Everything’s done. It’s 9:45 a.m., and the store opens in 15 minutes. Just enough time for a manager to take one last lap up and down the aisles. Retail and franchise managers maintain mental checklists. The shelves are stocked. The registers are full. The floors are clean. It goes on from there.
Invariably, during this final sweep of the store, managers catch small issues – an item is misplaced or understocked. It’s 10 a.m. now, though, so she makes a point to fix this in a minute. However, once those doors open, customers come in with questions, an employee needs assistance at the counter and, as always, there’s a spill on Aisle 3. So she forgets. The mental note gets crumpled up and shoved into the far reaches of her mind. Worse, the issue is never resolved.
Franchise managers have more responsibilities than they can count. As rigorously as they attempt to adhere to every one of them, exceptions, like a mismarked item, get lost in the shuffle. As those problems pile up, sales can start to suffer. There is a remedy for these issues, and it’s incumbent upon regional managers and others at corporate offices to equip stores, managers and other employees with the tools and solutions that can eliminate these problems. Exception-based management only works when the exceptions are solved. When franchise managers see problems, they need a means of informing a worker who can fix the issue. Rather than waiting to solve issues, a manager needs a tool to convey the issue and enable someone else to solve it. Mobile solutions designed specifically for store management promote instant communication of exceptions and problems.
Communication is key to exception management
Communication problems at stores cause bottlenecks. The men and women working at different locations don’t sit behind computers all day. They’re not always near co-workers needed to address certain issues. As such, the ways they communicate exceptions and problems need to enable them to share information and assign new responsibilities on the fly. Retail chains and franchises, whether they’re big-box stores, grocery stores or any others, thrive on brand consistency and guaranteed experiences. Customers look to the familiarity and reliability of brands that deliver the same tastes, products, deals and services, regardless of location. Retail execution demands a unified workforce capable of collaborating as it tends to customers.
Unfortunately, corporate officers and regional managers don’t typically notice lingering issues caused by communication and execution bottlenecks until a weekly or monthly sales report shows poor performance. The first response is, “this store needs to execute better.” However, the response should be more like, “How can we help our franchise managers and employees do their jobs more effectively?” Stores need to live up to customer expectations and demands from corporate offices. They need help from corporate to get there. Ideas, such as brand consistency, retail execution and other hallmarks of retail chains, define the success of individual locations. Regional managers and others can promote greater adherence to these standards by giving their stores the tools they need to execute efficiently.
Since so few of these employees spend their days at desks, they can’t be treated like knowledge-workers. People simply can’t respond to every exception as they see it and serve customers effectively. When they notice a problem, they should be able to inform the proper person about the issue. Considering more than 76 percent of Americans own smartphones, the solution to the communication bottleneck is already in the pockets of your employees. Of course, no executive wants their employees fiddling with their smartphones all day. However, applications that encourage instant communication of issues wipe out those bottlenecks.
Mobile tech streamlines retail communications
Delays presented by bottlenecks persist only because they’re allowed to. Retail employees have pre-determined priorities in place to promote the brand consistency synonymous with retail and chain-store shopping. However, those task lists are developed based on the tasks that need to be done every day without any specific mention of exceptions. Sometimes an item or two moves a bit quicker than expected. Imagine a scenario where a manager can instantly whip out his smartphone and send a photo of an empty shelf to an inventory clerk. The problem is solved immediately, and the manager can head over to the customer service desk to answer a question, thereby addressing both issues efficiently. What’s more, the inventory clerk can provide an image to assure his boss the task was completed.
Mobile solutions and other forms of technology can’t solve every problem. Retail stores will always require the final few steps of any process to be carried out by a human being. Technology that enables employees to focus on those responsibilities promotes retail execution and efficiency. Moreover, it makes accountability a more significant consideration. Managers and supervisors inform others of new responsibilities, and they’re carried out promptly. No longer can workers plead ignorance when a sales item isn’t adequately restocked as it sells. Other problems eliminated with mobile communication solutions designed specifically for these environments include incorrectly constructed displays, poor cleanliness and dozens more. Any area of a business dependent upon quick task completion demands a tool that allows those responsibilities to be assigned and expressed just as immediately.
It’s 10:15 p.m. The store is about to close. A manager makes a few final trips up and down the aisles. The sign for a sale on 12 packs of a popular soft drink is missing. Rather than searching for the employee needed to locate a new sign and erect it, the manager takes out his smartphone. Three swipes and a few taps later, done.
Vladik Rikhter is CEO and co-founder of Zenput. With more than ten years of experience in operational and business development roles in B2B technology companies, Rikhter’s background in logistics, supply chain and operations has allowed him to identify and improve workflow inefficiencies in small, medium and Fortune 500 businesses.