Engage Employees to Enhance the Omnichannel Retail Experience

Retailers need new omnichannel strategies to create a seamless shopping experience across in-store and online channels. A digitally enhanced store experience can give retail chains a big advantage over online-only competitors.

But sales associates desperately need new tools, policies, and training to engage with digitally savvy customers, who have increased service expectations. Meeting these expectations requires a new approach to communications and training in the workplace—communication that is timely, trackable, and easy to use.

Here's why:

Seven in 10 employees say they would rather work for a small to midsize company because the communication and collaboration are better. They feel more connected to the company leadership. In fact, 64 percent of workers say that communication bottlenecks negatively affect productivity, according to the Workplace Communications Impact Survey. For example, not knowing how to handle the return of an online purchase in-store will create a negative situation for both the customer and employee. Yet employees too often report that they don't hear about new policies, procedures, and programs after they are launched because the information is not readily available and they don't know where to look.

Digital media can help with these issues. "Traditional" communication was top to bottom and usually stayed within silos of groups, teams, or divisions. There was little in the way of idea sharing and cross-functional knowledge sharing.

In the omnichannel world, retailers must provide information in a continuous stream that employees can consume using the device or method best for their situation. Content needs to be created with the goal of sharing—having something go "viral" is an added bonus. Even if content remains internal, having employees interact with their peers about products or services enhances everyone's know-how and sales savvy, leading to better customer care.

The information also needs to be informative rather than authoritative. It should lay out the vision and how this program, policy, or procedure will make the employee and store more successful. Creating a culture where employees expect timely and concise information and where they are comfortable contributing to the message will enhance the omnichannel experience.

It will also help enhance loyalty and reduce churn. Employee engagement is more than just a by-product of training; it is the emotional commitment employees make to the organization's goals. Author Kevin Kruse wrote that "when employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. In other words, they are willing to go the extra mile."

For example, engaged employees ensure that a customer returning an item bought online is received with a smile, shown options to replace the returned item, and provided great customer service. They offer the ship-to-store customer an option to view additional accessories or services that will enhance the purchase and increase store revenue. This engagement creates a sense of pride and a shared vision of success among store employees.

Replacing an employee has a real impact on costs. A $10-an-hour store associate can cost $3,000 to replace, according to industry statistics; with a greater than 50 percent turnover annually in the retail sector, this translates into a significant drag on a retailer's bottom line. Engaged employees are far less likely to change jobs if they are contributing, participating, and feeling appreciated.

Entertainment Versus Education

Content delivery should possess an entertainment or engagement factor that will draw the employee into the message and have a greater impact. Some call it "edutainment."

A key factor to consider when planning the message is to keep the content compelling and concise, available in "bite-size" chunks. When creating a video, keep it around five minutes or less; for a static visual, make sure the viewer gets the primary message within the first two to three seconds of viewing.

Also, be sure to inject humor—it will make your message more memorable. But don't let the humor overshadow the message. And when displaying the message (video or static) for multiple days or weeks, consider having alternate versions of the content so viewers see something fresh. This will increase the likelihood of multiple views and improved retention.

Creating engaging content does not necessarily require large production budgets and external agency support. With today's powerful personal devices and tools, it's relatively easy to create visually engaging messages. Indeed, cutting-edge retailers are taking advantage of grassroots, user-contributed content from employees and customers to enhance their content pool. Creating contests and encouraging submissions of employee-created content can create an engaging message, using "real" people to help make the point. This further reduces the costs and greatly enhances the appeal of the content.

Expanding programs and in-store services to build an omnichannel retail experience for consumers starts with informing, educating, and motivating the face of the company—the front-line employees.

Mike Tippets is vice president of Hughes Global Media Solutions Group, a division of Hughes Network Systems.

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