Bloomingdale's streamlines employee training

Bloomingdale's discussed its improvements in employee training at NRF's BIG Show 2018. (NRF)

NEW YORK—With all that's happening in the world of technology, retailers need to remember that shoppers still want to interact with a human. That is why Bloomingdale's revamped its employee training program to give associates more time with customers.

In a recent Axonify study, 71% of shoppers said they feel that retail associates aren't knowledgeable or helpful. And that lack of knowledge only seems to be getting worse, said Carol Leaman, president and CEO of Axonify, during a session about improving the customer experience through training on the Big Ideas stage, NRF Big Show, 2018. 

Last year, retailers spent $130 billion on employee training—that's $702 per individual worker. And the average associate spent 54 hours in training. However, this investment is not translating, says Leaman. 

"The reality is that today's workforce is overwhelmed and hard to connect with," she said. "And it takes a different knowledge and skills set." And while the workforce wants to perform well, they are lacking in support to do so. The training, she says, is broken and needs to be more agile, versus the current one-size-fits-all solution. 

The fix: Learning that impacts employee outcomes. Each employee is given specific training and the system continuously reinforces that employee's output. 

"The system needs to fit naturally into the workflow, anytime, anywhere," Leaman said. "And it needs to be fun, fast and engaging." Because when associates aren't doing the right thing, it goes straight to the bottom line. 

Bloomingdale's began a partnership with Axonify after meeting at NRF's Big Show about six years ago. Chad McIntosh, VP and associate of protection and risk management at Bloomingdale's, said the company was looking for a new way to train employees. 

"I looked at the training process and it was a week long even for a new associate," he said. McIntosh knew his time could be better spent on other aspects of management and so Axonify offered a solution.

Bloomingdale's used to often send impersonal poster messages to employees across the company and hope the messages were resonating. Now, using Axonify, the department store chain can reach individuals, in real time, and measure associate knowledge. 

Prior to Axonify, Bloomingdale's used all of the traditional methods of training and new hire orientation. New associates had a weeklong training program that overloaded them with information. 

"We would follow that up with rallies and team meetings in the store. Our approach to asset protection was a poster campaign that would hang in the employee entrance," McIntosh said. "Now that we partner with Axonify, we can provide training in short segments and then follow up with questions to determine if they have grasped the training and can apply it to their role in the stores. All of this allows us to focus on our efforts at the associate level, measure their understanding and reinforce what we need them to do."

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Ramping up was not a lengthy process. Once Bloomingdale's positioned the platform on its POS system, it took three months to evaluate the training and its impact on safety in the stores. 

"By taking this approach, we could see the reduction in accidents in stores and quickly determined that stores with a higher percentage of participation had better performance," he said.

McIntosh definitely deems the partnership a success, as the Axonify training platform has allowed Bloomingdale's to provide a safe shopping/working environment for customers and associates. 

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"We have saved millions of dollars in claims reduction. We see improvement in customer satisfaction when they measure associate knowledge," McIntosh added.

Moving into 2018, Bloomingdale's will continue to refine sales and service training and add product knowledge training to the platform. Next, McIntosh hopes to work with Axonify to perform analytics and tie performance/participation around things like inventory shortage, associate engagement and turnover. 

"Tying these performance indicators will allow us to take the program to the next level," he said.