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COVID and Beyond: Evaluating digital engagement options for frontline employees


Once the economy starts limping back to normal after the induced lay-off , we can hopefully look forward to the speedy opening of thousands of retail outlets across the country. By re-engaging the workforce after this forced hiatus of sorts, the question foremost in people’s minds will be: how do we re- train them? Similarly, for new recruits how do we speedily get them up to scratch? With dipping revenues, a liquidity crunch and a tepid consumer sentiment, spending money on training the traditional way may be considered by many as ‘wasteful’.

COVID and Beyond: Evaluating digital engagement options for frontline employees

Yes we foresee that, as a shortsighted reaction, training investments may be jettisoned and a quick fix will be applied to deploy both new and existing staff back on the floor. Pause a moment and consider the holistic ramifications of this as it could result with poorly trained staff interacting with customers. One of the key reasons why physical retail is yet relevant in our world filled with e-commerce options, is the frontline associate who is a value differentiator. So, while we may think it prudent to fill counters and place poorly trained associates out there, with a more discerning customer and tightened purse strings, only the ones who can engage meaningfully will make the customer part with their money. The rest will be just pure wasted opportunity.

THE REALITY: In the immediate opening up after the Covid-19 , we expect marketers to bombard the customer with not only an enviable array of both products but, also with very tempting offers. So, while everyone will be vying for the customer’s limited attention, they in turn may be expected to display a very limited purchase disposition. In the forthcoming depressed economic conditions how will your sales staff maximize the opportunity? How can they be persuasive and get the best out of the customer interaction? Definitely not very well, if you don’t consider them worth the investment.

THE RESPONSE: To cut the long story short, skimping on training is definitely not recommended. So, what can you do? If you are in HR or operations, how you manage and plan during this enforced lockdown will be an important litmus test of your management skills. Use this time to evaluate appropriate technology options. L & D or training capsules can delivered on-the-go to the employees’ phone through an app. This can be executed quickly, with simple planning and some serious application of intent. What’s more is that the initial investments are not so forbidding and, neither do you need to go-live with all features in one go but, rather build as you go along.

THE SCOPE: There are two separate learner cohorts that we concern ourselves with: the new recruit and the existing employee.

First let’s attack the requirements of the new recruit: The good news is that since these employees need to be inducted and provided both process and product level training, technology allows you to substitute classroom sessions modules with online training sessions with no negative impact. Yes, apart from the above, you can educate them on the required behaviour standards, policy dos and don’ts, grooming tips etc. With modules hosted on the app. Create small videos and place your questions at the end of it. The learner is encouraged to take the test and either clear it or, re-take it until the required level of competency leads them onto the next step before proceeding to complete the module.

Built at an individual level, the customized feeds for different learner groups can be different. What’s more is that since the hierarchies can be defined based on the organogram, the supervisor can see real time updates of those who have completed the module. They can also access rating of modules, clarifications required from users etc. In real time allowing for quick action. Again, because the user is uniquely identifiable, they can be clustered under geographies or mapped to a particular supervisor. With this feature, communicating within teams becomes easier. Besides, all reports are automatic and there is no need of running reactive reports. Whatsapp messaging which has severe shortcomings can be laid to rest and, the app can become a virtual one-stop shop for gainful engagement. This will build the right habits. Picture this! New recruits can be allotted mentors and linked online to them for help. No longer will there be a grouse that new recruits are neglected and don’t know where to reach out!

When designing and building for existing employees on the other hand, it is important to appreciate their different needs. Use the app to add value to them and building cohesive relationships. Different employees can have different content needs. The management may like to use the app as an engagement tool which can be personalized to each individual very easily. If one recalls feedback of disgruntled employees, its essentially centers around how they are the last to know, used as workhorses, have to learn the ropes themselves through trial and error, having no voice etc. etc. So, in this app with microlearning modules and real time updates you pretty much have a job enabler. Employees get real time updates of new promos, expired promos, new product launches with FAQs, information on competitive trends or market changes, important company or industry updates and much more. Design it such that they can be invited them to rate promos, send in suggestions, recommend fixes to common problems and thus become an engaged part of the ecosystem. Design it to link with CRM and take orders or place requests or delivery if products are not available at that time. The platform is flexible to accommodate many features which can progressively get richer over time. From my professional experience, the roll out of this solution paid back the ROI three times over in just 12 months.

THE FUTURE: The median age India is around 27; and in a young country it is to be appreciated that while today Gen Z already constitute 10-15 percent of the workforce, their proportion in the workforce is set to grow. Which means that traditional means of communication, any way a costly affair, will get phased out. Why don’t we utilize this lockdown as this opportunity to build assets for the future? Getting the mobility-based solution right with some creative thinking will add value to your organisation and keep costs reined in. Remember, engaged employees deliver great CX and great revenue!