Agile workforce

The future of work in retail is here—and it's hybrid

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    Riley Leight
  • Sep 14, 2021

Retailers today are facing labor shortages, safety concerns, and rapidly shifting expectations from all sides. Meeting these challenges requires an agile, omnichannel communications infrastructure to keep your workforce safe, connected, and thriving. Here’s what you need to know about building your own.

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Retailers weathered incredible uncertainty in 2020, from lockdowns and health concerns to widespread economic upheaval. It seems that for most businesses, the worst may have passed—but the lasting damage has made clear that it’s time for the retail industry to make deeper investments in digital solutions.

That’s particularly true when it comes to navigating new challenges in the retail workforce, where we’re seeing an unprecedented labor shortage that’s only set to get worse. Most people simply don’t want to work outside of their home after the pandemic, and understandably so—risks to health, commuting costs, and the need for childcare are just a few reasons employees would rather not go back to business-as-usual.

The role of a sales associate has been relatively consistent for decades. Now, that’s set to change: major companies like Apple are exploring how to unlock the potential of hybrid work beyond the office setting, leading to the emergence of “omni-associates.”

In Apple’s case, these associates will work a mix of shifts in-person and remotely depending on preferences and business needs. Building and managing a hybrid workforce like this one might seem complicated, but the necessary solutions are simpler and more accessible than ever. Here’s how you can get started on building yours.

Creating a hybrid workforce for retail

Retailers need to keep their workforce and customers safe amidst today’s challenges—while staying prepared for whatever new ones might come next. That starts with better communication and digital solutions that provide peace of mind when customers and employees do spend time in-store.

As the pandemic began, retailers scrambled to create alternate shopping options for customers. Delivery, curbside pickup, and BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store) became new must-haves for the modern era. But in the rush to implement these systems, many turned to out-of-the-box options that lack flexibility and customization.

Touchless experiences are foundational for a hybrid workforce because these transactions require far fewer in-store staff—customers could call in an order to a remote associate, for example, and then pick it up in-store. But the generic tools many businesses adopted aren’t flexible enough to meet consumers’ growing expectations for personalization, and they aren’t agile enough to empower a hybrid workforce.

To launch a touchless retail experience that lasts, you need an omnichannel approach that revolutionizes traditional contact center and engagement systems. Whether a customer calls, texts, video chats, or emails you—all of those interactions can be unified into one system that enables your staff to deliver top-tier, personalized service every time. 

By bringing all of those communication channels together in the cloud, you’re enabling employees to handle customer interactions from anywhere with an internet connection. That’s the flexibility workers are looking for today—and building it is easier than ever.

Take QVC Italy as an example. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine orders took place and their teams were forced to stay at home. They were challenged with a legacy contact center that was outdated. The QVC team took decisive action to replace their legacy contact center and migrated over 100 agents to a remote contact center in less than five days. They also added the Whatsapp channel so that their customers could also message them through the popular app. 

Their new solution let them rapidly deploy agents who could work from home, all with a single view of a customer’s experience. Their contact center integrates easily with their other systems and gives them the flexibility to add additional changes depending on what their customers want.

Learn more in our latest ebook on delivering a total retail experience, available for download now.

Retail in 2021

Keep reading the 2021 retail edition of The Current.

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Riley Leight

Riley is a full-time writer based in Annapolis, Maryland.