Retailers and franchise owners face unique challenges when it comes to creating great experiences for both customers and workers. But new technologies and innovations are turning yesterday’s industry model on its head, and providing brand new elements and opportunities that many of these businesses haven’t had before.
I recently sat down with three of Appirio’s experts on this topic, to find out how new technologies — like Salesforce Communities and Lightning Bolts — can provide retailers and franchisors with the tools to compete in an ever-evolving industry.
Meet our Salesforce experts:
Braden Larmon is the Director of Global Alliances at Appirio. Over his 10 years at Appirio, he’s worked with retailers like Staples, Four Seasons, Best Buy, Target, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as they’ve matured, recovered, and evolved. He’s a sometimes-Ironman and a Mass-hole by transplant. A staunch New Englander, he loves everything from a good DnD regular, seafood of all varieties, and all Boston sports.
Jarrod Kingston is a Solution Architect, and has been with Appirio for four years. He is a Salesforce MVP, with seven Salesforce certifications and 8+ years of experience in the support, training, and advancement of Salesforce. Jarrod lives in Kansas City, and is an avid Chiefs (#ChiefsKingdom), Royals (#RaisedRoyal), and Jayhawks (#RCJH) fan.
Roarke Lynch is Technical Lead for Appirio’s Solutions and Innovation Center. He is 4x Salesforce certified, and has been developing and integrating on the Salesforce platform for eight years. Roarke is from the Washington D.C. area, and now lives with his wife in Austin, TX. In his spare time, you’ll find him bouldering, fostering kittens, or geeking out over some random math, science, or economics article.
What are the major challenges you see retail and franchise organizations facing today?
BL: The speed of change and how to keep up with the finicky consumer. At any given moment, a consumer can and will switch brands. Loyalty is a stick widget, but essential to how companies will grow and manage that consumer for the life of the relationship. It’s not as simple to just have good quality, reasonably priced products. Consumers want services. They want to know the brand stands for something and has a larger stake in the broader social welfare. Talk about whiplash for the retail and franchisor. How do you stay ahead of all that, stand for something more, and still make a profit? It’s a tough spot.
JK: Two of the major challenges I’ve seen across the retail organizations I’ve worked with are store communications and disconnected systems/information. For store communications, many struggle with knowing whether a store received a communication and performed appropriate actions, as there’s no consistent communication channel or mechanism to track store tasks. On top of that, they may have information stored in several different systems, making it hard to get a full view of how each store is performing (for both the store manager and on the corporate level).
RL: There are so many moving parts in retail, it’s hard to get a complete picture of what is happening now, let alone what needs to happen in the future. That gets even more difficult when your information is in different systems, or when email — your main communication tool — lacks business context or history.
What are Salesforce Communities, and why are they so relevant to retailers and franchisors right now?
BL: The technical guys will cover me on the nuts and bolts of Communities, but when it comes to how they relate to retailers and franchisors, it’s how they deliver on all the consumer-grade experiences that we need to provide to our part-time and somewhat transient employees. Meeting those employees where they work (mobile, in front of customers) with the right information to make that next customer interaction the best it can be. From a corporate perspective, it’s the leverage point to drive that next promotion, brand message, and ultimately, loyal customer. Bottom line: It’s your direct channel in making each customer engagement matter and drive more profit.
JK: Salesforce Communities is a place where people can connect … with customers, colleagues, data, resources, and more. For retailers and franchisors, it’s relevant because it provides them with an easy way to provide that one-stop-shop channel between corporate and individual stores. Communities can also be used to engage customers in an entirely new way.
RL: The simple answer is “A portal that runs on Salesforce”, but that misses the point. Communities lets you bring more of your workers and employees closer to the heart of your business. It provides a beautiful, extensible, collaborative experience that is accessible by any device — desktop to smartphone — connected to the web. Because it is all Salesforce, you give everyone exactly the access they need to your business across all your clouds.
What is a Salesforce Lightning Bolt? Are they industry specific?
BL: They are wicked awesome, lightweight ways to engage. A Lightning Bolt allows everyone to be a “developer” — to create their own experience and drive engagement, faster, with less fuss. They can be purpose-built for both industry and process, and should be thought of in that way to solve for those most common challenges.
JK: A Salesforce Lightning Bolt is simply a Community template that allows you (the customer) to create a community without starting from scratch. Also, what Roarke said
RL: For Appirio, Lightning Bolts are accelerators that jumpstart your next Salesforce innovation. They are packages of apps, business logic, UI components — even entire Salesforce Communities — that can be installed right from the Salesforce AppExchange. They’re a foundation where Appirio has already built all the pieces that are common to your industry, so we can immediately focus on developing the key differentiators for your business.
How can traditional brick-and-mortar businesses leverage technology to compete with online-only competitors?
BL: Brick-and-mortars still have a competitive edge. Studies show that consumers are still making most of their purchases in stores. So the leverage point is how you weave in the physical experience with technology, and get the online experience to drive the desire for the physical interaction. And while drone deliveries come close, consumers want instant gratification — which only occurs in stores. So technology must be the stitching. It’s about finding the right marriage between physical and digital experiences.
JK: From a consumer’s point of view, the more you can form a stronger connection with me, the better. Technologies like Salesforce Communities can do that by providing customers like me with a direct line to the company (and to other consumers), which creates a more personalized experience.
RL: Amplify the love your customers have for your products by bringing them closer to you. Break down the walls that separate your workers and your customers with tools like Communities. The more both sides of your business are able to share their enthusiasm for what’s here and what’s next, the more you’ll grow.
Why is collaboration important to retailers? Or why should it be?
BL: You’ve got to be able to share information and lessons-learned across associates and locations, in real time, to maintain a competitive edge and remain one step ahead of the latest consumer review. Anticipate each customer’s needs by getting collaboration tools right in the palm of your workers’ hands.
JK: Collaboration is and should be important to retailers because it helps improve their product offerings and the way they operate. Look at Starbucks; they’ve used Starbucks Ideas to collaborate with customers on ways to improve. One idea that came from it is the splash stick (and who doesn’t love that?!). When you consider the Franchise model, collaboration can allow your best franchises to share what they’re doing, which in turn, could help your worst franchises improve.
RL: We are all smarter and better off the more we work together. That’s the heart and power of collaboration.
What are some challenges organizations have faced when implementing this kind of technology?
BL: They forget the basics and over complicate things. You need to provide knowledge, collaboration, analytics, and transactions all in one place. You have to give to get, and break the cycle of only asking for information. It has to be clear what the benefit is for the worker, and not just another corporate thing to do.
JK: One of the challenges I’ve seen organizations run into is trying to roll something like this out without having a solid change plan in place, and expecting users to automatically adopt it. That’s why, at Appirio, we have a Change Enablement team that specializes in helping customers roll out this technology effectively, and ensure the greatest adoption is achieved.
RL: That’s a tough one. I’d say that the most important thing an organization can do is work hard to build trust and clarity into their vision of the future, and never lose sight of the why. Technology is here to solve problems; the better you understand and communicate your problems, the more the details of a technology can slip away, and you can focus on the business impact.
Going to Dreamforce?
Stop by and see us at booth #1615 in Moscone South and see Lightning Bolts in action at our demo stations. We’ll also have a coffee bar to keep you caffeinated for the Dreamforce experience. Want to set up a meeting with one of our Salesforce experts? Click here to request a meeting. See you in San Fran!