“How can we provide business performance improvement support to our retail partners and distributors when on-site visits to their businesses are limited or restricted?”
This is one of those questions I hear a lot in our retail technical work. Successful companies continually monitor their business performance against a set of standards based on their brand values. Customers expect these standards will be met every time they do business with the company’s retail outlets.
As workforce transformation specialists, we rate meaningful quality standards as paramount to high-performing organizations. The free and easy site access manufacturers once relied on to support their partners is now less straightforward than it used to be, placing customer satisfaction, quality, and safety at increased risk.
Traditionally, industry subject matter experts from independent organizations or accrediting bodies would visit a workplace in person to assess performance and provide corrective actions, supported by coaching and mentoring, to help improve the business. We’ve been providing these services for decades—and we still do, in regions and circumstances where it’s appropriate.
But even after the pandemic’s onset, the business at hand never changed. Companies must still meet standards and improve performance, whether through audits, inspections, certifications, or stand-alone learning initiatives. The game changer has been the way we approach that work now, which has proven to be even more effective than traditional methods.
If your organization is experiencing similar challenges, ask yourself these questions:
- How do we ensure that our partners are meeting their obligations to the brand?
- How can we verify that our partners are meeting our standards if we can’t visit all of their facilities?
- Is there a better way to conduct standards assessments, one that saves time and money?
- Are we making the best use of the latest technology in achieving standards compliance?
- Can compliance be achieved more simply in this rapidly changing environment?
- How sustainable and scalable are our current delivery methods?
It’s important to challenge traditional thinking, not only because it’s exciting, but because it’s a vital and reliable path to innovation. As you work to not only maintain the performance of your retail outlets but improve processes for greater efficiency and effectiveness, consider a few of these points.
- The practice of remote or virtual assessment is just as effective as short, intensive site visits in terms of performance evaluation. Additionally, the cost is typically a fraction of the traditional travel budget for field personnel.
- Coaching and corrective action can be conducted during the assessment process rather than as separate events, resulting in faster completion rates and better performance results.
- Retail outlet managers prefer to hold assessment-related discussions during quiet times so as not to affect production. Flexibility in scheduling and availability is key.
- Letting local teams self-assess using technology is often more efficient than on-site visits, resulting in greater program cost savings. Those tech solutions can be purpose-built or adapted from existing applications, depending on needs, timing, and budget.
- The verification process becomes transparent with greater consistency across large networks.
- Verification can be conducted from anywhere, allowing greater access to specialized expertise, a reduced travel schedule for senior subject matter experts (some of whom might rather retire or leave than continue traveling), and faster project completion.
- Video, photo, and data recording eliminates subjective or divergent interpretations of the subject matter. It also allows less experienced field team members to contribute with confidence and standardizes reporting as real-time digital business-intelligence assets.
There are nearly as many technology options for sale as there are logistical issues to solve for, and no one solution can address all needs. That’s why we find it helpful to remain agnostic when it comes to tech platforms—and why we make it a point to research all those options in depth and create strong working relationships with the folks who are best positioned to help us support our clients.
Of course, it’s often the case that a company has already contracted with a tech provider, and there’s a need to “make it work” with the platform in place. Fortunately, several of those strong working relationships I mentioned earlier are with the people behind the most widely used solutions in any given industry.
The big takeaway is this: the lack or limitation of physical access to your local stores or facilities shouldn’t hamper your ability to guarantee consistent performance support to your partners worldwide. Moreover, the technological options available (when combined with informed strategic thinking and solid tactical implementation) make it likely you can meet your business objectives while bolstering return on investment, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.