Empowering Deskless Workers

Karen McCandless explores the technology that can improve employee productivity - anytime, anywhere

With retailers increasingly competing against online counterparts like Amazon.com, as well as the emergence and subsequent rise of the informed shopper, it's more important than ever to provide differentiation through superior in-store experience and customer service. A key part of this is the store-based workforce that sits on the front line of customer service and sales - the so-called 'deskless' workers.

"Store workers at most have access to a variety of single purpose devices - such as POS terminals, time clocks, kiosks and mainframe terminals," says Greg Jones, industry solution manager of Worldwide Retail at Microsoft. "As a result, the necessary processes for HR workflow, scheduling, training, task management and compliance are time consuming, costly, prone to error, and difficult to measure and optimize. In addition, many efforts to improve customer service backfire because the necessary training and tools take employees further away from customers." To date, productivity solutions have been limited to information workers, who have dedicated PC workstations. But retailers are now striving to get the highest level of productivity from the store associates. "With store associates being challenged to become more knowledgeable and provide better customer service, they need solutions that can better serve their needs, and bridge the gap between online and offline shopping," says Vic Miles, industry technology strategist, Worldwide Retail at Microsoft.

"Retailers need to take existing information that is available at a corporate level and provide this to store managers and associates," adds Mike Adams, lead, retail industry practice at Dell. "This can be from scheduling labor to task management to business intelligence processes. Employees need access to this information and tools in a secure way on their own device. And if the employee loses the device, the information must be able to be wiped off the device securely."

Thankfully there is help at hand - Microsoft's Office 365 cloud productivity suite addresses the deskless worker's issues. Office 365 has become the go-to choice of retailers for software-as-a-service, with six of the top ten largest retailers in the US using the cloud suite, according to the National Retail Federation.

"Office 365 enables operational efficiency (saving time and money), helps improve the customer experience (sales readiness) and drives regulatory compliance," says Jones. "The suite can be accessed from workstations or durable devices in store (on the shop floor or the back office), PCs at home or mobile and tablet devices on the go."

According to Miles, Office 365 is the most innovative way to deliver this type of content worldwide. "It provides the store associate with access to more information in a way that fits the modern lifestyle of the new demographic - the so-called search engine generation - that like to consume things in small, bite-size chunks," he says.

The solution is already in use at some of the world's largest retailers, with Tesco having deployed the platform to provide a better customer experience. Lowe's implemented Office 365 across more than 1,745 stores, 200,000 employees and its corporate offices in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Office 365 is helping the home improvement retailer improve customer service by providing collaboration tools to increase communication among its stores and employees.

Caltex Australia chose Office 365 to energize employee communication and drive mobility. Meanwhile, JCPenney, Coles Australia, Starbucks, Patagonia, Dixons Retail and Svyaznoy Group have also all chosen Office 365."

Microsoft - with services such as Office 365, as well as our range of Windows-based devices (tablets, mobiles and desktops) - enables retailers to create personal, seamless and differentiated shopping experiences for guests while gaining operational efficiencies," says Jones.

"Through Microsoft's increasing focus on becoming a devices and services company, we allow employees to use familiar applications and devices for both home and at work, and provide retailers with the flexibility to use the right device or tool to connect head office, store management, employees and consumers in an integrated way," concludes Miles.