Digital engagement and mobile coupons paired with newfangled, high-tech equipment and unfamiliar terms can make the prospect of the electronic back office and cardless loyalty membership more than a little daunting to a c-store operator.
Still, a pair of panels taking up those very issues on Day 2 of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show 2021 tried to reverse that thinking – don’t fear tech, harness it.
Digitizing the Back Office
When operators hear about digitizing back office operations, first thoughts probably turn to daily accounting and inventory issues. But the “Digitizing the Back Office” educational session on day two of NACS Show 2021 focused on the employee experience in the digital workplace.
The latest digital innovations are easing the time and accuracy involved in employee communications, personnel forms, time and attendance, and loss prevention.
The session panel consisted of moderator Will Eadie, chief revenue officer at digital services provider WorkJam, and his colleague Pam Bieta, WorkJam’s customer success manager. Also on the panel was Ed Dzadovsky, vice president of IT North America for Circle K Stores.
The panelists tackled issues of empowering employees via their handheld devices and back office systems, giving frontline staff easier access to much of their own work issues – like training, shift trades, pay and task management. Those digital solutions also include employee communications, which makes it easier on the company, as well.
A new term that has sprung from digital management is “employee self-service” – the ability of workers to use a mobile device or any computer or tablet. The associate has access to a web-based time clock. The employee can also initiate scheduling as well as take advantage of company messaging.
But the real surprise of the session was how the panelists made the digital capabilities sound like fun. Eadie likened it to a spoonful of sugar. “If we’re delivering content that they want to interact with, you’re going to get that interaction,” he said.
Employee buy-in for WorkJam’s clients is around 90%. By empowering staff members, their outlook and work attitude can be greatly enhanced.
Circle K’s Dzadovsky didn’t mince words. “This is the fun stuff!” he said.
Modern Strategies for Customer
Engagement and Loyalty
Moderated by Sam Herro, director of business development for digital data strategist Hathway, the “Modern Strategies for Customer Engagement and Loyalty” panel included Yesway Loyalty Manager Michael Caldwell, Casey’s General Stores Vice President of Digital Customer Experience Art Sebastian and digital customer loyalty consultant Whitney Gretz.
Herro introduced the panel as experts in the loyalty space who come to brands and take them from inactive to engagement. He framed the overarching question for what turned out to be a lively give-and-take session: “How important is digital and how important will digital be in the future?”
Gretz pointed out that digital loyalty issues have disrupted every industry. But she warned that harnessing digital capabilities isn’t simply about keeping up with the times. “It’s not digital for digital sake,” she said. “Ii think any time digital can save time,, effort and money for the customer, customers are going to engage with digital.”
One theme that the panel seemed united on was that loyalty and rewards and personalized offers must be done with service to the customer in mind.
Caldwell observed that, because fueling and coffee and foodservice become parts of a consumer’s daily routine, the convenience industry is in a unique spot to connect with customers digitally, even more so than a grocery chain that sees its customer once a week or every 10 days.
Plus, Caldwell added, customers expect to be digitally engaged. “We need to spend that money, invest, because the customers are looking for that,” he said. “Digital is everywhere. It’s in every point in their lives.”
Gretz also talked about the importance of not just data, but real time data. “Real time; it matters a ton!” she said. A lag in things like crediting reward points or sending a follow-up discount offer will result in lost opportunities. The reward for loyalty, she said, needs to be fast.
Which dovetailed nicely with Casey’s Sebastian. “Convenience is no longer just a channel,” he said. “I think convenience is in these days is an actual strategy: Easy to shop, fast to shop, meeting my needs, personalizing my experience.”
Digital, added Sebastian, is well set up to do that. Plus, when a company can include employee experience, store efficiency, supply and logistics, and even corporate HQ operations, all of it together makes for a seamless experience.
But don’t believe that digital means less personal. It’s quite the opposite, Caldwell said. When a customer walks in your store and your cashier grabs that customer’s regular cigarette brand or breakfast sandwich, that’s personalization. And the customer will remember.
As Caldwell put it: “They’ll drive out of their way to be there for you – because we were there for them.”