When investing in technology don’t forget your people

The retail world is evolving quicker than ever before. Advances in technology continue to change the way we work. But it’s worth remembering that while technology supports more efficient ways of working, retail is still a people and experiential business. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Retail Sales Index in 2018 an average of 83% of UK retail sales still occur offline. People still like to buy from people. This was supported in the 2018 national budget with a decrease in business rates for high streets and the announcement of a 2% digital services tax from 2020.

It’s clear that employees and technology need each other. Technology alone cannot continually provide outstanding customer service, nor can people achieve the efficiency required in today’s fast-paced marketplace without technology. The best results occur when people and technology work in harmony.

An article by Adweek earlier this year suggested: “Humans empowered by technology can exceed expectations at every point of the customer service model, online or offline. Technology alone cannot consistently provide good customer service, but technology designed to enhance human experiences can exceed expectations every time.”

The article continued: “Physical retail will remain essential to any successful, future-focused strategy because of the uniquely human emotions and actions these experiences inspire.”

The American civil rights activist Maya Angelou put it succinctly “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) chief executive Steve Barraclough reported to the Retail Gazette that he believes humans will never truly be replaced by technology: “Human skills are essential for many tasks, making the marriage between humans and machines vital to success, so it is essential that we fully understand how to best design and operationalise both human and technological functions.”

Unfortunately, some organisations view technology as an investment and staff development as a cost. Learning & development is an equally important investment just as the latest technological advances. An investment in people can:

  • Improve employee engagement: If your team feels that you believe in them enough to invest in their development it can increase staff morale. This positivity raises customer service and increases customer satisfaction. Improved team engagement also reduces staff absenteeism and promotes employee retention.
  • Help attract the best talent: offering employee development opportunities as part of the remuneration package provides your business with a competitive advantage over those that don’t. Showing potential candidates that your business invests in their people is great for attracting new talent.
  • Identify your natural leaders: within your business there are a group of naturally talented leaders. These are the stars who will make the difference for your business. Investing in employee development draws out these leaders and creates a pool of great employees that “get” the business and become invested in it.
  • Encourage forward-thinking: When your talented individuals emerge, is there a plan to retain them? Or do you lose them to the competition? Talented retail leaders will always be in demand, by offering development and growth opportunities it will encourage them to stay with your business rather than move elsewhere.
  • Support bottom line growth: The costs associated with staff turnover, absenteeism and recruiting/hiring can be substantial. Focusing on the development and growth of your team helps maintain business health. Improving the attitude and capabilities of your team will have a positive effect on customer satisfaction which in turn improves customer spend.

Digital Transformation is a two-day specialist programme designed to help retailers anticipate digital trends and understand consumer behaviour. By understanding these two areas organisations can deliver a customer journey that maximises sales and increases loyalty.

The course is specifically aimed at retail leaders and managers currently working in the digital space, but equally for those in retail operational roles who need to enhance their understanding of the online customer journey.