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Human Resources

Getting the Message

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Despite the fact that technology allows faster and more effective communication than ever before, retailers often report messaging gaps between corporate offices, managers and front-line staff. Whether it’s e-mail or text, the rapid and seemingly endless flow of information means that critical messages often get lost in the mix of personal messages and spam.

Chris Lavenson, vice president of operations for Heine Brothers’ Coffee, knows this difficulty well. With 240 employees at 14 locations in the Louisville, Ky., area, corporate messaging can easily be overlooked. And as the average age of Heine Brothers’ employees is only 22 years old, Lavenson says most live and breathe by their smartphones. When the company started instituting marketing campaigns and promotions — spending a quarter million dollars in the process — they used backroom signage, letters and e-mails, but noticed that front-line employees and customers weren’t always getting the message.

Lavenson says the level of execution was nowhere near where it needed to be. “We were doing secret shopping and realized that a lot of the marketing initiatives we were sending out weren’t being executed because they didn’t have all the information they needed,” he says.

Heine Brothers’ was using a solution from an online marketing company to reach its employee base but found that on average, only 20 percent of e-mails were being opened. The company had also been using Facebook, e-mail and text messaging, but those open rates were relatively low, as well. It wasn’t uncommon for a customer to ask about a promotion they saw on Facebook that employees were unfamiliar with.

Effective messages
Heine Brothers’ turned to Red e App, a real-time private mobile messaging platform that offers retailers a way to communicate directly and effectively with employees, giving them the information to provide better customer service and increase sales. Instead of hoping that employees check their e-mail before punching the clock, Heine Brothers sends messages and notifications through Red e App. The company “just got better responses,” Lavenson says. “People were really getting the messages.”

“We push notifications so they come across your screen just like a text,” says Red e App CEO and founder Jonathan Erwin. “They are using [the app] specifically for business, and that is the power of having this dedicated channel. You don’t have to compete with [other] texts.”

Heine Brothers’ saw almost immediate results. Lavenson says being able to confirm that someone received a message allows them to determine if a lack of action is either due to not getting the message or simple non-compliance. Analytics and tracking information help them continually measure and improve the performance of their communications.

Erwin says it’s critical for retailers to communicate effectively with their front-line staff since they’re the ones who are ultimately representing the brand. Whether it’s product knowledge, customer service tips or just news on promotions, associates need information delivered as simply and directly as possible.

In larger organizations, retail associates and “non-desk” employees rarely have corporate e-mail addresses, creating a large disconnect between them and corporate administrators. Red e App can provide real-time communications between headquarters, regional directors, local managers and the employees. Store associates also get instant access to corporate announcements, product training and customer service tips while also having the ability to communicate with each other.

“These are the people who are delivering the brand and they need real-time communication,” Erwin says. “It can be tough transmitting [training-related information], reminders and changes in a big organization.”

Short and to the point
One of the keys of digital communications is to keep messages as short as possible. Erwin says companies have to essentially “reinvent” their communications to appeal to employees’ preferred methods and delivery. Whereas a one-page hand-delivered document or e-mail might have sufficed 10 years ago, a retailer might now need to whittle that down to a 25-word message pushed directly to the person’s smartphone.

At first glance it may seem like the message is being compressed and diminished, but Lavenson says open rates shot to near 100 percent when Heine Brothers shifted from long-winded e-mails to short messages delivered via the app.

“Red e App encouraged us to get tighter with our messaging, not just from a timing standpoint but … the right message at the right time to the right people with the right platform,” he says.

Erwin says short messages have more “power” and that they’ll grow increasingly important in the future. It can be a challenge for larger organizations to change their thinking about communications, but it can happen quickly when open rates skyrocket.

When it comes time for deployment, Erwin says Red e App helps “coach” the companies on how to create better messaging. The solution can deliver the message, but it still has to be written effectively.

“The way younger generations are communicating is so different and we are helping teach companies how to communicate in short form with those powerful messages,” he says. “A couple of sentences is more effective than six paragraphs.”

In one example, Heine Brothers’ had a change in their company health insurance policy that required every employee to resubmit an application by a certain deadline. Numerous long e-mails to employees had gone unanswered, but when the company “pushed” messages to employees’ smartphones, they got almost instant cooperation.

“We started to realize we didn’t need to send something eight paragraphs long,” Lavenson says. “We just needed to tell them to go to the inbox, get the form with their name, fill it out and return it. When we sent it to their pockets they knew it was serious.”