Deeper Dive: How to Drive Incremental Sales Through Better Scheduling
Senior Manager, Pre-Sales Consulting
My blog post last week discussed utilizing your workforce management (WFM) scheduling application as a sales enablement tool to get “the right person, in the right place, at the right time to perform the task.” Equally as important, though, is getting “the right person, in the right place, at the right time to service the customer.” Properly aligning labor coverage to customer traffic demand increases sales and, especially for a specialty retailer, increases the customer conversion rate by ensuring selling hours are allocated when customers are in the store. That’s a major impact on your bottom line.
Let’s consider customer conversion and transaction improvement for a minute. Customer conversion is the percent of customers buying versus the number of customers browsing. Specialty retailers are accustomed to conversion as a metric, working hard to convert browsers to purchasers. Grocers, knowing that most people entering a store will make a purchase, often assume nearly 100 percent customer conversion. But conversion can be a useful metric in grocery or big box stores, too, if analyzed at the department level. Think about converting store traffic into traffic that buys something from the bakery department. Bakery would have a conversion rate of bakery customers divided by total store customers. With this metric, you can challenge your departments to leverage the overall store traffic through targeted departmental service for your customers.
Aside from converting more customers to purchasing, another goal is transaction improvement. Transaction improvement is influencing customers to either buy one or more additional items or to buy higher-priced items. This is what your best sales associates do. This is also where you need to make sure your stores are working in conjunction with the corporate marketing and merchandizing teams. It is crucial to leverage any programs designed to boost the average sale and motivate customers to trade up to more expensive or value-added items.
Since my post was published, we’ve received many questions about the mechanics of using your WFM system to implement this sales enablement approach. We appreciate the feedback, and suspect others of you also have the same questions. Of course, different WFM systems have different features,
but answers to the following four questions are always required in order to put this sales-boosting concept to work in your stores.
- When is the peak time for customer traffic conversion and transaction improvement?
- How can employees with the necessary sales and service skills be designated in your WFM system so they can be deployed at those peak times?
- How do your forecasting and standards create labor staffing requirements, and can you separate the peak sales and service hours from general hours?
- Have you defined the service level you want to provide during these peak hours to ensure success?
All four contribute to optimal results. Let’s discuss each one in more detail.
Identify peak opportunity times
Some organizations determine peak hours for all stores by analyzing a sampling of stores. This is convenient but may miss the true peak hours in many specific stores. A better approach is to derive peak hours from the forecast, ensuring that each store covers the hours of its greatest potential and handles moving holidays, special events, promotions and other local impacts flexibly from week to week. Systems with good queue service management usually can discern your most busy, busy, and less busy times. This capability can be leveraged for peak hour service staffing. And remember the departmental approach I talked about above. It’s very important that peak hours are dynamically determined as the peak hours a specific department, as they may not be the peak hours for the store as a whole.
Identify the sales-building employees to schedule at peak hours
Identifying and designating employees with the best sales and service skills—and aligning them with peak traffic—results in increased conversion and items per transaction. Ensure that your current WFM application has functionality that can utilize associate skill rankings to automatically optimize the schedule with the peak schedule time requirements.
Also, assess your scheduling effectiveness and the accuracy of the underlying forecast upon which your demand is built. It is easy to make the mistake of evaluating schedules on just a weekly or daily level. Quality of service demands that you get it right at the 15-minute interval level. If your schedules are not optimal and effective, it may be time to consider process improvements to seize the opportunities to do better, and if with your system you can’t assess forecast effectiveness, it may be time to consider an upgrade.
Consider the mechanics of how to define requirements to schedule
How do your forecasting and standards create labor staffing requirements? Can you separate the peak sales and service hours from general hours, so that peak times can be targeted?
Your ability to target sales-enhancement efforts is tied to the standards and data you have available and the precision with which they enable you to layer in those sales-building hours. Possibilities include handling it as a separate task, through skill preferences by time of day or business level, or as a special scheduling directive. Your WFM system expert should be able to offer options based on your data, standards configuration and system functionality.
Your strategy for hours to build incremental sales depends on how your WFM system handles placement of hours. Some summarize hours at the department level, some separate tasks by the jobs they are assigned to, and others are capable of scheduling at the task level. Task-level scheduling is best suited for layering incremental sales initiatives. While many WFM systems generate the total labor demand for selling, many can’t align with peak hours of customers traffic. You should work with your WFM system expert to assess your options.
Defining service levels
Fundamentally, to effectively utilize your WFM system to enable sales, you must specifically understand what influences conversion rates in your stores. You must understand how your stores are operating today and identify improvement strategies that can be efficiently implemented. This is important so that regular work doesn’t just expand to fill more time but is deployed to specific sales-enhancing activities. If you haven’t already, consider taking an industrial engineering approach by doing a customer journey study, collecting data on actual in-store customer experience and its impacts on conversion and basket size. Implement peak hour service strategies that will enhance customer conversion and boost transaction size. (A customer journey study might give you a lot of other insights, too.)
Effectively configured, your WFM system can be an essential sales-building tool. No matter what type or size retailer, it is critical to get “the right person, in the right place, at the right time to perform the task.” Equally as important is “the right person, in the right place, at the right time to service the customer.” Making the effort to fully utilize the capabilities of your WFM system, or investing in a WFM system with such capabilities if you don’t have one, will enable you to properly align labor coverage with customer traffic demand. Doing so will increase sales, which is what it’s all about!