How technology can reduce retail labor costs by increasing productivity

June 14, 2022 Windstream Enterprise 4 min
As inflation rises, retailers can build on a digital foundation to fight rising labor costs by thinking beyond the front of the store, streamlining customer service, and reducing CX and EX friction to increase efficiency and productivity.

Retailers are grappling with inflation, a tight job market and rising labor costs for both corporate and in-store employees as wages continue to increase. Data from Brookings has shown that nominal wages for retail and hospitality workers have increased the most of any major industry, while at the same time these industries experience among the highest job vacancy rates.  And labor challenges aren’t just in customer-facing roles, either. Retail is also dealing with a rising number of corporate job openings as more Americans from all walks of life leave or change their jobs. 

One way to mitigate the impact of these challenges is by supporting increased productivity among your workforce. Technology can help to accomplish this goal—at least when it’s implemented with the right intent. It shouldn’t be simply about using automation to reduce staffing, as that approach can lead to a diminished customer experience (CX). Rather, implementing technology should be about optimizing for a better employee experience (EX), which can have follow-on CX benefits in the process. 

Thinking beyond front-of-store

There are some areas of retail where the application of technology can have a clear impact on staffing needs. On the front end of stores, for example, retailers could add more self-checkout kiosks to shorten lines for customers while reducing labor needs. Alternatively, retailers can upgrade their point-of-sale solutions to maximize store associate flexibility and speed, helping get customers through the store faster thanks to improved payments capabilities.

Other in-store solutions also have the power to improve CX while streamlining staff workloads (potentially driving up productivity). And those solutions are also in-line with buyer expectations: According to recent industry research, 72% of customers use contactless payments some or most of the time, and 5.3 billion QR-coded coupons are expected to be redeemed this year. These technologies combined with others like self-checkout, product locators, inventory lookup, and endless aisle are important factors when customers are choosing where to shop. 

Additional opportunities for technology to drive productivity gains can come from areas other than inside the store. Customer demands for seamless shopping experiences have changed significantly over the past few years, and every indication is that these changes are here to stay. Ensuring your entire organization is connected and well-equipped for communication through Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), for example, can increase communication efficiency, helping each employee get more done and breaking down potential barriers to a seamless retail experience. 

A unified collaboration solution allows employees to communicate through a single platform, no matter where they are or what device they are using.

Upgrading from legacy services to next-gen UCaaS makes it easier for retail organizations to communicate internally in a variety of ways—from secure video conferencing to voice messaging to text. With a truly unified collaboration solution, employees can respond any time by communicating through a single platform, no matter where they are or what device they are using.

UCaaS also supports the integration of third-party communication tools and apps that can boost employee productivity by reducing the barriers between the different programs employees need to use to do their jobs. Additionally, the best solutions ensure calls, chats, messages and meetings are encrypted for top-tier security of customer data and payment information. UCaaS also provides a powerful customer service solution when combined with Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). 

Enhancing customer service while increasing efficiency

Since 90% of global consumers believe customer service is somewhat to very important in their choice of a brand, retailers must continue to take customer service seriously even as they grapple with labor costs and turnover challenges. As retailers deal with service issues like returns, orders and questions, they’re looking for ways to lessen the service burden on staff and help their service teams operate more effectively. Implementing a Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution is one way to address these challenges by accommodating each customer’s communication medium of choice in the service environment. As covered by Gartner in their third pillar of customer service, a contact center can become much more efficient through the knowledge and insights provided by the real-time monitoring and recording functions offered by a CCaaS solution. 

CCaaS solutions also drive productivity by providing retailers with call management and measurement tools they can use to maximize agent handling and drive first-call resolution. With an effective CCaaS solution, multiple communication methods can be routed to top agents and queues can be prioritized over one another for maximum efficiency.

Retailers can apply insights from CCaaS to optimize customer service resourcing and performance and achieve meaningful cost savings. 

Using CCaaS systems, retailers can monitor and report on total calls answered and abandoned, wait and talk time, and many other key metrics. They can then apply those insights to optimize customer service resourcing and performance. In the process, they can achieve meaningful cost savings: One organization that implemented CCaaS was able to save $2 million a year by bringing inbound customer calls to a favorable resolution within their interactive voice response system and achieving reduced handle-times.

A more seamless CX and EX

For retailers, it is possible to reduce labor costs without risking the customer experience––but there are no shortcuts. It takes thoughtful application of technology to help drive up staff productivity, potentially reducing labor costs while better meeting customers’ needs. Cloud-based UCaaS and CCaaS solutions can help retailers achieve that, while potentially lowering total cost of ownership (and labor costs) in the process.

By deploying new employee communication and customer service tools, organizations can find new opportunities to enhance CX while helping employees do their jobs more effectively. When combined, UCaaS and CCaaS solutions deliver total employee collaboration from anywhere, as well as faster response times to customer service requests. 

Ultimately, solutions built on a digital foundation increase business efficiency and productivity, helping drive down labor costs.

Visit Windstream Enterprise to discover how implementing seamless, cloud-based communications and collaboration tools can help retailers mitigate the impacts of today’s challenges.

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Key Takeaway
Retail tech can help businesses improve the employee experience—key to survival in a tight job market with rising labor costs. The right digital tools satisfy customer demands while reducing barriers.

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