How Tech Can Help Your Business Manage Staffing During the Holiday Crunch

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How Tech Can Help Your Business Manage Staffing During the Holiday Crunch

By John Orr is SVP, Retail and Execution at Ceridian - 12/21/2018

It’s not just retail. Anyone in customer service - especially in hospitality - will tell you: the holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year.

According to Deloitte, retailers could rack up $1.1 trillion in sales between November 2018 and January 2019 – and while e-commerce has grown rapidly in the recent past, in-store retail sales still account for the vast majority of purchases.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs know that today’s customer demands prompt, personalized service – and it’s no different during the holidays. Your employees also want, need, and desire personalized care from their employer - this means investing in your people too.

But they’re also under competing pressures: increase revenue and profits, and decrease overhead. And the most easily controlled cost is labor.

Hitting the right balance is difficult – particularly in a tight labor market, and with legislative pressures driving costs up - but new technology can help.

Here’s how.

Make your labor spend more efficient

During the holiday season, you’re going to see foot traffic spike. That means you’re going to need to staff up. Traditionally, staffing has been more art than science, and these traditional approaches have proven ineffective.

A new report from HR.com (sponsored by Ceridian, my employer) shows that only 12 percent of organizations feel strongly that they have the capability to properly predict and plan for labor needs.

This is unsurprising: traditionally, managers must guess at customer traffic patterns, which in reality vary not just by the day but by the hour, and mistakes can lead to not just excessive labor spend, unplanned overtime,  and reduced productivity; but also missed sales conversion and sales lifts.

A data-driven labor approach – which leverages new techniques like predictive traffic analysis, which applies machine learning to customer traffic data to optimize employee hours worked – can help alleviate this problem tremendously.

According to McKinsey, leading retailers that have applied a data-driven approach to their labor budget have captured between four percent and 12 percent in cost savings, while also improving customer service.

And managers who leverage this approach can not only improve their bottom line, but also improve their own productivity. Modern HCM software gives managers access to real-time analytics, providing them with unparalleled flexibility and the ability to make the right call at the right time as circumstances change.

Empower your associates and make them more productive

But optimizing labor spend is only one part of the puzzle. Once you’ve made sure you have optimized your labor spend and budget allocation; you’ve also got to ensure that those people are productive – that they’re accomplishing as much as they can, and delivering on your brand promise.

This challenge becomes even more pressing during the holiday season. Balancing customer service with other important tasks is always challenging – and when customer service demand spikes, the challenge becomes even greater.

But armed with the right technology, the challenge can be met, and surmounted. Real-time access to data, informed by predictive traffic analysis, should not just factor into your staffing levels but your staffing schedule.  Deploying employee self-service improves work-life balance for the employee, as they become a part of the process and communication is enhanced – they feel the caring from the company.

By predicting peak and non-peak times using historical data, hotel and restaurant managers can ensure that service work is not compromised by non-service work: that staff are on the floor when they need to be, and that needful tasks can be performed when demand for customer service isn’t so severe.  The fairness and predictability aspects of engaging employees through self-service, ensures that that magic moment between the employee and the customer meets or exceeds all service quality dimensions through improve employee engagement.

Executed properly, improved employee engagement optimizes labor spend productivity and the caring they receive from their employees enables them to extend that sense of care to each customer interaction.

Staff up thoughtfully

Seasonal staffing is a reality of the retail sector – but the traditional model, where resumes are collected on-site and seasonal employees are selected from a limited pool – just won’t do. In an increasingly competitive environment, staff members are not just thoughtlessly performing tasks – they are the local face of your brand, and can mean the difference between a happy customer and a lost sale.

This means that your seasonal recruitment strategy is critical for holiday success. And strategic usage of the latest technology helps you find the right people and possibly career oriented talent who will stay.

A data-driven approach to recruitment starts with in-store data: where do you have gaps in coverage? Why do you have gaps in coverage (cross-training or availability needs)?; Which departments are facing the heaviest customer service load – and what skills are they lacking?

Armed with that information, you can then apply it to the rest of the recruitment process – for example, by including skills tests, and availability requirements during job interviews.

And, finally, recording and retaining employee data – even after employees have parted ways with the company – makes identifying productive employees easier. By having all employee data accessible in a single system, productive former employees can be approached, and re-hired, during periods of peak demand.

A data-driven sector

Brick and mortar retail is under a unique set of pressures in the modern environment – consumers increasingly demand personalized, prompt service. And retailers are under increasing pressure to deliver, even as they face stiff competition from e-commerce.

But these challenges can be met – by smart use of data, by strategic allocation of labour resources, and by ensuring that you know – and remember – who your best workers are, so they can be retained and rewarded