Skip to content
Microsoft Industry Blogs

Frontline worker achieving in retail work space using Surface.

Four out of five customers who walk into a store often know nearly everything about the products they intend to buy. It makes sense, then, that the person guiding them through the purchase process should be just as knowledgeable, says Retail Prophet founder Doug Stephens.

Stephens, who hosted the webinar “The Five Most Important Decisions Facing Today’s Retail CEOs” digs deep into the complex relationship that has begun to emerge between employee and customer.

“They want people who are dynamic problem solvers, people that are fundamentally equipped to add value to their experience, and make that experience much, much more expeditious and frictionless,” Stephens says of consumers. “Retailers are coming to recognize that the days of the low-level or entry-level frontline clerk are over.”

This means employees must know enough to provide guidance on products and their availability. If you think about it, there’s no longer any excuse whatsoever for bad products or a bad experience. That’s a real miss for a retailer. If they can’t arm their associates with the same data and knowledge as their consumers, it’s going to result in a poor customer experience.

So what does an empowered employee look like? First, it’s passion for the product.

“There’s really more of a defined position around being a brand ambassador,” Stephens says. “People who are product fanatics who love what they sell and love talking to other people about those products.”

But also, Stephens adds, it’s about making sure an employee is “equipped to solve the consumer’s problem and is empowered to do so by the organization that they work for.”

An associate could offer discounts, promotions, or a range of other options that works for consumer, employee and retailer alike. When you’ve got happy employees, you’ve got happy customers.

But don’t just empower employees with data—make sure the communication flow throughout the company really is seamless and integrated. They need to have the passion to deliver a great customer experience.

Also, Stephens says, decent pay and other perks are important, but career growth and opportunity, especially through training and education, are equally so. Given that we’re hardly separated from our phones, mobile training is perfect not just for education, but for onboarding. Think micro-learning, “breaking bigger topics up into smaller modules that people can tackle on the go.”

Also, in an era when it appears that the gap has widened between the shop floor and the executive levels, Stephens suggests adopting methodologies to help associates advance.

“The rungs of the ladder to the corner office seem to be going away,” Stephens says. “Organizations need to be finding new ways helping them to grow.”

Finally, stores should improve the relationship between associate and customer using loyalty programs that help an employee know an individual’s preferences to personalize the experience—preferably right when the customer enters the store.

Every employee at British retailer Marks & Spencer, for example, is digitally connected and always knows what’s happening in the store. Customer feedback from the sales floor, whether it’s about a product or experience, all goes right to the head office to allow them to act in a more agile manner.

That’s one way to make the customer feel appreciated in today’s fickle retail environment.

To learn more about how you can reimagine your retail experience, watch the on-demand webinar The Five Most Important Decisions Facing Today’s Retail CEOs which Stephens shares these insights and more on the changing trends in retail.