OPINIONRetailers

Investing in Front-Line Employees Key to Moving Grocery Industry Forward

Continuing stresses on the workforce call for new tools and training
Photograph: Shutterstock

Grocery store employees were among the first front-line workers directly impacted when the pandemic struck our communities earlier this year. You know this. You lived it. You had to adapt to the new normal at exponentially accelerated levels, launching or expanding click-and-collect online ordering programs in record time, managing inventory levels and customer expectations. Not to mention having to enforce new regulatory policies and social distancing measures on the fly. Now that we’re five months in, the primary challenges haven’t so much subsided as changed direction.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, your grocery store managers were forced to ramp up hiring efforts under surging customer demands. At the same time, employee churn rates jumped with many workers not wanting to put themselves at risk. The urgency to hire and onboard new employees has abated, only to be replaced with new imperatives as front-line workers are having to manage a whole new set of customer service challenges. With many supermarket associates feeling overworked and undervalued, the outbreak has made it abundantly clear that the grocery industry must put employees first by investing in cross-training and up-skilling opportunities.

On-the-job training has taken on a new meaning as social distancing all but eliminated common side-by-side training practices. Not only is it difficult to onboard new employees, training staff and keeping workers informed on new regulations is a challenge for stores that lack consistent and efficient employee communication practices. Most of your front-line workers do not have a work email, making communication between managers and employees limited to flyers posted in the staff breakroom or one-on-one conversations to review new policies, a time-consuming and ineffective process that often leaves many employees in the dark when it comes to important mandates.

The stores that are able to streamline and automate their employee communications in a single source see immediate results. By keeping the lines of communication open with front-line workers–while at the same time providing cross-training programs via a digital platform–your stores are able to keep customers happy and work moving forward.

The goal should always be to make employee communications transparent and accessible, ensuring everyone receives consistent messaging. Enhanced employee communication systems not only heighten the employee experience, it decreases turnover and improves customer service initiatives. A well-informed employee who feels valued is more likely to take care of customers, improving the overall customer experience—not an easy task as many store associates are having to add conflict-resolution tactics to their job description.

Today’s customers are not nearly as understanding as they were at the beginning of the pandemic, often frustrated when the product they want is out of stock because of supply chain issues. Mask mandates have also heightened conflicts between customers, with shoppers calling out other shoppers for not following the rules. Grocery associates are often caught in the middle, having to deescalate hostile confrontations and mitigate high-pressure situations. Giving your store associates the tools and resources–and necessary customer service training–they need is a crucial step toward building a successful grocery business now and in the future.

The pandemic has forced the grocery industry to fast-track multiple business initiatives that were put on hold for many years. You’ve had to adopt mandatory safety and health policies, manage an influx of business and stay current on statewide regulations while maintaining high-performing work levels. The past six months have proven that the foundation of a thriving grocery environment relies on the agility to quickly train and empower store associates, so they leave their shift feeling valued. Those of you that are able to continue these new efforts post-COVID will undoubtedly flourish, retaining a highly skilled workforce and attracting top-notch employees.

Carol Leaman is president and CEO of Axonify.

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