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For a majority of retailers, more often than not, the words associated with retail store managers and associates point to a strong affinity towards words like ‘productivity’, ‘asset’ and/or ‘empowerment’. However, in reality, 1 in 2 retailers rate themselves at par or behind their competitors in terms of two critical store execution yardsticks – customer engagement/sales and product knowledge of store staff (source: EKN’s Next Gen Retail Employee Engagement & Empowerment study). The obvious question: Why are the top of mind values and beliefs associated with store staff and execution in the store so difficult to pair together for consistent results?

Retailers are well aware of the fact that developing the right labor budgets, effective staffing models and relevant task lists can only go so far to solve customer experience problems in the store. At best, most retailers are able to provide a working model for the store staff that is barely enough to get by, yet cannot solve the continued customer-centricity, inventory and store-presentation related problems. The key to a successful store execution model lies in the three practical concepts of business execution outlined below. Let’s review each of these concepts one-by-one.

Retailers need to quickly develop a blueprint for profitable store execution by disrupting current staffing, merchandising, location-messaging and execution models in the store with new customer service, store staff reward and recognition models. Retailers that operate different store formats including flagship, outlet, big-box and express stores need to ask a simple question to their financial and store operations teams: Based on the business forecasting models, do you believe that a majority of our stores will be in business in 5 years from now? If the answer is ‘no’, then digital retail will have a stronger role to play and some stores will need to go away forever. If the answer is ‘yes’, retail HQ and store teams need to figure out the game-plan. This game-plan requires the retailers to create new customer service models that always delight customers and get the operational job done most, if not all, of the time.

If such a new customer service model requires phased transformation of stores into a quick-service restaurant-style customer experience centers then so be it but current staffing, merchandising, location messaging and overall operational execution models must change. Each old and new store process, as part of the 4 key pillars of order management, associate knowledge, sales effectiveness and inventory management, must be viewed as vital cogs in the larger customer experience management model. As part of this 4-pillar strategy, the successful processes must be repeated for stronger customer performance across all stores and at all times. When stores comply, they need to be rewarded handsomely using the consulting firm style ‘partner-reward’ model and if they are unable to comply their staff needs to go through complete re-training and a process and tool refresh. It is about time that stores are not termed as the proverbial ‘stepchild’ and treated like ‘strategic business units’.

Engaged store associates are masters of customer service and they need a free rein to ‘surprise and delight’ customers with unique assisted selling, clienteling or operational skills. It would be fantastic if such processes are carried out by using technology. If not, being hands-on and manual every once in while is not such a bad thing if it delights the customer. Such a service culture needs advanced prototyping towards new-age customer check-in, real-time enquiry, and delivery systems such as rapid four-way (online- call center-in-store-mobile app) order integration, click-and-collect, curb-side pickups, on-demand at home delivery via third-parties, fulfilment lockers, flash sales, rapid access to digital loyalty, and wish-lists among other processes.

There is no nirvana stage or prescriptive guide for an engaged manager-associate-customer culture. It is called surprise, delight and downright honest 24/7 x 365 customer service through managers and associates who should be armed with more than adequate customer information, solutions to lots of great questions, innovative execution programs and a lot of great product/service suggestions for customers.

Most of all, it is time to tell the store teams that they are a strategic business unit and that getting the job done right for the customer is the only reason for being in business. At the end of the day, executing services for customers with or without the glitzy technology tools and gizmos is purely a circumstantial act. Getting the job done with technology would be great. But when asked to do without it, the answer from great store managers and associates will always be a resounding ‘yes’. Let’s try it…

To discuss this topic and other retail or consumer industry issues, you can follow us on Twitter @sahiranand or @EKNResearch or email me at sanand@edgellmail.com.