Despite the fact that store teams are the ‘face’ of retail, many businesses aren’t investing enough in their frontline staff to gain a competitive edge, according to Mita Bedi, CEO of Resonate Solutions, a customer experience management platform.
“People talk about data, they talk about strategy, they talk about technology – they don’t talk about the frontline,” Bedi said. “But successful retailers depend on frontline staff to deliver their strategy.”
More than 1.3 million people work in retail in Australia, and just over half are classified as full or part-time sales workers, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Sales staff are not only responsible for store operations – from unpacking stock to processing transactions – but also providing knowledgeable advice about the business’ products and services and responding to customers’ needs with care and understanding.
It’s a critically important role, and when done right, it can lead to top-line growth.
“We’ve all walked into a store where the frontline worker is focused on listening to us and helping us solve our problem,” Bedi said. “It makes you want to buy something and continue shopping there because you were left with an emotional connection.”
But this kind of customer experience doesn’t just happen naturally. Retailers need to enable their frontline staff with the right information and incentives to prioritise customer service, rather than sales targets, which often result in store teams simply flogging product.
“It’s really about rewarding the right behaviour, which is delivering exceptional customer service,” Bedi said. “Once you start focusing on the customer, the revenue just comes.”
What are the right information and incentives?
Customer feedback is critical to providing a great customer experience, but it can’t just sit in the head office. Store teams need access to this information to understand what’s working and what isn’t, so they can adapt accordingly.
“Successful organisations are reading customer feedback on a daily basis. Every morning, they come in and read what happened in yesterday’s service. They’re actually thirsty for it,” Bedi said.
Whether it’s good or bad, customer feedback can help retailers make concrete changes to improve the store experience.
“It’s about enabling the frontline with intelligence, so they’re constantly making small, micro decisions to improve,” she said.
Beyond that, it can also help frontline workers connect with customers on a more personal level. This is key, since today’s workers aren’t interested in simply punching a clock, they want their jobs to have meaning.
“Good retailers are seeing the value of emotionally connecting their staff with their customers,” Bedi said.
“You can’t keep beating people with a stick and saying, ‘do this’, or vice versa, you can’t keep dangling carrots and saying, ‘here’s your commission goal’. People want purpose, they want to see that they’re helping people.”
Hearing how a customer’s experience in-store helped them feel more confident going into a job interview, or made a special occasion more memorable, creates empathy, according to Bedi.
“A lot of companies are saying they want to create customer empathy. Great, but how do you do it? If you were hearing stories about how you impacted the lives of everyday people, you could not help but feel empathy,” she said.
Creating customer empathy might not be at the top of every retailer’s list of priorities, but it should be, according to Bedi.
“This is not just a nice-to-have. We work with some of Australia’s biggest retailers that have gone on to beat market expectations and revenue numbers,” she said.
“These are ASX-listed companies that have been able to beat market expectations for years in a very competitive environment, while other retailers have disappeared and not been able to compete.”
The overarching lesson?
“Frontline execution is crucial in retail, and the more you provide bite-sized information to frontline workers, the more success is found.”
Talk to Resonate Solutions to understand how to empower frontline workers to improve the customer experience.