6 Steps for Rolling Out New Technology to Frontline Staff

July 14, 2014

We live in a world of ever-shifting customer experience technologies. From RFID inventory chips to mobile point of sale, from geofencing apps to touch screen store fronts, the technological landscape never stays the same. It is a perilous and exciting time, both for organizations that have to make tough decisions about technological investments and for frontline staff who have to adopt to a constantly changing work environment.

Organizations must wrestle with a number of issues when evaluating new technologies. What value will it deliver to our customers and what return will it produce? What happens if Apple changes it’s IOS and our yearlong, multimillion dollar mobile phone app initiative gets zapped overnight? Should we invest in this year’s technology, which is proven but we know will be obsolete, or invest in the five-years-from-now technology that is unproven but showing promise.

These decisions are not easy ones, and often keep executives from a variety of departments up at night.

However, those responsible for rolling out new technologies are not the only ones faced with the promise and peril of new tech. Frontline teams have the same mixture of excitement and trepidation. One reason frontline teams fear new technology (or react to it in ways that mystify the C-suite) is because it is often presented poorly or executed poorly. Below are six steps to help avoid some of these challenges and to effectively roll out new technology to frontline staff.

#1: Make Sure the Technology Works

Rolling out Technology to Frontline Staff | Handheld DeviceAt the recent Future Stores conference, Mark McKelvey of REI discussed how putting mobile point of sale items in the hands of their associates before the tech was ready caused significant adoption problems. After a few failures, the frontline staff simply stopped using the devices.

When rolling out new tech it needs to be as well-tested as possible. Employees who have an embarrassing moment using the new tech in front of a customer will forgive it once. The second time they’ll complain about it in the break room, where they may find agreement from other associates. After the third time, the associates will simply stop using it or, at the least, begin to look for workarounds that they consider more reliable.

Technical readiness is a complex issue and has to be balanced with speed, early feedback, and many other factors. However, for frontline staff, you want to make sure the new tech is as ready for prime-time as possible. When rolling out tech to new frontline employees, you never get a chance to make a first impression.

#2: Let Them Know What’s In It for Them

First, make sure that whatever new tech you rollout actually does benefit your frontline teams. If not, you are going to stall at the starting line. Assuming the technology will make your frontline teams more effective or make their jobs easier, don’t assume they will automatically understand how it does so. Your rollout should be more than just an internal “press release”; it should involve tangible discussions and demonstrations as to how the tech will benefit the team members at the front.

Spell it our clearly: “Remember, when you used to have to walk to the stockroom to make sure an item was there. With the new RFID tags, you can be confident that the shirt is there without going to check.” Buy-in begins with understanding. Don’t assume that your teams will see what you see; explain the new tech clearly.

#3: Let Them Know What’s In It for the Customer

Depending on the technology, the benefits to the customer might be obvious to the customer. A new mobile app with a QR Code scanner that helps a customer scan items as they walk through the store and put them in a virtual cart has benefits that are obvious to the customer. However, a new RFID tag that helps an employee have confidence in what items are in stock, eliminating trips to the stockroom and customer wait time, will be less obvious. The customer expects to not wait in line. Most customers won’t get too excited about a back end process that delivers what they expect in the first place.

Your team, on the other hand, will appreciate knowing that they will be creating fewer delays for customers because of the new tech. It is important to make sure that these benefits to the customer, both overt and less obvious, are spelled out to the employees who will be interfacing with both the technology and the customers. To make the technology as effective as possible in the field, the associates need to understand what it can do and what it should do to enhance the customer experience.

#4: Train the Benefits, Not the Features

Depending on the technology and the composition of the team, sometimes employees will take to a new technology like fish to water. This is rare, however. In most cases, training is the order of the day. They key is to make sure that you are taking the training beyond the features stage. Here is what this button does. Here is how you print a receipt. Here is how you process a refund.

This training is necessary, of course, but it is unfortunately where much training stops. Take the training to the next level by using role-playing and making sure associates know not just how to use the tech but how it can be useful and valuable in particular situations.

#5: Prepare Staff for the Road Bumps

Despite your best efforts to be ready for prime time, any technology rollout will have issues. Prepare the front lines for this eventuality. Explain to the team how thoroughly the tech has been tested but then remind them that there will always be new bugs and challenges that come up in the field. And then ask them to help you by allowing you to…

#6: Get Feedback from the Front Lines

The best feedback you can possibly get on your new tech will be the feedback your receive from your frontlines teams. Error reports and usage statistics will tell you where you have problems technologically; your teams will tell you how the tech is actually improving operations and the customer experience.

Setup an easy method for associates to give you feedback about the tech. Publicize it well, and make sure they know how much you need the feedback from the field to improve the technology and work out the bugs.

Most new technology is conceived and implemented far from the front lines. The above steps will help you ensure that your frontline teams are engaged with your new tech and effective using it.

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5 thoughts on “6 Steps for Rolling Out New Technology to Frontline Staff”

  1. I’d particularly agree with your point 6 – and even go beyond that to actually involve them in its design, so they really feel ownership of it. A good example is healthcare organization NHS BSA, which held a competition for agents to name their new knowledge management system before it went live.

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