To help retailers and brands, I’m delighted to continue our series, “Applying 2019 Predictions To Retail.” Last week, my colleague Claudia Tajima spoke with Harley Manning about how customer experience (CX) is affecting retailers in 2019. I interviewed Sam Stern, principal analyst, part of Forrester’s employee experience (EX) team, and also an expert on customer-centric culture. Here’s what Sam suggests retailers and brands should focus on regarding EX going forward in 2019. 

Fiona: What do retailers need to focus on most in terms of what is most important to their employees this year?

Sam: “Tell me the larger meaning of the work that I do.” Employees up and down the organization want meaning and purpose; they want dignity in their workThis is important not only for office workers at headquarters but is also hugely important for retailers to think about with store associates, including seasonal workers. No matter their position, retail workers want to know that what they do at work connects to the larger organization. As retailers, if you connect the work to the larger purpose of the organization, both you and the employee benefit.

Fiona: Employees want to know what their employers’ values are (or, as we’ve seen in our empowered customer research, “there’s no more place for ‘neutral.’”). Brands like Nike, Patagonia, REI, and more are quite vocal about their values. How do those values come through in everyday work, mission, and strategy?

Sam: Any employee can be choosier in a tight labor market. Prospective employees think, “I expect you as an organization to have a set of values, so help me connect with your values — am actively looking to see evidence of those in your organization. We’ll see a new front open regarding transgender rights, and companies will have to take a stance on this issue, whether they want to or not. Forrester’s Employee Experience Index tells us that factors such as “My manager lives my company’s values” and “My company helps its employees live its core values” are some of the attributes that rise to the top of what makes employees happy and productive.

Where to start? Lead by communicating your company’s values in clear ways on your career pages — but (very importantly!) then follow through in the daily employee experience. The Container Store is a great example of publicizing and then living its values for a great employee experience (which in turn increases the likelihood of a great customer experience).

Fiona: You mention workplace distractions as something for companies to grapple with in 2019. As one example, Macy’s “Time is Money” program helps employees manage their calendars when they become overloaded. What should retailers do about this?

Sam: The amount of time that office workers in general spend in meetings is a mostly unexamined data set — think about all the data sitting in our calendars, going back months and yearsFew employers have done the math to understand how employees are spending their time — for example, how often are employees in recurring meetings? How valuable is the time they spend in meetings and other activities? We found in the course of our research that one retailer batch-delivers emails to store managers so that they know they have several hours at a time to be on the floor with their team and their customers without worrying about an overflowing inboxThese tools then help the company culture to change around expectations of always being available to answer questions and work, even when they’re not on the clock.

Another example is Starbucks, which had to course correct after the Mobile Order & Pay service was initially something of an employee distraction, interrupting the traditional store flow. The popularity of this service ultimately made the company rejigger store operations to dedicate an employee to those orders to let other employees focus on their main tasks.

PS — There are some great books about how employers can help their employees create more balance, including It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work” by Jason Fried and Dave Heinemeier Hansson and the recently published Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, which examines how to remove distractions.

Fiona: So what about metrics? Companies are looking at “people analytics solutions.” When are metrics helpful? How can they potentially hurt or blind an organization to how employees really feel and what they need to feel to be successful?

Sam: I don’t know of a use case where more metrics led to better outcomes. Rather than hard metrics, our advice is that companies share numbers with context or interpretation — and detached from the performance review. Otherwise, it becomes about achieving that target specifically vs. the broader objective — for example, achieving a specific Net Promoter Score* rather than achieving a great customer experience.

Stay tuned for next week’s interview, in which we’ll speak with Michele Goetz about artificial intelligenceFor more information on where the retail industry is headed and how to prepare your business, join us for our complimentary webinar events: Future Of Retail Three Part Series.


* Net Promoter and NPS are registered service marks, and Net Promoter Score is a service mark, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.