but at the same time must execute all corporate-initiated communication, run product out for curbside pickups, ship items to fulfill online orders, and the list goes on and on.
Understanding and easing the workload for frontline employees while opening the door for two-way communication can go a long way in reducing turnover rates and as a result, impact the bottom line.
By gathering anonymous and honest feedback from store employees, investing in technology to streamline processes to assist employees in doing their job more efficiently, and giving employees a clear path to advancement, companies can ensure that their employees are not only engaged, but that they grow along with the company.