Do engaged employees’ matter for excellent customer experience?

3 Min Read

Engaged employees are those who emotionally connect to their work and performance goals. They perform beyond their call of duty to enhance their employer reputation and derive satisfaction. Engaged employees display a positive attitude towards work and always strive to provide the best in their delivery of work

Gartner defines customer experience as “the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products.” Forrester Research defines customer experience as: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” Primarily, in a nutshell, customer experience refers to gatherings from interaction and consequent perception formed in the minds of customers. Customers form an opinion about the Brand in isolation and also compare it with the competition. If their view is superior to the one they have on competition, the positive experience gets established in the minds of the customer.

Let us, for a moment, think which channels are responsible for creating a better or bitter experience in the customer’s mind? It must be either digital or physical interactions or a combination of both. Whichever be the channel, it is the human mind that is behind the creation of both. In physical, human plays a predominant role in creating a pleasant experience. In digital, human indirectly plays the role of designing it for an enjoyable experience. When an employee is fully engaged and motivated to perform beyond his normally expected lines, she/he strives to create a good experience for the customer. The moot point to understand is how employee engagement drives creating an excellent customer experience

To have engaged employees, Retailers must have a robust Human Capital Management system, that is not only transparent but also fosters an open culture of exchange. In designing Retail ViVA, we kept these critical criteria in mind and integrated several tools that will foster collaboration, open communication, peer learning and trust creation. The modules and tool also indirectly bestow corporate cultural impartation.

Retailers need to create an environment that kindles employee engagement proactively. Driving engaged employees to pursue the mission of excellent customer experience becomes a simple self-derivative in the minds of every employee. Customers then start sensing a good feel at every touchpoint and start gaining positive experience. In conclusion, if a Retailer can create an atmosphere for employees to be engaged with the enterprise deeply, a sound foundation is laid for establishing excellent customer experience. I firmly believe that if we can take care of employee engagement first, they will, on their own, strive for creating an exceptional customer experience

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Retailers: Do you want to hire an attitude or skill?

As human beings, we all have a unique attitude towards various things that we encounter. Attitude refers to the state of mind in different situations. Some people have a normalized attitude most times or change their attitudes depending on context or circumstances. Our attitude differs between person to person or place to place. It is about feeling or emotions about someone or something at that moment.

Skill relates to the application of a body of knowledge to perform an activity or a task. To execute an activity most proficiently, one must go through constant training to sharpen their skills. The speed and quality of output often measure one’s skills.

In the current experience economy, Retail employees are involved in constant interaction with customers. Else, they are involved in designing systems that Customer interacts digitally. Either way, customers must get a good feel of their interaction and it must leave a lasting experience in their minds. Customers then revisit in expectation of another good experience and so on.

Modern-day jobs are relationship and network-oriented and the thriving slogan of success is “People relate to People.” Any relationship can only thrive if attitudes are positive and soothing to fast forward further and build a strong bond of lasting value. Thus, attitudes become so essential and relevant for retail jobs as most often, all employees deal with customers directly in some form or other.

It may be easy to reskill a person or impart new skills absolutely from scratch, but it may not always be probable to change the attitude of a person in the near or medium term. People change their attitudes through constant persuasion or by experiencing negative results toward their current attitudes. Hence, it may often be challenging to re-attitude a person immediately in the near or medium-term and make him believe entirely in new behaviours.

In my personal experience, we changed strategies five years back to focus on attitude while hiring rather than skills. We imparted skills after hiring through the perpetual learning and development process in the public accounting firm that I am involved in. We saw dramatic positive results and to our surprise, three of our associates ranked among the top twenty ranks in the public accountant final examination two attempts back. One more dramatic effect that we noticed is that all our associates pass the examination, which has a low pass percentage of less than 10 percent at the national level.

While developing Retail ViVA, the 26 module Retail Management System, we have kept both factors in mind and designed robust Learning and Development module to skill and re-skill employees while also providing a collaborative working approach to improve attitudes or draw inspiration from employees who echo positive attitudes all the time.

In conclusion, I will weigh more on attitude while hiring rather than betting on skills. My experience has been that attitudes are slow to change while skills are fast to impart.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Retailers: Do you see your daily trading performance?

3 min read

Reports and analytics give us the pulse of any business. In the case of Retail, it is even more important due to the permanent nature of promotions and offers to attract customers. Once we have the right data, a Retailer can make well-informed decisions to make the right offers, design the right promotions, and stock-up the right products to match promotions. Finally, the bottom line in terms of dollars is the real retail business health check.

Retailers use various reports to engage in discussions with operating teams and chalk out plans for improvement. Reports not only help to analyze business performance but also improve the team’s performance. In Retail, one must review Daily Trading Performance, Weekly Trading Performance and Monthly Trading Performance. These three reports, if structured well, can give the essential performance details, and point towards improvement actions.

Trading performance reports are generally clustered with several columns and numbers. Whatever way a report is designed, following top 5 must reflect in clear terms to any conventional or modern reader

1. How many winning categories

2. How many losing categories

3. Gross Margin

4. How many winning stores

5. How many losing stores

Retail trading performance reports must be done in short sprints and measure category, shop, and margins. The short sprint review helps to make some quick decisions and improve performance on a continuous improvement basis. The trading reports may have a comparison to yesterday’s performance, till date performance of that week, till date performance of that month, till year performance, all of the above compared with a similar period of last year. The comparative trading of today’s to the previous day or this week to last week or this week to the same week of the past year sometimes posts the problem of the number of trading days being not the same due to holidays or extended trading hours. While comparing, necessary adjustments must be made in the previous comparative period to reflect the right comparison. Automation of this adjustment is vital as otherwise; one will get down to spreadsheets to make manual corrections and adjustments.

It will be useful to showcase the top 5 indicators with differentiated visualization so that it grabs attention instantly. One can present information in charts or tables, as per the digital literacy of the Retail enterprise. However, a picture can tell a thousand words and it will be useful to convert them into smart charts that can package five different information without clustering and bringing out essential indicators or insights with clarity as well. Various colour codes can be used to differentiate information so that no one misses review of the critical ones.

Keeping the importance of these three reports, Retail ViVA has got matured reporting formats, perfected over the last 14 years of usage by our clients. Our dashboards also reflect these in single charts without clustering so that users get it at a glance.

If these critical reports are designed well, Retailers can spend less time getting to understand the significant positive and negative drivers and change course to correct them. If the reports are overwhelmed with lots of information, top divergent indicators may get buried and may go actionless. Simple design with all essential information, enhanced decision making and achieving business growth should be the motto of every modern Retailer. On the contrary, an ill-structured report will not only waste management time but also prove to be ineffective for decision making. Hence, Retailers must focus on designing their performance reports with the utmost attention.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

New Hire Digital Onboarding: Can it give the personal touch?

4 min read

Nowadays, quite often we find new hires going through digital onboarding on their first day, all by themselves. Hitherto, Companies chose a specific day as new hires joining day for HR resources to physically onboarding every new hire. With the advent of digital onboarding setting in, we have overcome this limitation

We are living in an experience economy, and we are also living in the digital economy. Experience is something that leaves you with memories of the past or which gives you great satisfaction during usage. Experience can also be about implicit trust and faith in something like a brand due to continuous good experience gained over time. But then, the experience can be gained from another person or digitally gained by using a gadget or website or a service on the web. As a universe, we seem to weigh good digital experience as equal as personal experiences, if one must conclude from the popularity of social media. Else, the least we conclude is that digital experience is becoming an acceptable norm in the absence of direct personal experience possible.

Companies that adopt digital on-boarding to their new hires must create them with experience as the backbone. They want their new hires to enjoy the digital experience and gain positive emotions, beliefs, and motivation for the purpose and people in the Company. New hires digital onboarding experience can also set the right motto of the company’s drive towards “Digital First & Digital Always,” right from day one. I have often advocated digital onboarding as a tool to know and gauge digital familiarity of new hires and chart a course of training needs for their improvements. After all, the world is turning digital, and if we cannot coach our employees to be exceptionally digitally savvy, we are not going to be strong in the marketplace.

An enterprise that is multi-location driven but has centralized human resource services have no choice but to adapt to digital on-boarding to take care of new hires joining at remote locations. This way, digital onboarding helps to break the geographical barriers. Some enterprises use digital onboarding as a smart HR tool to simplify the creation of employee profiles invisibly by the new hire themselves. Whatever be the reason an enterprise adopts, the moot point is whether it can create the same personal touch as doing a direct physical onboarding?

Let us, for a moment, look at theatre plays and movies as an analogy. While movies have outgrown as the best entertainment medium than theatre plays, all of us have been mentally adapting to proxy presence as something which we enjoy. In the film, dialogue, voice, and scenes create all the emotions. Akin to this, if the digital content can be engaging with good narratives, a soulful voice with good moderation and an elegant portrayal of enterprise core values and other content that is relevant to onboarding, it is possible to achieve the same impact like a physical onboarding.

While there is no doubt that human-to-human contact is superior to anything pseudo, the digital is not too far in catching up with its innovations of delivery. But if you desire strong standardization in your delivery of new hire onboarding experience, I ought to advocate that digital is the best medium to adopt.

When we designed Retail ViVA, we gave the utmost thrust to digital onboarding as creating the best first impression. Hence, we developed a flexible, fully digital onboarding module, that a citizen user can create and configure.

Digital acceptance is more than ever now, and possibly, COVID-19 has accelerated its adoption across generations by default. With the remote workforce growing and becoming a new-normal, digital onboarding is the way to go and considered normal-normal rather than new normal.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

The success of Retail Retailing is in the real tail?

4 min read

The 21st century Retailing has moved beyond Brick & Mortar to omnichannel mode since the internet, digital infrastructure, and mobile phones propelled at the hands of consumers. The Digital Era allowed Retailers to closely tail (follow) their customer’s digital movements and thus understand their choices and preferences. As a second step, Customers got inducement offers to convert their preferences to buying choice, either online or at a shop, thereby converting an aspiration into real commerce. Some consumers, in this journey of induced buying, made wise choices of fulfilling their dreams, while others made an impulsive choice of buying, only to repent later

The art of tailing a customer closely emerged as a 21st-century practice amid digital traceability, privacy, personal data concerns, and security. However, since data is the new oil, every data of real or potential customers was crunched, and several dots connected to understand the customer’s mind and thinking. The creation of personalized choices of offers or promotions was easy then and targeted against a specific customer of choice, inducing them to make the buying choice.

While data collection and privacy are the hot debate on the questionable side, customization, or personalization is the welcome development from the customer experience angle. Personalization made customer jobs easy in most cases, saving good amount of time for the customer. Predictable models of “what next” for a customer’s desires got developed and probably, made customer decision-making easier of curated choices presented. While customer derived value out of personalization, Retailers derived benefit of knowing customer behaviour and predicting their next behaviour or sometimes influencing their future behaviour to their advantage.

Retailing is the business of fulfilling customer demand for goods through multiple channels of customer convenience and often giving the customer similar or same experience across those channels. However, modern retail places more reliance on digital, and thus data becomes the backbone of every decision-making. Modern Retail ERP software is omnichannel ready and can present a 360-degree view of customer data combining customer actions across the various channel, including customer non-actions

Retail ViVA, our retail ERP, comes with embedded e-commerce and m-commerce modules along with digital marketing tool that can tail digital customer behaviour in Retailer’s eco-system and creates a personalized offer or promotion targeted at that customer without any privacy intrusion automatically. This personalization is the key to the conversion of a customer’s desire to demand to successful sale.

Tailing (following) consumers give us data, and data give us options. Options give us thoughts for customized content and content connects with customers. Customers make a choice, and more data gets generated. Thus, the cycle goes on to target customers again and again with personalization

We have slowly moved to a Customer Experience economy, and thus personalized offers become most critical to creating the best of customer experience. The more personalized a Retailer can target its customers; the more customer experience gets created and more positive buying actions get triggered by the customers. With more digital and more data, this is sure to scale to newer heights in the years to come!

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Day-to-day operational decision-making in Retail: Automate or Systemize or Simplify?

3 min read

Decision-making is a process of our brain, helping us to choose one of the several alternate options available to us while considering an action. In our decision-making process, we may realize soon that we made a wrong decision and our brain then understands and self-learns not to make that decision again due to prior bad experience. We as humans, have self-learning capabilities, thus.

In busy business enterprises like Retail, where customers come in and go, and transactions happen every second and minutes, there are interactions between customers and operating employees. Some of these interactions may involve some decision-making for the disposal of customer requests. There could also be decisions concerning supply chain, employee matters, governance matters or be it any functional matters that affect a Retail enterprise. Most employees, be it junior or senior management, are involved in day-to-day decision making to discharge their duties. Some of them could be critical that we just can’t go wrong even once

If you digitize your operations, we can lessen the human decision-making process to a greater extent. We can attempt automation in three different ways:

1. Complete Automation: The whole business process is automated, and any involved decision-making is codified for the automation to make it as per logical business rules. This means there are fixed combinations that are codified, and so long situation falls into one of those codified ones, the decision is automatically made and transactions processed

2. Systemize processes: This involves systemizing the procedures to operate consistently that every time it happens, it happens in the same manner. Also, whenever it happens, wherever it occurs and whoever handles it, it occurs in the same way. We hear examples of the systems and standards being uniform across McDonald’s and customer experience being the same all across the world. The decision making here is codified by way of motions and methods and thrust is given to training resources in a manner until they get to operate in a set manner

3. Simplification of processes: Another method that can be considered is the simplification of operations in such a way that decision making is simple and there are no myriads of combinations that may merit consideration, limiting considerations to fix few. Simplification is complexity as much as one needs to understand and reduce unwanted options and prioritize just the most important ones

In digital transformation, Retailers need to ask which method to adopt for different processes. Some may be suitable for complete automation without human intervention, some may be systemized for consistency and experience and some may have to be simplified to realize time and efficiency. If digital transformation is attempted as a simple automation of processes as it is, it is pouring old wine in a new bottle

While designing Retail ViVA, we have cherry-picked each of the business processes to map where it would best fit keeping experience, control and efficiency in mind and have either automated it or systemized it or simplified it.

A good Retail Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) product is one that blends all the above decision-making varieties and more so, gives the flexibility to change as times change. Responsiveness is so vital that Retailers must be agile and need not be left with something that was designed rigidly. Every Retail enterprise, to survive the new generation of business models, must be sharp, agile, and responsive to new “normal.” Their ERP products also must be responsive and self-configurable to change as demand arises and operate with efficiency.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Customers: Moving from Relationship to True Loyalty

Customer Relationship is a process of establishing long term connections with your customers. Retailers must be able to make their customers come back to them often because of the strong relationship built. Customers reward Retailers with repeat buying in case the relationship is satisfying for them.

Customer loyalty refers to strong patronage to a single brand of products or services that a customer gets affiliated to, irrespective of significant noise about competition circling her/him. The critical point to note here is about not being influenced to switch to another brand or service. The loyalty is so strong that it is a deep commitment to re-patronize consistently

In my example, when I need to do international travel, I just lead to Emirates to book my tickets without even looking at what prices other airlines are offering. I do not get motivated to browse umpteen travel sites that provide a price comparison of various operators. Beyond just mere loyalty, this is genuinely blending your confidence onto a brand implicitly

In a Customer Relationship journey, the first step is to build a relationship with customers and then convert them to true loyalty status. To move Customers from relationship to loyalty, customization, and personalization come into play from the service provider angle. In return, the Customer becomes the brand ambassador to others, echoing brand uniqueness time and again.

Relationships are benefits that a customer enjoys over and above the product or service, she/he acquires and views it as her/his personal gain for being a regular customer. When such a relationship attains a solidarity position where he is unattracted to switch loyalties, she/he turns into a truly loyal customer. As the customer reaches true loyalty status, her/his perceived demand would be to get special treatment. If a brand can satisfy that aspiration of a truly loyal customer, the longevity gets further strengthened, and a solid bond gets established. This unshakeable bond makes the customer own the brand as if it is her/his own and fight for righteous demand if things are seen not being up to the regularly experienced brand status

Another critical aspect that merits attention in the Customer journey from relationship to true loyalty is constant communication from the brand to build trust. Two-way communication can enhance trust and lead ways to understand the customer better, further leading way to personalization.

In designing Retail ViVA, this vital aspect of two-way communication and personalization is integrated into our Customer Relationship Module (CRM) design since being so essential to build customer loyalty. A well-conceived CRM module is so vital to convert customer relationships to true loyalty

Every customer you acquire goes through a journey from being just a customer simpliciter to relationship customer to true loyal customer. While customer goes through this journey based on trust, experience, and perceptions, it is Retailers who need to work to enable such trust, experience, and sound perceptions. To conclude, the Retailer must give utmost importance to enhancing the relationship with customers to true loyalty.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Strategy: From Top Floor to Shop Floor: Is it really communicated?

A strategic plan is one that helps a corporate to navigate from its current Mission to envisioned Vision of the future. The strategic planning process is a long-term thinking exercise, broken down into short term and long-term tactics aligned with corporate culture and values. While the strategic planning happens at some level in Retail organizations, very few organizations can draw a process forward for its articulation across the length and breadth of their organization. If the strategy can’t be communicated to everyone, the time and money spent on the strategic planning exercise just goes waste. One Harvard Business Review study found that 95% of employees at most midsize to large companies don’t understand the strategy of the Company. Lack of communication is the primarily reason for this 

Most corporates do not have a smooth and fulfilling workplace communication method. Whoever sets the strategic plan, they do not have a credible communication channel or mechanism to communicate that down the line. The remote workforce does not get the context of strategic planning and is far from owning, involving and executing it. Finally, the strategic plan ends up in a spreadsheet and the creators’ update and analyze it periodically, without any informed participation by all in the organization 

One must examine the questions as to how a strategic plan will get aligned to the Mission and Vision of a corporate and how does the plan get integrated into the day-to-day works of every employee in Retail organization. After all, several critical components of a strategy get executed at the bottom of the pyramid in any organization. A corporate must drill down its strategic plan to levels of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and attach to various associates linked to their functions. While doing so, they must inter-align the larger picture of Mission and Vision to every KPI through which associates can gauge how their KPI achievement contributes ultimately to the Vision of a Corporate. This will not only help associates to know about the Vision but also develop a pride of having committed to the Vision of Corporate that she/he works. This pride will ultimately enhance engagement and long-term loyalty 

In building Retail ViVA, we created our Strategy module that links the Mission, Vision, Values, Strategic Plan, KPI and employee wise performance in a seamless manner that everyone is on the same page and aligns with that one purpose. It helps to achieve the ultimate corporate purpose of what is good for my company should be good for me as well and makes employees commit to the strategic plan with a sound understanding 

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Is your Retail ERP system designed to provide Unified Commerce capability?

Retail has evolved over the years. I have vivid memories of going to a store to buy things along with my mother. In the late 90s, I first encountered online shopping (web) in one of my foreign trips and had my first experience of web shopping. It was not that much fun then but still was an innovation that I could shop very distanced from the store. Then in 2008, Apple created its APP Store, and slowly from there, mobile application development started. I recollect reading in 2012 about the popularity of mobile applications for the first time, more than web and more usage of mobile apps for online purposes. We have seen three channels of trade in Retail, the store, the web, and mobile.

As different channels emerged, companies that were running old and legacy ERP systems struggled to cope up to online and did patch systems to present online as a discrete web development, unintegrated to their legacy ERP systems. Soon CIO and business users realized that they are unable to provide unified customer experience across channels. Alongside with the proliferation of technology and its adoption by younger generations, customer experience as a “movement” started gaining momentum. Customers were demanding good experience and repeated their purchase, where they felt good experience was the norm.

Retailers, who felt happy that they are offering omnichannel experience, fell short of providing unified commerce. Unified commerce is about unifying all platforms as if it is a single platform, both in the front-end experience as well as the back-end ERP applications of a Retailer. Most Retailers failed to unify their back-end for omni channel capabilities. Most often, they had multiple administrators managing store, web, and mobile configurations of offers, promotions, and discounts. Contradictions in offers were visible due to time lag in configuration updates.

While designing our Retail ViVA ERP, we kept the critical maxim of single administration for all channels, be it physical store or web or mobile. What customers see is the same across channels as administration is unified for all.

Unified commerce-enabled systems also provide visibility of stock company-wide, analytics of customer behaviours channel-wise, and thus facilitates more understanding of the customer from Retailers’ point of view. Any personalization can’t be attempted without the above basics. It is personalization that enhances customer experience and thus enhances customer retention.

Don’t settle for just Omnichannel enablement in your ERP, settle for unified commerce, and single administration of all channels. That’s key to the success of enabling excellent customer experience!!

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan

Using AI for supporting contextually relevant and on-demand information

Today’s business world is competitive, full of intelligent strategies to create new brand vibes and experiences. Strategic intentions require the weighing of various alternatives. Today’s data science algorithms facilitate data analytics, presentation, and visualization and thus become a sound decision support system. However, the challenge still lies in getting context-relevant information during the decision-making process. Even if the relevance is adequate, the question of intelligent information to decision-making on-demand comes next

When you are in the moment of strategic decision making, you often find that you are short of that one or two unanticipated critical relevant information to make the right decision. The pre-set analytics or data visualizations need to be re-drawn to another created moment aborting the current moment where a reasonable amount of time invested in making a decision. A second moment has its own warm-up time and thus, cumulatively, we spend more time to make the right and intelligent decision. Most corporate decisions are made not in one moment, and delay in decision-making is one of the most inefficient processes that pull down an organizational success. Unless you have context-relevant information on demand, you need another moment and another moment and so on.

Any information system should facilitate providing information to users as they demand so that all moments are fulfilling with full set of information to make the right decision. This way, you don’t need to anticipate a variety of information needs and prepare for it. The foundation information for the decision making can get prepared in advance, but all artifacts of information surrounding them should be accessible on demand.

To solve this problem, we built “Tulsi,” our AI-powered on-demand information bot, which then brings up information from our Retail ViVA database to the user’s command. In any moment of your meetings, you can get all contextual information to make your intelligent strategic decision.

A real on-demand information system is the one retailer look for today. Like a stitch in time saves nine, a decision in time may save hundreds of dollars! A modern Retail ERP system must have on-demand information provision for saving precious management time.

Written by
(Ragu)nathan Kannan