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Reinventing Communications: Next Step for Retail Workers


Photo of waitress with face mask checking curbside orders
Image: vichie81 -
In this article, the third in my continuing examination of usage profiles, I’ll be exploring enterprise communications requirements of the retail worker role. Previously, I’ve looked at field sales and services roles and production roles, showing how those usage profiles are usually best served by communication functions built into or integrated with purpose-built software applications.
Please note that the use of the word “retail” in this article relates to a specific customer-facing role we call the retail worker role, and not to the vertical industry segment known as retail. Workers in the retail role category represent about 9% of all jobs in the U.S., based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, that percentage will vary by enterprise and vertical industry, but will be a sizable portion of an enterprise’s workforce in sectors such as government, finance, food service, entertainment, transportation and, of course, retail stores.
Who Fits in the Retail Usage Profile?
Retail role workers are responsible for serving customers in person, and their well-known job titles include store clerk, showroom staff, wait staff, teller, insurance agent, utility counter staff, librarian, public records clerk, motor vehicles counter staff, ticket sales, airline agent, and many others. These jobs differ from those in the field usage profile since they are almost all on premises. And, they differ from the production usage profile since these workers interact with customers or citizens to deliver the products that the production team has created — e.g., the wait person interacts with the restaurant guest to take an order and then deliver the food produced. The retail worker role is almost certain to be a nonexempt, hourly job.
The pandemic has moved many retail roles into a contact center environment, and so has placed them under a different usage profile. However, we can assume many of those jobs will come back to the retail usage profile as people resume in-person activities such as eating in restaurants, going into banks and insurance offices, getting service and information from governmental offices, and shopping.
How Is Retail Usage Profile Work Performed?
Retail workers perform their roles, interface with customers, and deliver products and services according to established procedures. For example, most local government services are provided according to ordinances established by the governing body. Wait staff in a restaurant follow procedures to communicate the orders and exceptions (“Hold the mustard”) and to deliver the food in a timely and safe manner.
In addition, these procedures are increasingly supported by purpose-built software apps on the retail worker’s company-provided, on-site device or screen. In some cases, we are even seeing some of retail worker functions move to an app on the customer’s device. For example, some restaurants have adopted a model that allows customers to place a food order from a smartphone app so that the food is ready for consumption or pickup upon arrival. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, which will likely continue to spread in the “new normal.”
It is important to know that the availability of software apps on the retail worker’s company-provided, on-site wireless device is not just dependent on a few startups. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) powerhouses such as SAP and Oracle NetSuite and point-of-sale (POS) giants such as NCR and Toshiba are providing this software, too. Many of the newer providers, such as Square, come out of the POS payments business or from web marketing. All are adept at defining optimal workflows, including the movement of real-time calling to text chat or messaging for speed and efficiency.
How Do Retail Usage Profile Workers Communicate in Their Workflows?
Of course, the most important means of communication in the retail role is in-person conversation. In the past, the retail worker might have placed a call from a nearby telephone to check a store’s stock, confirm availability of an item at another store, or to verify a particular piece of information. Today, that need for a nearby telephone has all but disappeared. Almost all communications for information, verification, or approvals are now possible via a software app on the retail worker’s device or on a nearby workstation at the counter, on a wall, or in a back room.
This trend has become pervasive for several reasons. First, it is almost always more efficient for retail workers to access the needed information directly and visually rather than having to make a call to another staff member, wait for an answer or, worse, get routed to voicemail when the called party is busy or does not answer. Second, the app can assist the retail worker by guiding the process, providing helpful tips or supplemental information, and logging the activities. This is very important given the turnover rate among retail workers; being able to provide in-app assistance can reduce training time and cost of onboarding new workers in this role while increasing the service quality and consistency.
However, the retail worker will have communication requirements as an employee — whether full time, part time, or contractor — in order to connect to enterprise service departments such as human resources, payroll, and benefits. Also, the retail worker will need to attend in-person meetings, such as those held by managers at the start of each shift. These communication requirements are met by shared communication tools like telephones, computer terminals, and video training modules located in back-office rooms or spaces. These are part of the universal usage profile I will cover at the end of this series.
What Is the Optimal Communications Support for Retail Users?
The bottom line is that most workers in the retail role will not require a specific voice or video communication system account. They will not need a telephone number and are not likely to need a conferencing host account. And, since the retail worker role is non-exempt, this usage profile role is almost never provided with a mobile device nor required to work when not on site, on shift.
Sure, the retail worker role may use instant messaging or some other form of chat, but that is likely to be built into the software app the worker is using. However, the retail worker role will definitely need some form of messaging functionality, such as email or a workflow app like Microsoft Teams or Slack, for employee-specific communications.
The bottom line is that the retail usage profile is a very specific role, assisted by one or more software apps that will use enterprise communications tools only for common-area communications as an enterprise employee. This information aids enterprise communications managers in right-sizing their licensing and support for on-premises or cloud-based systems and services.

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.