As we look forward to sponsoring and participating at NRF 2018 Retail's Big Show next week, it raises some interesting questions about how Retail training differs from other industries — particularly in light of the unquestionably dramatic changes that the industry has undergone in the last several years.
The NRF event refers to these recent changes as "retail transformation," also setting that term as this year's overarching theme. The show's mission, in fact, is to confront head-on the "...opportunity for the industry to look at bold new directions in competing and succeeding amid a constantly changing market."
Surely, learning and development is one of the areas ripe for discussion, analysis, and action.
Take for example that Forrester predicted online sales to account for 17% of all US retail sales by 2022, up from a projected 12.7% in 2017 (Online Retail Forecast).
Training in this new age of Retail means meeting the learning needs of online associates as well as traditional in-store workers. While some skill sets in those two groups will overlap, significant others will not. Phone and chat etiquette can't sufficiently be taught in the same course as face-to-face service excellence. That's one example, but by and large, it's a sea change for L&D departments accustomed to traditional training methods and a one-size-fits-all model for sales associates.
NOTE: For the purpose of this post, we'll focus on sales associates, although they are certainly not the only ones in need of training in this brave new world of retail business. Perhaps a next post should be "Leadership Development in Retail" because managers and executives will also have to make some major mindset shifts to survive and thrive in the years ahead.
To drive employee performance and retention for both in-store and online reps, here are our Top Four Ways to Drive Learning in the New World of Retail:
- Engagement is the holy grail. For an industry with famously high turnover rates (upwards of 30% annually), engaging employees in their work is key. First, highly engaged employees don't tend to quit. Why would they? They're enjoying the work, personal satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment. Unless they're approached by a more appealing competitor, these associates are your best brand ambassadors and you should treat them like the gold they are. Second, engaged employees deliver better customer service. Training and development are a key component to creating engaged employees. You can equip them with the service and technical skills needed to adapt to a rapidly changing retail environment, improve their performance (and perhaps as a result, pay), and deepen their commitment to the company.
- Mostly mobile and micro. Some salespeople may perceive time spent away from selling as time away from being successful and making money. If you can incorporate learning into the day-to-day flow of business by providing it across different devices and keeping lessons short and concise, you make learning a valuable part of the employee experience, while not making it seem daunting or annoying. By making training available on phones and tablets, people can knock out courses on breaks or during slow periods. Consider gamifying micro-course completion or scores to keep them voluntarily coming back to compete in the games with colleagues.
- Killer content on cue. As Retail L&D departments struggle to keep up with the changing tides of the industry, they need to consider off-the-shelf content. There's no need to add more work to the task list and frankly, most of these professionals aren't content creation specialists, especially in the new world of video, animation, and gamification. It's wise to take advantage of content libraries that offer comprehensive packs designed specifically for customer service, with courses such as mastering telephone skills, handling complaints, and identifying customer needs.
- Omni-channel optimization. As referenced above, part of the new challenge for retailers is training online and in-store associates in their specialized areas, but also in the areas that overlap. One sure area of overlap is in brand training, and product and company messaging. Consider that 73% of US consumers report having browsed products online but purchasing those same items in store. It's critical that the messages delivered by the online or chat rep match those of the in-store rep. There's huge value in training your teams across channels to be on message and up on the latest offerings. Use quizzes and assessments to gauge understanding, or have them upload videos or content to show that they know the pitch. This can be a fun, gamified learning opportunity with perks or prizes for the slickest delivery of the company message(s).
If you're attending NRF 2018 Retail's Big Show January 14-16 in New York City, please stop by Booth 1140 to chat about how Litmos can make all of the above much easier!