In most retail organizations, front line employees are the people who deal with customers the most. When you deal with individual consumers, service and price become key factors in the buying decisions those consumers make. And retail organizations are not only competing against other physical organizations, they also have online competitors. There are many examples where consumers have used a physical store to find out the details of a certain product and then have gone online or to the competitor down the road to buy the product. Customers might use your resources to determine what they want to buy, but they might buy it elsewhere.
You’ve got to offer that customer something they can’t get online, something they can’t get in another store, something they can’t get elsewhere. One of the things an Internet store can’t provide is comfort and validation. The customer wants a recommendation given by someone knowledgeable so he or she feels like they’re making the right decision.
Online stores try to replicate this need for validation with product reviews and testimonials. Those attempts can’t replicate the comfort level received when an expert confirms that something is the right product for that consumer based on their specific set of circumstances. Retail companies need to offer knowledgeable, friendly staff that can make consumer recommendations and give consumers comfort that they’re making the right decision.
Here are some keys to operational excellence in retail:
- Having an effective hiring and retention process. Treating employees well and being the place where people want to work is essential.
- Hiring employees who are strong at relationship building and can build rapport quickly with different kinds of customers. It helps dramatically when your employees are passionate about your organization and what it offers to customers.
- Empower employees to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer. Power in retail organizations needs to be decentralized because you only have a few moments with a customer. How the employee behaves with that customer and the judgment they use will determine how loyal that customer becomes.
- Employees need to take ownership for success and failure. Retail organizations should have a culture of accountability. With the empowerment to make decisions also comes the accountability for the outcomes of those decisions.
- Alignment between the strategy of the overall organization and the work that front-line employees do is also important. Employees need to know how their behavior can impact the direction of the organization so that they can perform in a way that is consistent with what is expected of them.
In retail, operational excellence happens on the front line, so that is where top people need to be. They are the face of the organization. What face do you want your customers to see?
We always seem to be discussing how to manage the new generation of workers. The ones who enter the work force with no supposed loyalty to their companies and an entitlement to live a balanced life. But what about the most experienced workers? Why is no one talking about them?
These are the employees who have a great deal of knowledge about the organization, its customers, and the industry as a whole. But we don’t often talk about these employees except when discussing the huge demographic shift that is happening. These employees will be leaving their organizations within the next 5-10 years, so we tend to focus on what’s next. How do we effectively develop the next generation of workers?
So why do we overlook these employees, even though they still work for us? Because we think of these experienced workers as dinosaurs who are out of date with the current realities of the business world and stuck in their old ways. It is so difficult to get them to change their ways, so why bother? In some cases, that will be true, that the more experienced workers will not want to change. But in many cases, it’s simply not true. Here are some ideas on how to maximize the value of these more experienced workers, even those that don’t want to change:
- Ask if there are any initiatives they would like to lead – Many experienced workers still have the desire to learn new skills and lead new initiatives. Identify those with the best potential and give them an opportunity to lead.
- Offer them mentoring opportunities – As many workers get more experienced, they shift their mindset from ‘doer’ to ‘teacher.’ Give them opportunities to mentor new employees or high potential leaders. This will allow them to contribute to the organization in new and creative ways.
- Train them in new roles – Some experienced workers are actually ready and willing to make a change. Find a new role where they can be more valuable. 5-10 years is still a long way away, so investing in their development will not be a wasted effort.
- Offer them early retirement – For those that really don’t want to change, offer them an easy out. Give the next person in line the opportunity to make their mark on the organization. Everyone will benefit.
- Have them train apprentices – Even if your experienced workers don’t want to take on formal mentoring opportunities, always have them train other people on what they know, so that knowledge is not lost. Knowledge management will become more important so you need to capture all of that relevant knowledge.
- Help them find other jobs – If your experienced workers are no longer a good fit for your organization, then help them find new roles elsewhere. They have been loyal to your organization for a long time, so it is time for you to show loyalty to them and support them on their new endeavours.
As you can see, there are many different options to ensure experienced workers continue to add value to your organization. Don’t just focus on the demographic shift, also focus on the people you still have. How will you maximize the value of these experienced workers?