New research reveals more than half of retail workers want clearer communication from management

The customer is king for firstline workers and business managers

Despite differences in their day-to-day responsibilities, new research from Microsoft Australia released today has revealed that firstline workers in the retail industry – the people who engage with customers directly – and business managers experience similar challenges and pressures in the workplace, despite having different business priorities.

In an online survey commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by research firm, YouGov, over 1,000 working adults employed in four industry sectors – health, retail, manufacturing and public sector were surveyed. The research looks to establish what are the greatest challenges and pressures workers face and to identify the types of solutions employees want to help alleviate them.

When it comes to the top three strategic priorities in the next 12 months, the top priority that firstline workers and business managers share is improving their customers’ experience. However, this is more significant for firstline workers (63 per cent) compared to business managers (52 per cent).

Firstline workers rank growing their skill set as the second major priority (61 percent) followed by improving the culture in their workplace (40 per cent). Business managers were more focused on achieving financial goals in their roles.

Retail sector under pressure

More than three quarters of business managers (78 per cent) and 73 per cent of firstline workers feel the pressure of work when it comes to meeting deadlines or expected outcomes. With the retail landscape facing extreme competition, close to three quarters of business managers (73 per cent) identify with the job pressure of meeting financial performance targets and maintaining a healthy profit margin compared to firstline workers (67 per cent).

Retail workers are also under pressure to maintain their health and wellbeing with close to seven out of 10 firstline retail workers (67 per cent) and nearly three quarters of business managers (73 per cent) saying this is a source of pressure in their jobs.

Employee engagement drives customer experience 

Delivering superior customer service and being flexible to changing consumer demands are essential for survival in retail, but disengaged firstline workers – the very people who engage with customers on the shop floor – are impeding this success. The research reveals 34 per cent of firstline workers are committed but not engaged in their current role, compare to 15 per cent of business managers.

Ian Heard, Modern Workplace Lead, Microsoft Australia said, “Employee engagement goes right to the heart of a business and does not just makes a business unique, but also successful. A workforce that is passionate, connected and engaged helps to drive innovation and propels the business forward. At Microsoft, we empower firstline retail workers by providing them with digital tools to exercise greater creative and strategic freedom, bringing real value to their work. Retailers which create an engaged, connected and collaborative workforce will be better poised for success in the long-term.”

Technology gets employees closer to their customers and leadership teams

Thirty-five per cent of business managers in the retail industry surveyed said their organisations provided their employees with the latest devices for their workplaces putting them ahead of business managers in the health, public sector and manufacturing industries.

However, 37 per cent of firstline workers in retail claimed they had limited access to the latest devices – with almost half (42 per cent) of the respondents saying the biggest impact of technology is it allows them to spend more time with their customers.

The research further reveals more than half of retail workers want clearer communication from their leadership teams to alleviate the pressures they experience in their workplaces. This is significantly more important for firstline workers (61 per cent) compared to business managers (41 per cent).

“In an age where digital has become more prominent, traditional methods are becoming far less effective with workers feeling frustrated and unmotivated by the disconnect experienced from management. At Microsoft, we recognise the value of having access to the latest technologies including devices as a tool to bridge this disconnect and enhance communication. Microsoft’s Surface Go which is now available in Australia, has been purposely designed to support retail environments as firstline workers need to access information on demand while they are with their customers in stores.

“Its innovative design allows firstline workers to be closer to their senior management and customers. With access to a smarter and simpler tool for daily tasks from making enquiries about inventory levels to getting the latest updates on products they are about to stock, communications are crucial for success in retail environments.”

Inspiration through collaboration

Through the digital transformation of its business, Amart Furniture enhanced its workplace culture to empower a dispersed and mobile workforce. This shift has helped its employees to collaborate in real time and inspired new customer service ideas through a feedback loop.

One of Australia’s leading furniture retailers, Amart Furniture has 63 stores across the country and an annual purchasing budget of more than $500 million. Ensuring Amart’s almost 2,000 staff are kept in the loop about the products for sale is a key goal for their business.

Nick Shelton, General Manager of People at Amart Furniture said traditionally, “We’ve communicated things to our store managers, and then expected them to communicate to their leadership team and to their team as well.  And when that happens, you get a bit of a dilution of the message occurring, and the team members who are the receivers of that information are not always aware about what are we trying to achieve or what direction we’re heading in.

“The digital transformation for Amart Furniture was really quite an important shift for us. Technology has allowed us to communicate with all of our teams simultaneously across the nation.

“We’ve experienced such a significant amount of growth, it was absolutely critical for us to be able to share the wonderful things about our culture with our new team members, and the communication platform has enabled us to do that.  It’s enabled us to be able to share the great things that are about our organisation, but also allowed our team to communicate back up to us about how they’re experiencing certain systems and process and allow us to modify those as well.”

Microsoft 365, Yammer and Microsoft Teams together form the cloud-based communications and collaboration fabric for Amart and according to Shelton, this has, “amplified our culture and engaged with all our teams across the nation.”

The findings of this research support the launch of new capabilities into Microsoft Teams, facilitating streamlined communication and collaboration between business managers and firstline workers. This includes Shifts, a new feature which enables managers to create schedules and employees to swap shifts and request time off. Workers will also have access to Teams via a mobile app, giving them access to rostering, to-do lists and important organisation-wide announcements.

In addition, live and on-demand events, now generally available in Microsoft 365 enable staff to create and stream events including training sessions in Microsoft Stream, Teams, or Yammer informing and engaging employees from the firstline to management.

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