As labor costs continue to rise at the same time customers demand better service, the time is now for food retailers to re-examine their everyday operations. Leveraging automation—in the form of new technologies, training and other tools—can help retailers redeploy their labor by essentially “outsourcing” repetitive, manual tasks so that staff can focus more on customer service and satisfaction.
Here are a few steps grocery stores can take to make the most of automation and optimize their workforce to not only cut costs, but also enhance customer service in an increasingly competitive market.
Leverage new technologies
Several restaurant chains have already adopted many new technologies intended for labor automation, such as self-serve ordering kiosks, third-party delivery platforms, mobile apps and software programs for tracking sales and managing purchases. So why shouldn’t grocery stores?
“The grocery segment has a unique opportunity to take advantage of these tools,” says Daniel Boutarel, managing associate at The New England Consulting Group, a retail and hospitality consulting firm. “The winners of tomorrow are going to be able to leverage both the customer service in store and technology aspect to enhance the convenience side of the business.”
A grocery store could, for example, invest in a mobile ordering platform to allow customers to place and pay for foodservice or small grocery orders that they can then simply come in and pick up without the need for going through the checkout line. This could help stores cut down on the number of cashiers needed at all times of day.
Find technologically enhanced partners
Partnering with the right vendors—ones that have invested in technology themselves—can also cut down on manual processes, which allows staff to engage with customers or perform other, more important tasks.
Some cooking oil companies, for example, have built-in oil filling, disposing and filtration systems at the push of a button so that in-store staff members do not have to go through the tedious, messy and potentially dangerous step of manually pouring in new oil and carting away jugs of expired product. In grocery settings , this cuts down on the physicality of the manual task as well. A system like this, which also includes automatic re-ordering and waste hauling services, can save grocery stores at least three or more hours a week in additional labor.
Additionally, visual and audio alerts for fryers, coffee makers and other equipment and systems can also help staff know when maintenance is required without the need for constant monitoring.
Cross-train your staff
Another way to redeploy staff is to train employees on many tasks so they can be versatile and shifted around as necessary. This is particularly important as more groceries introduce in-store dining and other “restaurant-like” services.
“There is a world of opportunity just in good training alone,” says Gary Stibel, CEO of The New England Consulting Group. “Not only does cross-training increase flexibility for grocery stores, but it also makes employees more sensitive to what their teammates need to get the job done and enhance the customer experience.”
Moreover, some groceries now have staff nutritionists who not only develop healthy meal ideas for customers, but can also be used for assistance on the floor in place of extra employees. “Just like some drug stores are bringing their pharmacists from the back to the front counter, grocery stores can use their nutritionists to be able to help customers read labels and choose the right products for their needs,” Stibel says.
Take advantage of additional, outsourced training
Some equipment vendors and their partners offer additional, ongoing training, but it’s up to grocery stores to partner with the right suppliers and investigate those offerings.
A fryer purchase, for example, might come with an oil management training program, wherein customer service specialists train employees in stores on how to monitor and manage the filtration and cleaning requirements for the equipment.
Other equipment makers and providers offer cooking-related training, while some food companies offer product-use examples and other education that managers and grocery employees can use to step up their offerings and pass information onto their customers.
In an era where customer service has become as important as convenience, investing in the right technologies, tools and training assistance can help retailers succeed in both areas.
This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies