Practical Microsoft Solutions for Improving Communication in Retail
Modern retailers are focusing on how to combine the best of both worlds: online and in-store, digital and physical. One of the major aspects of this “best of both worlds” is communication. And Microsoft offers many of the tools you need to improve the different levels of communication so you can remain both competitive and agile in the modern retail landscape.
Levels of Communication in Modern Retail
There are various levels of communication in contemporary retail:
Consumers communicate with stores
The head office communicates with suppliers and store managers
Store managers communicate with suppliers, and consumers, but not so much with the head office
The suppliers communicate with stores, but not so much with the head office
Store managers communicate with store associates
Improved communication brings benefits in the form of productivity, innovation, and better morale. But how can communication be improved?
Microsoft’s Approach to Communication
Instead of providing a single approach to communication for all levels of a retail business, Microsoft aims to provide the right capabilities to the right people.
For example, it is natural that managers would use a different communication tool to share ideas with other managers that they would use to share policy updates with associates and staff. It is also critical that managers and associates are only provided access to the information they really need. Otherwise, they run the risk of being distracted from their job or being exposed to so much that they begin to ignore everything, including what they do need to know.
As a more real-world example, the portal (or view) that an associate would work with to access what they need is typically more action-oriented and focuses on providing them quick access to data and updates that directly pertain to them. There is usually very little time available to train associates on core products, much less get them up-to-speed on using productivity and communication tools. That means the simpler and more intuitive the associate portal is, the better. When using Microsoft tools, such an associate view is facilitated by SharePoint Online through Office 365.
Microsoft Office 365
In modern retail, it is vital that business owners, executives, managers have access to the very latest information. The challenge is making sure they still have that access while spending more time on the store floor with both customers and associates. The latest information not only includes sales numbers and the like but best practices.
Office 365, as opposed to on-premises Office installations, has proven to be a powerful tool to support these goals. Microsoft and Forrester teamed together to determine the economic impact that the Office 365 suite of tools has had on retail businesses, and their findings indicated:
Better connections with their workforce
Improves the dissemination of best practices
Provides anytime, anywhere access to key information
Collaboration made much easier
These gains were achieved through the use of Office 365 features such as document sharing, email, and enterprise social media.
Enterprise Social Media: Yammer
Communication with employees in far too many retail settings remains paper-based and often tied to a bulletin board sitting in a dusty back room Even emails are often printed out and posted on a board. This method is antiquated, and doesn’t take into account the digital prowess of the new generation of retail employees. There is potential for the use of enterprise social apps to better engage employees, and facilitate the sharing of information such as ideas, campaigns, and promotions. Microsoft’s solution to enterprise social apps is Yammer and it is used by over 85% of Fortune 500 companies.
Enterprise Video Capabilities
These days, people do much of their learning, sharing, and consuming via video. This is equally as true for retail customers as it is for retail management and associates. Enterprise video tools make it easy to upload and share videos (which could be about anything from best practices to policy changes).
This type of communication is not just top-down from headquarters to store managers, but can be shared among store managers or with associates. This allows people to share new ideas, distribute common messages, and communicate their own opinions and feedback on the videos. The Microsoft Office 365 platform now provides enterprise video capabilities.
Many major retailers have made the switch to Office 365, including well-known names such as Pandora, Game Stop, Tesco, Godiva, Starbucks, and Red Robin. The smart use of communication tools such as OneDrive, Yammer, Skype, and SharePoint have enabled both large and small retailers to drastically improve communication at all levels of the company.
These improvements in communication do lead to better sales. Training is faster, timely information reaches the right people, and employees are no longer overloaded with information that doesn’t pertain to them. Managers can share key information with other managers far more easily, such as customer feedback about new products and services. More positive work gets done with less stress and that’s a win-win for consumers and retailers.