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Employees must become workforce management focus

Sunday October 14 2012

With an increased focus on exceptional customer service as a competitive differentiator, workforce management systems expert James Freshwater argues that retailers need to place greater emphasis on cultivating greater employee fulfilment

With an increased focus on exceptional customer service as a competitive differentiator, workforce management systems expert James Freshwater argues that retailers need to place greater emphasis on cultivating greater employee fulfilment

 

The classic business case for retail workforce management (WFM) systems tends to centre around two drivers: business returns in the form of lower costs, better top line results and mitigated risk and second, improving the customer offering by provisioning the right numbers of employees to handle demand.

 

These however, according to James Freshwater, executive vice president at WFM systems supplier WorkPlace, are just parts of a puzzle that in isolation will never drive retailers to the next level of competitiveness.

 

“We believe that the ‘right attitude’ needs to be added to the WFM mantra, ‘right people, right place, right time, right skill, right cost,’” he said, “and to the business case, a third driver – employee fulfilment.”

 

Happy staff makes for happier customers

 

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, states in his autobiography: “The way management treat the associates is the way that associates will treat the customer. And if the associates treat the customers well they will return again and again.”

 

Aside from the repeat business alluded to by Walton, Freshwater highlighted thatthe Institute of Customer Service in the UK found that one in four consumers are willing to pay on average 5% more for better customer service. Its chief executive, Jo Causon, said: “In this difficult economic environment, service is the critical differentiator for businesses. To make the most of this, companies need to train and motivate staff to go the extra mile.”

 

Freshwater said a raft of consumer-driven technologies will enable the next generation of WFM to shape a workforce containing motivated, engaged employees that are all pulling in the right direction: “I say ‘will,’” he continued, “but it’s already happening. Some of the world’s leading retailers are already using social media to create two-way communication.”

 

Building flexibility into workforce shifts

 

Shift-bidding for instance via Facebook, Twitter and SMS allows retailers to quickly advertise available shifts and their employees to view, accept or swap on their terms, at a time they choose, using any device they want to. “Everyone wins, with better service for customers, reduced overtime, advanced notice of shift availability and the opportunity for employees to increase earnings,” he continued. “Evidence suggests that employees in particular value this more understanding and flexible approach to shift management.”

 

Another very new development Freshwater highlighted that can increase focus on employees is the ‘gamification’ of retail tasks. He explained: “Making a ‘game’ out of work is not trivial, it is the next step towards the consumerisation of the workplace – set individuals, or departments, or stores with objectives and allocate points based on performance. The accumulation of these points then leads to rewards (virtual badges, vouchers, financial rewards or shares etc.) to cultivate the right attitude.”

 

He added that WorkPlace is working with one retailer that has hired ex-games developers to model technology that sets targets for employees, tracks performance (using mobile devices) and rewards them appropriately. “Of course, this instore performance information can be tracked, sliced and diced to not only make better informed decisions, but to perpetuate ‘the game’ with league tables, all appealing to our competitive nature,” said Freshwater.

 

Adding a new dimension to management

 

It is only by introducing this new dimension of employee fulfilment into workforce management that retailers can then have a rounded view of what Freshwater referred to as “WFM 123: 1. Business returns 2. The Customer offering and 3. Employee fulfilment”. Finding the appropriate balance between these three objectives will help retailers maximise their workforce efficiency, he urged.

 

“The technology for fostering employee engagement is here and it is quick and easy to implement, and what’s more it’s ‘sticky’ because we are familiar with consumer-based devices or concepts. Operationally these technologies are a match made in heaven for cloud WFM, simplifying the complex – both technically and culturally.”

 

He concluded: “WFM is no longer just about managing numbers; it’s also about cultivating the right attitude, engendering a feeling amongst employees that work is an enjoyable and rewarding part of their lives, rather than a means to an end - if you can get this right our 123 of WFM will all be positively impacted.”