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Frontline Multichannel

From the Editor-in-Chief

From the Editor-in-Chief

While we consider the store and the physical dimensions of multichannel in this issue, Ian Jindal considers the vital role of frontline staff in delivering the multichannel vision and experience to our customers.

L AST WEEK, I found myself in Birmingham and walking from Birmingham New Street to Selfridges’ impressive store I was left in no doubt about the scale of investment in the city centre and the important role of the store in retail. “Iconic” is an overused word, but the ‘blobitecture’ triumph of the Future Systems architectural design holds a real promise to the customer of an extraordinary experience ahead.

Even as the online and physical stores align ever-closer, and digital drives increasing numbers of customers in store, it is the frontline staff who bring the proposition to life. Major retailers understand this and are investing in their frontline colleagues, who now carry the expectations of the customer and brand, in the face of increasing challenges.

In the first instance, store staff are dealing with a very knowledgeable customer. Forrester’s recent Technographics survey shows that 26% of customers research products on Amazon before visiting a store, and 16% have checked the product on a competitor’s website beforehand. The customer arrives in-store armed with product, pricing and availability knowledge that can rival that of a non-specialist.

That knowledgeable customer is also a connected customer. With her mobile in-hand she is intolerant of store staff who know less than she does, often cross-shopping and comparing competitor offers and availability in front of our sales staff. Our customer expects our colleagues to be able to add to her own empowered capabilities: know more about the product, understand how to sell them, to create desire and certainty, and also be able to “drive” the whole business – order management and orchestration, customer service, payment, marketing and promotional messages and everything about our brand.

In short, our frontline colleagues have to exemplify the best of our brand, in all its facets, across all activities and touch points, while also making, saving and growing sales. Two years ago these would be new expectations. Now, our staff are smartphone-touting, iPad waving, social heroes themselves. They want to do more and are waiting to be liberated by the business. Take Rose, whom I met last week, as an example. A beauty advisor, she posts to instagram every morning her day’s makeup. She has over 3,500 followers who ask for tips on colour, brands and style. She is engaged with customers and a source of expertise in the business, not limited to one shift and one store. Rose typifies the empowered, capable and committed colleague that makes our brands more than the bricks and clicks alone.

I have been privileged to work over the last year or so with two great retailers, M&S and Selfridges , on the briefing and culture change programmes to get all working together. Rather than a top-down “get with the programme” approach, the transformation in frontline service is based upon liberating knowledge, enthusiasm and abilities.

What are the ingredients to engaging our frontline teams? Open communication is a foundation – the multichannel plans, channel performance and profitability, and the commercial case for multichannel all need to be openly shared. Next the stores need to link with centralised promotions, initiatives and magazine content (rather than admitting to customers they don’t know what went out in the Summer Fashion email… ouch!). Reward and recognition are key. John Lewis pioneered allocating web sales to stores, thereby removing channel conflict at a sweep, and focusing on customer profitability not channel performance. Ensuring that stores are not penalised for accepting web returns is a linked necessity. Finally we need to ‘kit up’ the staff – wifi, appropriate devices and the confidence and skills to use with customers, and till systems that integrate with digital so that they can drive all business processes.

In return, we’re asking of our staff a level of interest in the broad business offering, to ‘walk the web’ and understand the range of our offer, communications and activity, and to bring that knowledge – together with their stock, process and operational capabilities – together in a point experience for the customer.

As we seek to bring our brands to life beyond the screen and beyond the architecture, it is through permissioning, encouraging and unlocking the energy and passion of our store colleagues that we will create memorable and profitable experiences with our customers.

If you are undertaking a multichannel cultural transformation do let us know your areas of focus and how you’re engaging frontline staff: either by email, via @etail or in the comments online.

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