Part 2: Phonebooks and iPads: Lessons Retail Should Learn from the NFL
How retailers can take a page from top NFL teams’ in-game adjustments to adeptly respond to surprises that impact the shopping experience and maximize associate/customer engagement. (Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of 2)
Let me ask you a question. How fast are your retail quarterbacks (your store leadership)? Are they stuck in an office reading old-fashioned “phonebooks?” Or are they using real-time data to identify problems and opportunities and rapidly respond to them in the best possible way?
In part one of “Phonebooks and iPads: Lessons Retail Should Learn from the NFL,” I discussed how football teams have transitioned from using hefty paper playbooks to using video replays and customized teaching plans on iPads to accelerate the pace of learning for players. But what about in-game adjustments to surprise developments such as injuries and opponent strategy changes? In addition to faster development of their talent, what other lessons can retailers learn from the NFL?
If you’re a casual follower of football, you probably know that all NFL teams go into each game with a plan for defense, offense, and special teams. But you may be surprised to know that only the first 15 offensive plays are scripted ahead of time. These play “scripts” are based on what the coaches think will work against their opponent’s defense and to see how the other team responds to certain formations. After those few scripted plays, the remaining ones are called in response to what’s working, what’s not, and new opportunities (e.g., the backup for an injured linebacker can’t cover our tight ends). The average NFL game has about 60 to 70 plays for each team’s offense — only about 25 percent of any game’s offensive plays are scripted prior to the opening kickoff. That’s why during any NFL game you can see the quarterback huddling with coaches on the sidelines, reviewing snapshots of their opponent’s defensive schemes and how best to respond.
How does this relate to retail? Any well-run retail chain has a “go-to-market” strategy involving product mix, customer service levels, promotions, pricing, merchandising, and labor operations. But many things happen in stores that can’t be planned for ahead of time: employee sick callouts; stock-outs; late delivery truck arrivals; sudden customer traffic fluctuations; high-value customer check-ins; social media feedback; and more. The playing field changes so quickly in a store that it is no longer acceptable to lean solely on your plan. You have to react to the 15 minute customer. Like NFL teams during games, retailers need to be able to identify that’s happening on the field (i.e., the sales floor) and direct employees to respond as rapidly as possible using best practices.
What if retailers could respond to the above scenarios in the following ways:
- Employee sick call-outs. Instead of the store manager having to go into the office and start the inefficient process of calling a list of possible replacements, as soon as the employee calls, emails, or sends a text message, the manager on duty receives an alert on a smart phone or tablet computer. The alert contains a list of available employees pulled from the labor scheduling system. The manager broadcasts availability of the shift to qualified associates on a first-come, first-served basis. Once an employee accepts and the manager approves, the others are notified the shift has been filled and an adjustment is made to the labor schedule.
- Product stock-outs. Usually these require the manual process of having store associates walk the aisles to locate and replenish out of stocks, often too late to “save the sale.” What if the store manager could receive an alert from the POS any time a preset threshold for a key item is exceeded. The system would also access a list of store employees currently punched in and send an aggregated list to on-duty clerks to re-stock the items — before the product is out, not after.
- Late delivery truck arrival. When trucks arrive late, it can throw the entire store out of whack. What if the store or stock crew manager on duty could get a text alert from the logistics application. The system then accesses the labor scheduling system to determine which stock clerks are scheduled and sends a text message to either reassign them to other work or reset their schedule.
- Sudden customer traffic influx. In big-box retail formats, it can be hard for busy store managers to identify a sudden customer traffic fluctuation (due to weather, a promotion, or social media). What if sensor(s) at a check in or check out zone could detect the arrival of customers above the predetermined customer service standard. The manager on duty would receive an alert with the ability to access the labor scheduling application to determine available standby cashiers, and the system sends an alert to report to the front end and open additional register(s). Customers have a fast and smooth checkout process.
- High-value customer check-in. Any retailer needs to be able to tell when a big spending customer has checked in to a store. Some customers spend a lot more than others and demand superb service. In the case of the high-value patron check-in, the manager on duty receives an alert about the presence of the customer with a list of product preferences and recent shopping history. The manager or store associate can now intelligently engage the customer, viewing their client’s buying history on a mobile device instead of relying on a little black book to keep track of customers — which a brand new associate may not even have.
- Social media or customer feedback. A negative comment posted on social media is there practically forever. What if a store manager could receive alerts about positive or negative reviews of a product or store visit. The alert could include a series of best practices such as thanking the customer and recognizing a good sales associate (positive) or apologizing to the customer and providing a coupon to incent a return trip to the store. Stores could respond in a systemic way to social media comments and feedback to keep customers happy while strengthening brand loyalty.
All of the scenarios described above are available now with Reflexis StorePulse®. The system provides a single application to view prioritized alerts and daily tasks while performing workforce management duties from the sales floor. Alerts can be viewed on a PC or kiosk, or better yet, on a smart phone or tablet. Each alert includes the notification plus a series of best practice options for responding or delegating follow up and ensuring completion.
As in the way the NFL is using new technology such as tablets and smart phones, Reflexis StorePulse® provides a way to alert store managers and associates to important events and coach them on how to best respond. It can be used for the above scenarios as well as others such as “Buy Online/Store Pickup,” responding to sales and performance metrics, weather alerts, and more. Think of it as a version of the NFL’s new digital, real-time playbooks, but for retailers. Click the following link to learn more about Reflexis StorePulse®
– Kevin Tapscott is a Solutions Consultant for Reflexis Systems, Inc. In addition to his seven years of experience at Reflexis, he has 15 years of experience as a retail operations professional for a Top 200 global retail chain with more than 500 stores. You can follow him on Twitter at @KTTechsmith.