Matt MacInnis, founder and chief executive officer of Inkling, believes in “mobilizing” the front lines of retail.

No. He’s not advocating pep talks or motivational seminars to the selling associates. Rather, his firm Inkling works with retailers, restaurants and other industries to implement mobile technologies for enhanced service and customer experiences.

“Make mobile a central component of your workforce-enablement strategy. Embrace and extend messaging as a powerful communication tool, and reduce your resources to a single digital place to go for the field team,” MacInnis said during his presentation.

He predicted that some technologies will play a bigger role on the retail landscape, citing wearables, chatbots and voice-associated technologies like Amazon’s Alexa.

Changing demographics, with Millennials outnumbering Gen Xers and Baby Boomers and having different attitudes with respect to technology and mobile devices, “is changing the calculus and making it possible to bring technologies to the workplace in new ways.

“And yet, how many of you have walked into one of your locations and seen a binder recently…and there are a lot of walkie talkies in use, too. There is the dusty PC in the back. There are fax machines. There’s a lot of note-taking particularly in clienteling in smaller boutiques — a lot of handwritten notes.

“There is a mish-mash of different old-world technologies that ultimately need to be consolidated down to mobile devices at some point,” MacInnis said. “Eighty percent of retailers have a plan to do so.”

However, 13 percent of retail organizations feel their associate-level mobile programs are working well, while the remaining 87 percent are in some phase of needing to improve it, or having plans to do it for the first time, MacInnis said.

He posed the question: “How can we move away from these old models of communication to get to superior execution across an organization and, of course, deliver a better customer experience as a result?”

Kohl’s Corp., he said, shifted a loss-prevention program to mobile devices and was able to, in real time, see which stores had implemented the program, which had not, and saw a strong correlation between implementation and reduced shrinkage levels.

He also cited cases where Benefit, the cosmetics company, rolled out mobile devices to stores to bring associates up to speed on new products, and Target implemented on-boarding and other programs digitally.

“Whenever you move things to digital you are setting yourself up for success,” MacInnis said.

Voice-assisted technology entering the workplace is “right around the corner,” he added, noting that a voice machine is an easy way to reach the Internet and grab an answer to a question.

He also said chatbots are “really powerful if you provide an enterprise-sanctioned version of  WhatsApp or Viber or any of the messaging environments. “So if I can chat with my boss in a sanctioned environment and ask a question, then an artificially intelligent operator can intervene and actually give me an answer before a person had to lift their thumbs — this is going to be a very powerful component in the way the retail environment works.”

He cited the case of Shoe Sensation Inc., a shoe chain for the family concentrated in smaller communities two or more hours away from urban centers and  stocked with 10,000 shoes.

“Let’s say you are a heavy person and you want to take up running for your health. If you want to know what running shoe is best for your body and running style, what are the odds that the one or two people on staff at that Shoe Sensation happens to be a running expert?”

A solution would be to deploy mobile devices with each associate giving them an enterprise-sanctioned environment with a group that has running experts in it, and ready to quickly reply to queries.

MacInnis encouraged his audience to “make mobile part of your workforce-enablement strategy today. Messaging is going to be the core channel through which you communicate with staff, and how you run a field operations. It’s not e-mail. It’s not binders. It’s not any of these traditional methods.…Embrace and extend messaging as opposed to putting in policies to ban it.” Most people ignore them anyway, he said.

“Ditch the binders. Reduce your resources in volume and get them down to a single, digital place for your team…not because that in of itself is going to change everything.…The point is it builds a foundation for all of the technology that is coming, if you can get in the habit of doing digital workflow, now you are ready for all of these things we can see just around the corner.

“Things that are just around the corner are going to have a significant impact on desk-less workers very broadly, and of course specifically within the retail industry. However, we think this is an opportunity to create unique and compelling experiences that will give us a shot at competing with the online giants of today.”

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