The 5 question self-assessment: Is your workforce delivering the experience your customers expect?
Posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
In a whitepaper presented jointly by Axsium and Empathica, entitled “Focusing Your Workforce on The Moment of Truth,” we examine the survey findings of the Empathica Consumer Insights Panel on the impact of workforce management and customer experience. The following article is an excerpt of the third section of the whitepaper and provides a five question self-assessment to help retailers identify opportunities to have their workforce deliver the experience their customers’ expect.
Section 3 – A 5 Question Self-Assessment – What Can You Do?
Consumers clearly have strong opinions about how retail associates impact their customer experience. Knowledgeable, engaged, enthusiastic and available associates single-handedly influence the experience more than any other attribute. For a retailer to deliver a legendary customer experience, their workforce must consistently exhibit the right behaviors and flawlessly execute all activities and tasks. Clearly, this is easier said than done.
We have developed a five question self-assessment to help retailers identify opportunities to have their workforce deliver the experience their customers’ expect.
1. How much labor is required to deliver a legendary customer experience and do we have the budget for it?
Many retailers cannot answer this question. This is because many retailers manage labor as a percentage of sales or to sales per labor hour (SPLH). While this ensures that labor costs are constrained, it does not consider how much labor is actually required to perform the work that needs to be done. It does not answer the first part of the question: how much labor is required to deliver a legendary customer experience?
To accurately understand how much labor is required, a retailer needs to develop labor standards. A labor standard definitively states how much time it takes the average associate to perform a given task. Developed correctly, labor standards are statistically accurate and accommodate variations such as locale, store format, and seasonality. By understanding the labor standards for each task that is performed in its stores, a retailer can accurately predict how much labor is required for each activity, job, and department given a certain level of demand.
With labor standards, a retailer can compare how much labor is required to deliver a desired customer experience to its budget to answer the second part of the question above: Is it financially feasible to deliver a legendary customer experience? In most cases, it will be, but if it is not, labor standards can help identify activities and tasks that can be streamlined, reduced or eliminated to ensure that budget is available for what is most important.
If you can’t answer this question or answered “no”, then do this:
Contact your labor standards provider to begin either updating or validating your current labor standards. If you don’t have labor standards in place, now is the time to start charting that path. Up-to-date and accurate labor standards will tell you how much labor is required to deliver a legendary customer experience and provide you with a means to identify activities that can be eliminated or reduced fit your desired customer experience into your budget.
2. Do our associates have the right skills to succeed?
What makes a successful sales associate or store manager? Is it strong personal skills? An eye for detail? Deep product knowledge? In touch with the latest trends or gadgets? Creative problem solving? While some attributes are consistent across retail, the specific skills and competencies of the most successful associates will vary based on the customer experience that a particular retailer wants to deliver.
For most retailers, the answers to these questions are not clear cut. When dealing with a large workforce, the answer lies in understanding what percentage of the workforce has the skills and competencies to be successful, if that percentage is acceptable, and if not, what can be done to improve it.
The good news is that you can rely on science to find the answers. By using surveys and statistical modeling, a Success Profile can be created that objectively describes the attributes of people most likely to be ‘A’ players in a given role. A Talent Audit can be conducted that compares the skills and competencies of an existing retail workforce through to quantify its strengths and weaknesses. The output of this process forms the basis for future training, recruiting and staffing strategies allowing retailers to move the needle on the quality of their workforce and increase their ability to deliver a legendary customer experience.
If you answered “no” or could not answer this question, then do this:
Contact your workforce management or human capital management consulting partner and discuss how to create Success Profiles and Talent Audits for your workforce. These tools provide the insight you need to answer this question and establish a strategy to ensure that you have the right people in the right jobs.
3. Do our associates understand the customer journey, behaviors and activities that we expect?
Having associates with the right skills is one thing, but do they know the right things to do? Do they understand the customer experience that their retail employer is trying to deliver? While all retailers provide some degree of training to their associates, much of it is focused on the basic things like how to operate the till, the proper way to fold a shirt, or when to clean the bathrooms. Some of it is focused on product knowledge or soft-skills (e.g., ask open ended questions). Very little, if any, formal training is focused on the customer experience. Without such training, the answer to the question above is a resounding “no”.
There are two effective methods to deliver customer experience training: e-learning and playbooks.
- E-learning stands for “electronic learning” and is sometimes referred to as online learning or computer-based training. It has been around for a long time, and as with most technologies, it continues to improve at a rapid pace. Current e-learning solutions are rich, interactive, multimedia training environments that improve knowledge retention at significantly lower costs than traditional instructor-led training. Many retailers already use e-learning and it provides a strong platform for customer experience training. Videos, interactive presentations, and self-assessments help consistently explain customer demographics, their journey, and the role of the associate in the customer experience.
- Think of playbooks as the “CliffsNotes™” version of your customer experience. Targeted at in-store associates, a playbook is a small brochure or booklet that fits neatly into a shirt or apron pocket. It reinforces and reminds the workforce of the behaviors they should demonstrate and the activities that they should perform to successfully engage and support a customer.
If you answered “no”, then do this:
A comprehensive training program is critical to enabling your associates to provide a legendary customer experience with each and every point of contact. Contact a knowledgeable training provider that is well versed in workforce management and has a background in customer experience management.
4. Do our schedules accurately align our available staff to customer demand?
As our data shows, when customers are effectively engaged by sales associates conversion rates and/or basket sizes increase. Yet, too often, managers use experience or gut instinct to estimate when customer demand will peak and how much labor is required to meet that demand. Certainly, the corporate office provides guidance as to sales, transaction and/or traffic volume each store should expect in a given week or even by day of week. Yet, managers still have to guess when demand will ebb and flow throughout the day.
Predicting the details of customer demand is both difficult and time consuming when done by hand. So, many managers use the same schedule week after week making small adjustments based on new and departing associates, time-off requests, and corporate driven tasks such as inventory or training. They think, “we’ve met our sales targets before and we’ve worked this schedule, so it surely should work just fine.” The reality is that customer demand evolves and changes. These changes mean that a schedule that met demand one week will not meet the demand the next.
Today’s labor forecasting and scheduling software automates this complex process and improves the results. It accurately forecasts customer demand to the quarter hour and schedules qualified and available associates to meet that demand. Large retailers have used this type of sophisticated software for decades. The solutions on the market today have matured and improved to the point that they are accessible for retailers regardless of size.
If you answered “no”, then do this:
The advantages to deploying forecasting and scheduling tools are many, most notably the improved ability to align staff to customer demand. Automated scheduling untethers your managers from the back office and gets them on the floor interacting with associates and customers. Reach out to a reputable workforce management software provider or consultant for more information.
5. Do you have a way to measure and validate the impact of your workforce strategy on your customer experience?
A Russian proverb made popular by US President Ronald Reagan during the Cold War says “doveryai, no proveryai” or “trust, but verify”. Once a retailer knows the relative importance of each attribute in the customer experience, and where the key “moments of truth” are on the customer journey, it is critical that the service elements around these attributes are executed upon consistently by associates. This is why a CEM program must do much more than merely report on customer feedback; it must prescribe solutions and provide a feedback loop with real customers acting as the auditors to ensure the changes and recommendations are being properly executed.
A store manager may only spend 10 minutes with associates at the beginning of a shift, but it is a critical time to set the tone for their day. It is critical that staff focus on what is most important to the customers and will have the biggest impact on their perception of the quality of the experience. In our experience we have found that retail stores can only focus on fixing 1-3 things at a time in the store. The loyalty model and prescriptive reports from the CEM program help ensure that these are always the right things to improve the customer experience.
Aligning associate action with what drives loyalty among the customer base obviously makes good business sense in terms of corporate focus, but with a CEM program, there is another benefit as organizational learning can be applied across stores and best practice sharing can be integrated into the solution. This ensures that brand standards are consistently executed across associates, shifts and stores.
If you answered “no”, then do this:
Contact your CEM provider to discuss how your CEM program can ensure that your workforce strategy is aligned to your customer experience goals, and how it can provide solutions in areas in which deficiencies are identified.
To learn how to deliver a legendary customer experience through your workforce, download the full whitepaper “Focusing Your Workforce on the Moment of Truth.”
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