grocery employee

Retailers must empower workforces to improve customer experiences

The top barrier for retailers achieving their customer service goals is finding and retaining customer service staff.
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
Elizabeth Christenson

What it means: The success of the offline channel is largely dependent on retail associates and their interactions with consumers. It’s imperative that the industry move beyond communicating only with store fleets via planograms and directives. Transparency and two-way communication with store-based employees helps to present clear objectives across the enterprise and leads to much better execution of merchandising. Empowerment up and down the chain of command at retail needs to be better during a time when turnover is high and store employees represent the first line of defense with consumers.

Grocery employees working

The COVID-19 pandemic created an unexpected shift in how the world approaches work. The industry has seen workers rally together through trends such as “The Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting.” The Great Resignation was a wake-up call for many retailers, and it made it clear that employees have re-prioritized their work-life balance, including the importance of feeling valued and recognized by their company leaders. Recent Axonify research found that only 32% of retail associates felt heard by their organization, down from 63% last year.

“For retailers to retain their workforce, they need to offer an open line of communication and make it easy and safe for them to voice their concerns or suggestions to company decision-makers,” Carol Leaman, Axonify’s CEO, told Retail Leader Pro. “Employees who feel their experience and opinion matter to an organization are more likely to be loyal and less compelled to seek opportunities elsewhere.”

Additionally, career growth and development opportunities have been necessary responses to increased turnover. Retailers should be crafting personalized career plans and clearly outline how workers can move throughout the company with a potential timeline, Leaman explained. 

“This kind of roadmap provides tangible proof that employees are treated as long-term investments rather than just someone filling an open position,” she said.

Consumer experience

Customer-facing retail workers have the greatest impact on a customer’s experience.

Customer employee interaction

“They’re the ones who are engaging directly with consumers, receiving feedback in real-time,” Leaman explained. “With 93% of customers willing to come back to a brand they previously had a positive experience with, organizations would be wise to recognize the influence of these employees and provide them with the proper tools to succeed.” 

Currently, only 10% of retail associates receive recognition for their work from their corporate office, so hearing directly from senior leaders on how their customer interactions impact the overall success of the company is critical, Axonify found. Another way retailers can communicate the significance of employees’ interactions with customers is by providing workers with the tools to deliver positive experiences, Leaman said. Investing in an employee enablement solution also can ensure store associates are confident in company messaging and processes and avoid giving customers misinformation. 

“These tools also highlight how frontline workers can improve soft skills, such as showing empathy to frustrated customers and building customer relationships,” Leaman said. “According to our research, 67% of all “Deskless Report” respondents from corporate to workers believe investing in new technology for retail associates will improve the success of their organization, so it’s an approach that has broad buy-in.”

Talkdesk’s “Future of Retail Customer Service” report shows that the No. 1 barrier for retailers achieving their customer service goals was finding and retaining customer service staff. 

“Churn has long been the norm in retail,” Shannon Flanagan, Talkdesk’s vice president of global strategy of retail and consumer goods, told Retail Leader Pro. “However, now retailers need to be committed to enabling their associates to provide more meaningful service to their customers, making work more worthwhile and showing that there are opportunities for growth within the contact center workplace.”

Whether a company’s workforce is fully remote, hybrid or in person, workforce engagement management (WEM) tools are essential to keeping teams connected and on track. Talkdesk’s “Future of Workforce Engagement” report discovered that investment in WEM tools will remain a top priority for organizations through 2025, with 78% of customer experience (CX) professionals noting this investment as a priority for their organization. This stems from the need for companies to achieve greater efficiency, profit and improved customer satisfaction through the contact center, Talkdesk said. In addition to WEM tools, Talkdesk found that 73% of CX professionals expect to increase the use of gamification in the contact center. 

“Finding new and creative ways to engage with workers that introduce competition and rewards will contribute greatly to keeping contact center employees on their A-game with an eye towards success,” Flanagan said.

Staffing shortages

Many retailers perpetually remain understaffed, and retailers are tasked with handling the shortfall and improving efficiencies. Often, a lack of employee efficiency comes from uncertainty around their roles and responsibilities. With labor shortages a continuing reality for retailers, companies should invest in workforce training solutions to ensure employees have clarity with processes and are aligned with company messaging.

Grocery employees working

“Retail workers, who have the proper support, can gain confidence in their roles and continuous training increases productivity, building stronger, more successful teams,” Leaman said.

Leaman believes frontline worker retention and staffing issues will persist as potential recession stressors drive retailers to tighten budgets. With less money available for hire, retailers will be looking to their current workforces to make sure their bases are covered, while continuing to deliver a memorable customer experience. But because any additional workload demands mean running the risk of employee burnout, a strategy that maximizes workforce potential is essential.

“For 2023 and beyond, retailers need to keep a pulse on the employee experience and find ways to meet worker demands, like increasing scheduling flexibility and recognizing hard work,” Leaman said. “Being open and available to employee concerns, needs and desires and implementing supporting resources will be a driving force for retention.”

What’s next: Beyond empowerment, training and benefits for front line retail associates could help improve retention and assist them in developing a career within the retail industry. On-the-job training and other skills classes aid associates in understanding the role of the store within the larger retail ecosystem and more effectively provide knowledge and transparency to consumers. Providing clear transparency and career paths beyond frontline opportunities builds a pipeline for employees to stay within the retailer.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds