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    Expert Column: How Frontline Empowerment Enhances In-store Grocery Experiences

    Leveraging customer service against the digital threat

    First, the tools and information required by frontline associates to directly respond to better-armed customers needs to be in alignment with customer intentions. If the customer intention is discovery, then rich product content should be accessible to the associate at the touch of a tablet. If comparison, then competitive products, alongside real-time contextual promotions and next-best-action recommendations, should be available. If purchase, then complementary items, ancillary services offered should be the focus. Smart use of "commerce-in-the-store" technologies is helping transform the "heads" of our associates and improving their ability to deliver exceptional in-store customer experiences.   

    Second, to transform the "heart," we look to drive customer engagment to both incent associates to adopt behaviors to better curate customer journeys in-store and to have more fun, be more invested in doing so, etc.

    Some of these techniques involve gaming technologies targeting immediate outcomes. For example, programs which support virtual teaming of the same in-store functions across different physical locations and internal competition around KPI’s -- socialized internally and set up as a friendly competition -- have been extremely successful across many brands and retailers in reframing in-store customer service as a more personal, fun activity. As the saying goes, everything is personal because everyone is a person. And people like games. Take a business process with traditional input-process-output flows and instead of sending out a new procedure booklet or offering another distance learning course, turn it into a desired outcome-based game; you’ll be amazed at the adoption and improvement in efficiency and effectiveness. Emerging techniques to fully engage store associates in creating exceptional in-store experiences for customers center around treating them with as much attention, contextual intelligence and targeted programs as we do our customers.

    Finally, compensation and career pathing are a third critical component of empowering frontline associates. As consumers seek consistent, relevant and contextual interactions, traditional store associate roles are changing dramatically. Compensation and broadening career paths for in-store associates in parallel with their broadening responsibilities is becoming the norm. Best-in-class retailers have programs in place to recognize talent, invest in career growth, and cross-pollinate expertise to break down the silos inherent in our traditional non-omni organizational structures.  After all, it’s extremely difficult to support a seamless customer journey when we are not seamless ourselves. Career pathing outside of traditional frontline operations is an increasing practice that is helping deliver that seamless end-to-end capability.   

    Our frontline grocery associates can’t read people’s minds, but when properly equipped they can understand their intentions and satisfy their needs. Whether it’s a single channel or omni-channel interaction, customers think and care about their intentions, not channels. The store associate is the last foot of retail, the last touch-point to satisfy those intentions.  Empowering associates with tools, information, support and incentives to deliver exceptional in-store experiences that not just meet, but exceed, online experiences is a reachable target that many leading retailers are heading toward today. As Sam Walton once said, “There is only one boss: the customer. And he or she can fire everyone in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.” Let’s give our customers, who’ve always been our bosses, what they are asking for.  

    David Stover is global head of B2C omni-channel commerce, solution management, at hybris

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