Retail executives depend on hourly employees and local store management to deliver great customer experiences, execute merchandising strategies and drive sales. However, there are often disconnects between staff members and corporate management. Store employees can get bogged down in day-to-day operations and, in turn, they can miss opportunities to improve the overall customer experience.

Real-Time Feedback vs. Traditional Store Communication
In most stores, employees receive feedback from managers about store operations and customer service data via regular performance reviews, daily check sheets and customer satisfaction survey results. While these approaches have been in place for years, they don’t always lead to the best results.

One example of communication failure is the customer satisfaction survey. Retail executives on the corporate level work to craft surveys that speak to the customer experience. The data should indicate what stores and employees are doing correctly and where improvement opportunities lie. Most retailers consider anything less than 100 percent on these surveys a failing grade.

Thus, store culture teaches hourly employees to seek perfect scores. The results of these surveys might keep employees from getting bad performance reviews, but the stores learn little about how to drive customer engagement or increase sales.

Real-time communication is most important when a company’s reputation is on the line. One infamous failure to communicate occurred when athletic apparel retailer lululemon’s black yoga pants — that were almost completely see-through — made their way up to corporate headquarters from local store management. By the time the information was filtered to the right people, the PR nightmare had already begun.

What followed was a series of communication blunders at both the corporate and store levels. One store even asked customers to try on the pants to demonstrate the product issue. This entire public relations crisis could have been solved through the use of a real-time feedback loop.

Real-Time Feedback Loops in Action
A real-time feedback loop solves communication breakdowns by providing meaningful feedback in ways that make it easy for managers, employees and executives to take action. It works by collecting data regularly and delivering those metrics to the appropriate staff members.

This can be done through mobile-based customer engagement platforms, Net Promoter scores and other metrics-based surveys. Contextualized data is collected, disseminated and packaged for store-level management to use when implementing company directives. Instead of waiting for quarterly reports, the feedback can be delivered weekly, daily or even hourly.

Say, for example, a customer makes a purchase and is invited to take a brief survey about her experience. It can be done over the phone or through a mobile app. She provides information about her experience, and the data is collected and plugged into a report that store staff can read almost immediately. The manager reviews the information and decides how to respond. If the customer has reported a negative experience, store staff can immediately work to repair the situation.

Benefits of Creating a Real-Time Feedback Loop
Implementing real-time feedback at the store level ensures that staff members are constantly adapting to customers’ needs. By reviewing data provided by customers during and after purchases, management can improve customer service by coaching sales staff, replenishing the sales floor to meet product demand, and directly addressing customer complaints.

Oriental Trading Company used real-time negative customer feedback to improve sales and customer experiences. By leveraging the information, the retailer was able to enhance product quality, communicate with disappointed customers and improve the marketing content on its website.

A real-time feedback loop can also improve the customer experience. While retailers have historically spent time and money researching product trends and target markets, their inventory selections didn’t always mesh with customer expectations. Retailers found they were merely making educated guesses about what consumers wanted.

With a real-time feedback loop, customers can actually tell merchants which products should be sold in stores. Amazon.com has taken the idea a step further by patenting technology that prepares items for shipment before customers even place orders. Immediate customer feedback helps the company anticipate which items it should have ready to ship at all times.

Customers who have negative experiences based on inventory selection can provide real-time feedback through customer satisfaction surveys, giving managers actionable data. For example, if a customer is upset because a certain item is out of stock, store staff can contact the customer, locate the merchandise within the company’s supply chain, and deliver a great customer experience. That reaction isn’t possible with traditional quarterly performance metrics.

It’s critical to turn around negative experiences quickly. Seventy percent of consumers will give a retailer a second chance if a complaint is resolved appropriately. Real-time feedback offers the best possible chance of winning back those unhappy customers.

Addressing the Culture Shift
Implementing real-time feedback at the store level requires a culture shift. Store management and employees will have to allow time for reviewing feedback (which might seem difficult, especially during slower times of the year when payroll hours are light). Some employees might be resistant simply because it’s a change from the status quo. Retail executives must partner with company divisions to reinforce the importance of using real-time feedback.

In addition, divisions must allow time for taking action on the data they receive. Managers must take the time to follow up on negative customer experiences, inventory challenges and other red flags. These responsibilities will often fall to salaried managers in order to preserve payroll for the sales floor.

Perhaps the biggest culture shift is seen in employee behavior. Real-time feedback gives managers immediate information about negative experiences on the sales floor or at the point of sale. This change should encourage your staff to be more responsive to customer concerns and complaints. Instant feedback about negative customer experiences can motivate hourly employees to engage shoppers and seek solutions.

Managers can begin to implement real-time feedback loops by discussing the change with staff members. Addressing questions and concerns is the first step toward successful implementation. While some employees may not feel comfortable with change, underscore the importance of real-time feedback by explaining how it can provide instant praise for a job well done. Celebrating little wins with real-time feedback is just as important as addressing customer experience opportunities.

Real-time feedback loops take advantage of big data, providing instant information about nearly every facet of retail operations. From improving the customer experience to driving profits, instant feedback is the next big thing for retail.

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