Frontline employees are the heartbeats of their brands. They are also one of the biggest advantages brick and mortar has over online retail today.
The job of the retail associate has changed a lot in recent years thanks to technology. With omnichannel now every customer’s expectation, brands are replacing their old systems with modern platforms and mobile solutions. These changes may feel scary at the organizational level – especially given the number of business areas they’ll touch – but the fear can be minimized if you invest in training.
(We touched on retail tech being scary in a previous post on change management.)
The Need for Training
From the tech side, the reason for implementing something new is usually to enable employees to become more effective and productive in their jobs. After all, when associates perform at their highest level, the result is happy customers and profitable stores. But not all technology is created equal. The processes and workflows are bound to be different, and you can’t assume your employees will know how to facilitate a transaction from one point-of-sale to the next.
Your employees desire to be trained. However, many are lacking the development opportunities they want. According to a recent study on frontline workplace training, a third of retail associates do not receive any formal training – a number that is even higher (36%) for part-time workers.
We know that training the field has long been a challenge in retail. It’s hard to centralize information and control messages. The approach also changes from launch to ongoing support. The scope is vastly different when you train all employees at once then when you train new hires or train employees on new features.
So, how can you appropriately train your frontline employees when you introduce new technology? Here we outline five important things to remember.
Start by addressing the reason for the change
If you simply show your employees the step-by-step of how to complete a task, your training is going to fail. You need to be front and center with the why as opposed to making it all about the technology. This brings us back to the first step in change management: Aligning on the change.
Make sure your entire staff understands how the new system aligns with the strategic needs and objectives of the organization. And circle back to the key benefits for the store associate and the customer. You can likely accomplish this in an introductory video that engages and excites the trainees. The content doesn’t need to be long or complicated, but it does need to address the positive changes each job can expect.
Employ the most appropriate trainers
Your training may experience hiccups if you don’t strategically think about who is delivering it. Not everyone can be the trainer. You want leaders who are versed in the key areas of change management, can tune the training scenarios to include both basic and edge cases, and are privy to the operational policies and procedures for each process flow.
This is why a train-the-trainer scenario is always a good idea. It may be an in-house activity or it may be vendor-to-customer. Either way, use it to gather anticipated questions from the field and build a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document. This will ensure your trainers are prepared to develop, plan and deliver high-quality training.
Cover training topics in many ways
As the workplace demographics change, so too do training best practices. While in-person training appeals to most age groups, 30% of employees prefer a blend of in-person and digital. They’re not too different than today’s omnichannel shoppers that favor various channels.
Visual and interactive training in retail is critical. Short, topical how-to video modules work well for high-level information but you need to demonstrate the navigation. Where on the screen are taps happening? What are the key steps required for each flow? If you can’t show this on video, with a screencast or through instructional documentation, teach it live. Put the actual tech into the hands of your associates so they can get used to the logic and role play.
Identify your key power users
After you’ve gone through launch training, you need to pinpoint who at each store will be the go-to expert for the new technology. It’s likely some associates will pick up the system more quickly than others. Tag your best associates as mentors. They can help their fellow employees troubleshoot problems as they occur, in addition to encouraging adoption. You may also want to ask your power users for their input in defining case scenarios for continued education.
Further, think about having an internal incentive program to motivate employees to take on the expert role. People tend to work harder and show more excitement when there’s something sweetening the experience.
Make training materials accessible
Technology platforms are not static – there are always updates being made to improve usability and maximize potential. For this reason, you need to have a single source of truth for all training materials. If it’s not a learning management system (LMS), try a shared drive that can be accessed from all stores. Most important is that it’s available at any time as a reference or for a refresher.
To sum it up, when used correctly, technology can really empower store employees. If your staff isn’t able to make the buying experience seamless for the shopper, they will get frustrated and shop somewhere else. Minimize shopper friction with training. It’s worth it.
Michelle Focarazzo is VP of Retail Excellence at NewStore. Most recently she was Director, Clienteling and Technology-Based Selling at Hudson’s Bay Company. Prior to that, she held positions in customer experience and HR/training and development at Saks Fifth Avenue, Elie Tahari and Barneys New York.