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The Human Element: Not to Be Forgotten Amid Technological Innovation

Posted on: 14 August '14

As an IT solutions company, it’s natural for Mindtree to follow (and blog about) tech trends that affect the industries we serve. But it would be disingenuous of us to ignore major trends or findings that focus on human rather than technical matters. One such finding came out when RSR recently released their report, What’s in Store for Stores: Benchmark 2014 .

Although the report reveals a nuanced mix of how technology, investment and employee factors all comingle in determining a retailer’s success (or lack thereof), its main insight is that “winning” stores are more likely to focus on improving the effectiveness of their employees by making them more productive, empowered and educated on how to engage with shoppers in the store, while “lagging” stores tend to focus on the end result of driving customer growth, but without setting the right tools and processes in place to make employees more productive.

None of this is surprising to us at Mindtree. Our conversations with retailers bear out the same trend, as we see the more successful ones going back to the basics by ensuring that their employees are happy and motivated, thereby ensuring customer satisfaction. Based on our experience, we believe there are some key factors that stores should focus on in order to make sure they’re on the winning side.

Make Store Staff Omni-Channel Aware
More than ever, consumers are starting their interaction with retailers through the store website, mobile app or social media. If store staff is not sufficiently familiar with these channels, it reflects poorly. To ensure a seamless customer experience across channels, stores need to keep employees up to date on what’s happening on other channels. One successful Fortune 500 retailer in the U.S. has seen a lift in store sales through excellent social media integration with their in-store experience, giving store employees the ability to truly improve customer experience.

Technology Training
When retailers spend millions on new in-store technologies that don’t create instant upside, it’s easy to say technology is not the answer after all. However it’s important to not only introduce the right blend of technology and process, but also to make sure employees know how to not just capably use it, but use it to its full advantage and with the end result of making the customer experience better.

Let Data Drive Staff/Customer Interaction
Stores that adopt indoor positioning system technology (such as iBeacon) and combine it with an in-store app that customers like using, will have a wealth of data at their fingertips. Smart retailers will use this customer data in the store in real time, not just by sending shoppers product promotions while they are in that product’s aisle, but by sending them offers for help from an in-store staffer, who can help with product selection, inventory questions, or even packing and carrying items – all leading to higher conversion rates. Best of all, since staffers will know the customer’s name beforehand, this service can be highly personal, which ought to lead to increased satisfaction, loyalty, and evangelism.

Let Technology Handle Grunt Work
Reduce administrative tasks such as paperwork for store employees by moving them outside the store or by using technological solutions. This will allow store employees to spend more time with customers.

With the high employee turnover rates in the retail industry, some retailers might find it difficult to spend a lot of time and effort on improving employee productivity. But we believe that the RSR report correctly links employee satisfaction and productivity with superior retail store performance. It might be worthwhile for “laggards” in this industry to take notice.

Reference Link: What’s In Store for Stores? Benchmark Report 2014 – RSR, 6/19/2014

Vijay Balakrishnan

Vijay is General Manager and Head of the Retail Practice in North America at Mindtree. Over his 19 year career, he has worked extensively with several Fortune 500 Retailers, helping them implement and manage IT projects across functions such as Supply chain, HR, Finance, Retail operations and Merchandising. In his current role, he manages the Retail portfolio of accounts in North America and is also responsible for new account growth. Vijay has a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Bangalore University and an MBA from the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business.