Living On the Retail Frontline

Retail frontline staff

As retail reopens, retailers will want to ensure that their staff get the training and support they need to deliver great customer experience whilst keeping them compliant, engaged and motivated, says Fabrice Haiat, CEO of YOOBIC

Within days of the first lockdown being announced on March 23, 2020, UK consumers made an immediate dash for their nearest supermarket to stock up on items that they felt were essential to the coming siege.

At the same time, frontline employees came to understand what extreme service could actually look like as customers asked for help on a bewildering array of topics – from where is the toilet roll, to will this product definitely kill the virus on my hands. In their heightened state, many consumers also added some stress and even aggression to the mix, resulting later in March and into April to physical and verbal abuse on staff.

A year later, and consumers are still in a heightened state. Even allowing for nearly half the UK adult population now being vaccinated, consumer behaviour has changed dramatically, in some cases possibly permanently. And in store their expectations have been transformed; always demanding and fickle, post-pandemic consumer will continue to want to feel safe and secure in store.

They will expect all the new products that they tried for the first time during lockdown to be available. They will expect store staff to have an intimate understanding of products, their uses, their nutritional value and their ideal meal pairing. And all the while expecting the best prices and overall service.

Frontline staff are now faced with the twin challenges of serving this new customer as well as managing all their operational tasks, many of which continue to change at a moment’s notice as retail struggles to define a new normal.

However, according to research Yoobic undertook among 1,000 frontline employees in the US, Canada and UK, many may not be equipped to deliver a perfect safety and customer experience. Investment in human capital has been made disproportionately into office-based rather than frontline employees with the result that they lack either the training or the tools to feel fully empowered in their roles.

The research majored on five areas.

Frontline employees feel disconnected from their company and peers

34% of frontline employees feel this disconnect while 54% receive communications via email, the least personal of all outreach. The end result is they then also feel disconnected to customers. One important clue to changing this dynamic comes from the finding that 76% would feel more connected if they could access company communications on a mobile device. The would enable them to start a conversation, contribute to the organisation and feel their voice is valued.

Frontline employees feel undervalued and insufficiently trained

40% of frontline employees report being trained only once a year or less, which simply adds to their feeling of being unrecognised and undervalued where in fact, training is more important than ever as the pandemic continues to bring change into the store environment. How training is delivered is also critical as 58% of employees said the most important thing about training is that it’s engaging and fun.

Training should be frequent, engaging and accessible and available whenever and wherever employees need it, which is why mobile learning makes sense. It should be kept short, so as to deliver key messages that sink in and then reinforced using social with gamification.

Frontline employees need digitized tasks to be more productive

Frontline work is typically task and process-driven, but 73% of employees are still using paper forms and, as a digital generation, they know full well that this is not good for productivity (71% think digitized processes and tasks would make them more productive).

With all the paper comes multiple tools including email, Excel and PowerPoint where it makes much more sense to condense everything into one mobile platform. The risk of errors is removed, employees enjoy ticking off tasks and they work more closely as a team.

Mobile devices: underused tools for frontline employee empowerment

The research highlighted an obvious conclusion which is that going mobile is a no brainer. Employees want it – 70% think app-based training would be easier and after all, 59% already use a mobile device at work and are using their own apps with facility all the time.

Millennial frontline employees are the most dissatisfied

In the research, 34% of millennial frontline employees reported a lack of career growth, vs 17% for other age groups. Given that it is estimated that millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, the way forward is clearly to embrace digital channels and devices for these digital natives.

For millennials, digital is the ideal work tool, training manual, feedback loop and reinforcer of positive behaviour. However, alongside all these qualities must be added simplicity in design of the workplace processes, training and reporting, and that means presenting information in a way that’s highly visual, easy to digest and interactive.

Many frontline employees will feel nervous about going back to work, so the employer that can support them with the same tools, apps and interfaces that they use every day will see productivity rise and the smiling faces of happy customers prove that great service is being given.