The Enterprise Leader's Quick-start Guide to
Empowering your workforce with meaningful, actionable insights at the right time
Consider the ways in which your sales floor, customer service representatives, store managers, service techs, and stockroom employees encounter challenges and opportunities that may seem minuscule, but have a large impact on business results over time.
Smart organizations know they need to empower these teams with the ability to make informed decisions in the moment. In fact, in a Harvard Business Review survey, 87% of respondents said their organization would be more successful when frontline workers are empowered in this way, but 86% also said these same frontline workers need better, technology-enabled insight to be able to make good decisions in the moment. The reality is that few organizations are able to deliver on this.
The main questions for business leaders then become — why and how? Data-driven insights are critical to all business activities, but how do you align the broad view of corporate with the day-to-day needs of frontline workers? How do you get the right data to the right people at the right time? Why should frontline workers and leadership teams buy into a solution? It’s necessary to find the answers to all of these questions in order for any organization to drive real-time impact at every level of the business.
While your data initiative will need a clear business outcome in order for leadership to buy in, there also needs to be buy-in from your frontline workforce. For real-time impact, you will need to address the biggest needs of frontline workers as well as the biggest gains for leaders — and find a way to address the two in tandem.
Whereas your data teams come equipped with foresight afforded to them by the data itself, your frontline workers obviously have considerable insights into specific pain points that hinder efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction. But in order to adopt and understand the foresights of the data, employees need to see the value a solution provides to their day-to-day activities.
Once you’ve acquired initial data from your knowledge workers, you need to incentivize your frontline workers to use these same insights by making it clear that doing so will make their jobs easier or make them more productive in their roles. Empowering your workforce in this way serves as the first step in creating actionable change. Essentially, by showing the frontline-specific value of your solution to those actually on the frontline, you are solving for an inherent problem large organizations encounter with data:
“Data is controlled by people who understand data and needed by people who don’t.” — HBR Pulse Survey: Turning Data Into Unmatched Business Value
When data exists but a company lacks the tools or culture to enable employees to effectively access and analyze it, businesses miss out on opportunities, employees wind up frustrated, and ultimately, customers suffer. So how do you go about putting that data in everyone’s hands, in the most effective way — in a way that frontline workers will readily adopt?
While there are other challenges that can emerge through the process of providing your frontline workers with data (more on that later) doing so is necessary to address the initial issues that are critical for frontline workers to better do their jobs and for leadership to see how confronting those issues directly affects company success. More effective employees mean improved customer experience and bottom line for the business.
One of our large retail clients needed a way to integrate knowledge base access into the daily activities of their employees.
In their retail environment, employees were all over the floor — each with long to-do lists and frequent interruptions. This was also compounded by the fact that help could be 50 yards away in their expansive store layouts. The store operations team sought an easy way to provide specific information to frontline employees in their precise moment of need.
Previously, the employee would need to open the store’s public-facing consumer mobile app, then walk to the listed product location with the customer, where it might be out of stock. The employee was left unable to find a way to address the customer’s needs, and, by extension, the customer had a negative store experience.
How a frontline-focused UX approach drives buy-in and real-time impact
Even if you feel like you have the perfect solution to a frontline issue, you need to ensure your employees see the value it provides to them. You need to be able to identify and address their biggest pain points and put them in context with the biggest gains leadership wants to see. Essentially, make sure you’re building a tool that seamlessly fits into improving your frontline workers’ user experience without it becoming too burdensome in order for them to adopt it.
Start with a pilot project to prove out your concept as a means to gather initial buy-in before you begin. Keep things simple and contained. With a large retail client, we created a MVP tool which we piloted within three stores over two months, with a larger pilot completed the following month. Through this smaller rollout, we gathered the insights of multiple employees at various levels in different regions around the country.
At this point in the process, it’s also important to note that your prospective solution should be kept as simple and performant as possible. There doesn’t need to be a dashboard — only provide what your frontline employees absolutely need. If you provide anything more, the process can become too nuanced and not worth the required effort necessary for your employees to buy in.
This idea of giving your frontline employees only what they need (and nothing more) to resolve a given pain point can be summarized simply as, meet them where they are. You want to find the sweet spot of giving frontline workers only as much as is absolutely necessary for them to fulfill a given task while also being respectful of their time and bandwidth in regards to their other responsibilities.
In a sense, rather than investing effort in change management after rolling out your new solution, you will invest energy up front with your users to ensure it’s a solution they feel is worth using. Consider what will most immediately get someone to use the specific tool with a frontline-focused approach.
In the case of our previously mentioned retail client, a significant amount of frontline buy-in revolved around ease of use. Creating versions of the app for both iOS and Android devices — added an additional layer of trust and satisfaction, and by extension, more buy-in. All hourly users were also eventually able to use their personal devices, typically having their phone out with the app on, using the talk function for added efficiency when seeking information.
The visual design of the app also played a factor in buy-in, with large text, minimal but important information, and a clean design all adding to its ease of use. We take a deeper dive into this topic in our guide on data visualization.
After talking with frontline workers at various levels at multiple store locations, understanding user pains, and rolling out the app that aimed to address them, we knew we were developing the right pilot solution. Next, we completed further investigation into second-tier workforce needs.
In this part of the process, you will want to take an even more frontline-focused approach. For example, we found that a common employee question was, “When do I work next?” It wasn’t a particularly important question from a corporate perspective, but employees greatly benefited from using the current app to see this information. In this way, you will want to work to improve your current solution with an eye for frontline workers first.
To make this easy for frontline employees, you’ll want to create a means for additional user responses and requests to be backlogged, identified, and categorized so targeted efforts could be made to upskill associates in whatever particular area they are concerned. This process of essentially saying, “You asked for it, now here it is!” addressed frontline UX needs in a way that they themselves prioritized.
A dashboard may not be the best way to meet employees where they’re at with insights. Here are three methods you could use to give frontline employees the insights they need in a format that integrates seamlessly with their daily tasks.
We’ve talked a lot about our work creating a chat bot for this exact scenario, but that’s because it worked so well. Employees were familiar with this kind of technology outside of work, so they quickly adopted the new functionality. The chatbot made it easier and less intimidating to ask for the data they needed to do their jobs.
Similar to chatbots, text messaging or push notification is another method to get insights into the hands of employees — literally. Depending on your environment, one may work better than the other, but both are a quick and extremely simple way to surface relevant insights. Think: texting a store manager an update every morning with their staffing, and a suggestion of adjustments based on the weather.
Okay, this one isn’t groundbreaking, but can be overlooked. Think about what tools your employees are already using on a daily basis — maybe it’s a communication platform or a knowledge base. Are there ways you can call out insights within that tool? This is a great way to test an MVP with a phased approach
How providing data to frontline workers drives real-time impact at all levels
At the most empowered organizations, frontline employees are not just able to take action based on data and insight provided to them; they’re encouraged to go beyond the scope of what their jobs encompassed in the past to operate more autonomously.
Prior to changes rolled out on our retail client’s sales floor, frontline workers were often reluctant to reach out or ask for help on things that went beyond the initial training they received. But when an AI-powered virtual assistant chatbot sitting atop a vast employee knowledge base was created for them, it turned out these frontline workers were willing to ask it almost any question in relation to their work – 8 million to date.
By making this resource available to the frontline, employees were eager to become more knowledgeable of their roles without feeling exposed or nervous about not being completely proficient. The employees were also able to learn more efficiently by referring to the digital assistant compared to traditional training. Eventually, common, repetitive tasks like item lookup saw a time reduction of 40% with this technology.
We touched on it a bit initially, but it’s important to note that you need to balance your users’ real-world needs and understand their tasks in relation to your business objectives. Your ultimate goal is to empower your frontline workers to achieve business goals — more on that here.
Luckily, data-driven insights are critical to all business activities, whether it’s delivering a tailored customer experience, bringing a new product to market, or streamlining operations. When executed properly, putting the necessary data in the hands of frontline workers almost assuredly produces positive outcomes on multiple levels.
When RevUnit created this employee-focused app that was intuitive, solved for the most important user questions, and went beyond the scope of the consumer-facing app, employees immediately provided more value to consumers because they no longer had to ask others for assistance, walk away to ask another employee for help, or venture to find a product only to find it was out of stock.
By addressing frontline worker needs with critical data, the retailer was able to create empowered, knowledgeable employees and satisfied customers in order to drive company wide-success.
While there’s plenty of talk about mobile apps for customers, apps for frontline workers may do more to merge the convenience of online shopping with in-store experiences.
The chat bot-enabled app RevUnit worked to develop allowed employees to get more information without having to walk away from a customer to ask someone else, or without leading that customer to another department only to discover an item is out of stock. That personal experience itself may motivate customers to come back to shop at a brick-and-mortar location.
In addition, when a certain item was out of stock, the app would then suggest in-stock alternatives to that item, typically leaning towards the retailer’s branded products. With the help of this tool employees were more able to help customers, customers were able to get an alternative to an out-of-stock item, and that item was now more likely to be one of their own vs. a competitor’s.
When data exists but isn’t accessible to frontline employees, retailers miss out on opportunities to drive improvements, increase productivity, and delight customers.
You need to be able to create a process that transfers this data knowledge to your frontline in a way that is uniquely suited to their most critical needs while not being too burdensome. Creating the structure for frontline buy-in on this new process can be difficult, but it’s a critical box that must be checked in order for frontline workers and leadership to have alignment of what the former feel they need to ensure the success the latter wants.
Remember, if you’re looking to empower your organization from top to bottom, you need to ensure your frontline employees are not just able to take action based on the data provided to them matched with their on-the-job insights; you must encourage them (whether with a bot, chat app, or by other means) to go beyond the scope of what their jobs encompassed in the past to operate more autonomously to drive real-time impact for the future.