Last mile connectivity in the retail sector

By : |July 3, 2019 0

The retail sector is one of those industries which have the most distributed presence. On average, retail organisations have a presence in anything between 10 – 500+ locations PAN India. Another complication gets added in the form of different types of work groups which form part of the retail sector- right from front line store staff, supply chain to a corporate office – every workgroup has different needs to connect for. And things get further interesting if these people are located beyond the tier 1 cities.

CiOL spoke to Vishal Saha, Founding Member and Chief Technology Officer, PeopleStrong, to understand challenges and solutions.

What are the challenges that retail sector face in enabling ‘last mile connectivity’?

For retails giants operating across India including Tier 2 and 3 cities, it becomes extremely difficult to manage and connect with their distributed workforce. When almost 60% of your people do not have email access, ensuring a seamless employee experience to a 10,000+ employee base becomes a cumbersome task. Programs and policies that are initiated at the organisational level are rarely able to benefit the last man standing in the stores.

For instance, for something as simple as a payroll inquiry or leave balance clarification, an employee operating out of Kanpur depends either on the store manager or try different routes to reach his/her HR connect. This entire process has an extensive turn-around-time with the queries going unanswered for elongated periods of time since the method of communication is disconnected and manual. Imagine the number of queries the HR department would be receiving in a day and answering each one of them is certainly a never-ending process.

And this is just the beginning, in any situation if a store employee needs to reach to its employers his or her only channel remains the store manager and in case they are unable or unwilling to help store employee has no other resort. Imagine what that would do to an employee’s engagement with the employer brand.

How to solve the last mile connectivity problem?

If we look at the core of the problem, there are two things missing in such a system. One, an interface that would safely and securely connect this distributed workforce, irrespective of geography, hierarchy or work timings.

The other is a way of reducing the manual hours spent on managing processes like employee query management. This is where collaborative enterprise solutions and AI powered chatbots come into the picture.

Retail enterprises are embracing Collaboration platforms to improve their reach to every single employee across geographies. It’s like a messenger but it operates in a more controlled and secure environment. These platforms are creating a virtual workplace where both top-down and bottom-up communication is possible. Moreover, such collaboration interfaces have inbuilt AI powered chatbots offering 24×7 support to employees from anywhere, anytime. These chatbots are akin to a personal smart work-life assistant equipped to answer all the incessant queries that would otherwise mind-boggle the HR manager sitting miles away.

This has worked well for brands like Future Group and V Mart, where a collaboration platform which is as easy to use as Whatsapp and but exceptionally secure provides an avenue to connect people across work groups and locations with a better response.

For instance, if the CEO of the organisation wishes to share a message with everyone, the same can be delivered to everyone via the ‘All Employee’ group in an instant. In addition to this Artificial Intelligence engine provides instant query resolution and quick access to data from anywhere, anytime using a conversational interface powered by NLP. It can solve queries on data (like leave balance, holiday calendar, shifts), answer any questions on organisational policies and programs as well as provide data insights for timely actions. The true power of the system comes from the fact that it doesn’t need the users to necessarily have email access or sign up either.

What is the impact of such tools and systems in place?

With every single employee across locations easily accessible, the communication flow is made easier with the effectiveness and reach of communication improving by over 50%. Artificial intelligence has also reduced manual intervention in query management. With such solutions, an employee is getting access to the required information in 50% lesser clicks and taps. Also, in the long run, adoption of such a technology will help these retail organisations increase employee experience, engagement and overall productivity. Most of the customers are eyeing to get approx. 15-20% improvement in productivity within 18-24 months of use.

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