OPERATIONS

Walgreens launches retail job training program for people with disabilities

BY Michael Johnson

Deerfield, Ill. — Walgreens on Monday launched its national Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative, an in-store training program designed to help people with disabilities gain retail and customer service skills that works closely with community organizations and vocational rehabilitation agencies to train and develop candidates.

Another similar initiative at Walgreens distribution centers resulted in 10% of the workforce being made up of people with disabilities at all levels across all 20 DCs. The company hopes to see the same success with REDI.

In 2010, the drugstore chain piloted the REDI program in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, bringing together Walgreens store managers and job coaches funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to train candidates. After more than 200 trainees and 66% of REDI graduates were recommended for hire, the program grew to more than 150 stores throughout Texas, New York and Connecticut. To date, nearly 400 externs have completed training, and more than 46% have been employed by Walgreens or other retailers.

“We are committed to helping customers live well, stay well and get well, and to do that you need team members who are dedicated to excellent customer service,” stated Mark Wagner, Walgreens president of operations and community management. “This program highlights ability and gives candidates the tools to be successful in any retail setting. This is a meaningful program for everyone touched by the initiative. Already, one enthusiastic REDI graduate now working for Walgreens in New York was named Customer Service Employee of the Month, just three months after being hired.”

According to a 2012 Allsup disability study analysis based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to be much higher than for those with no disabilities.

The first phase of REDI will begin in parts of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, with plans to reach all states by the end of 2013. Once a local agency is identified, there is a four-week training program, which takes place in up to five stores per district. The goal is to prepare qualified candidates for employment in store positions, as well as positions in any retail setting that requires similar skills. Responsibilities include cash register operations, customer service, merchandising, store inventory and maintaining store signage and displays.

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REAL ESTATE

Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th to open seven stores at Simon Premium Outlet Centers

BY Staff Writer

Indianapolis — Simon Property Group announced that Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th will open a total of seven new stores in the next two years in its Premium Outlets division, including new centers and existing centers.

The new centers include: Merrimack Premium Oulets, Merrimack, N.H.; Phoenix Premium Outlets, Chandler, Arizona; St. Louis Premium Outlets, Chesterfield, Mo.; and Tampa Premium Oulets, Wesley Chapel, Fla. Expansions are planned for the following centers: Chicago Premium Outlets, Aurora, Ill.; Las Vegas Premium Outlets—North, Las Vegas; and Orlando Premium Outlets-Vineland Ave., Orlando, Fla.

In addition, SPG said that Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th has made a long-term commitment to its Potomac Mills presence by finalizing its intention to move within the center to a new space on the front side of the property located between a mall entrance and Costco.

“We continue to be pleased with the performance of our Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th stores in the Simon portfolio and are excited to have so many strong locations for us to grow with. These locations will enable us to continue to deliver our distinct merchandise offerings to area residents and visitors,” stated Robert Wallstrom, president of Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th.

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News

Live Chat Solutions: What You Need to Know Before Making a Selection

BY CSA STAFF

By Steve Castro-Miller, [email protected]

If you are considering live chat solutions for your online business, you may be confused as to what’s best for you. That’s easy to understand, given how many options are available. Are you looking for live chat as a standalone customer communications tool, or are you interested in adding email, social and other components into the mix? How are you going to manage your live chat effort? Will you have dedicated chat agents, or will chat be lumped together with other offerings in the contact center?

The success of a live chat implementation depends greatly on knowing exactly what you are looking for from your live chat solution, selecting the right offering for your particular needs, and appropriately managing it to maximize its effectiveness. Live chat needs to be treated like a real business tool – or it will fail.

Before moving forward with a live chat effort, you should prioritize your requirements and goals and then look closely at providers to make sure they are meeting your specific criteria. Live chat product reviews can easily be found online, but many are just checklists, without detail or context. To get a clearer view on live chat providers and their offerings, we recently commissioned an in-depth study from a neutral third party. We did this because, even though we are a provider of live chat technology, we desired a detailed and thoughtful review which we felt was absent in the market. This is actually a follow-up to an initial report done several years ago, in the earlier days of live chat adoption, and since then applications have evolved, market segmentation has changed and vendors have come, gone and merged.

The current study goes into detail on the live chat space, but for the purposes of this article, retailers should keep the following considerations in mind as they are exploring their options:

1. Do I want a live chat specialist, or am I looking for a multimodal customer interaction provider?
2. What product features and functionality are available, and which are best suited to meet my needs?
3. What are some questions I should be asking the providers?
4. How will I manage my live chat implementation?

Live chat specialist or multimodal
Although some newcomers are present, the companies in the Live Chat Specialist vendor space are, to a large degree, the pioneers of live chat. Their longevity in the market and ongoing technology/product development have led to a rich and robust set of product offerings with a laser focus on delivering the unique benefits of live chat as a customer interaction tool. When you are looking into primarily live chat-focused providers, these companies are the ones to consider evaluating, given their history in the space and their continued investment in their live chat products over the years.

As customer contact and live chat capabilities evolve, an initial level of convergence is taking place that is creating a new technology segment called multimodal customer interaction (MCI). The primary capabilities that are coming together to create this new segment are customer relationship management (CRM) tools, traditional contact center tools, e-commerce tools, some types of social networking tools and live chat. The resultant product offerings are suites of customer interaction capabilities with varying degrees of integration. Because it is so early in the convergence phase, the actual degree of real integration is small, usually not going far beyond the typical interoperability of products from independent vendors.

Potential users of live chat should carefully weigh the pros and cons of MCI suites versus best-of-breed solutions.

Features and functionality
As you are looking into providers and their offerings, following are some live chat features and functionalities you may want to examine to determine which company can best address your particular requirements:

  • Custom Branding
  • Integrated Co-browse
  • Mobile Device Support
  • Intelligent Assignment of Work
  • E-mail Management
  • Visitor History
  • Multi-variate Rules for Proactive Live Chat
  • Reporting Engine
  • Conversion Tracking

Questions to ask
You may have narrowed down your list and determined which providers’ offerings best meet your specific live chat requirements, but now you need to ensure that the provider itself is the right match for you. Following are key questions to raise:

  • Can you offer implementation best practices?
  • What is your customer support model, and what are your customer satisfaction ratings?
  • What does your company provide to help agents?
  • How can you help me make my agents more efficient?
  • What’s more important, the live chat technology or the agent handling the chats?

Notice that many of these questions involve the agents handling the chats rather than the actual technology. This last question in particular may seem odd to ask a live chat technology provider, but it is very telling, as the “human” aspect of live chat is a key driver in the success – or failure – of a live chat effort for your business. The provider should recognize and be able to acknowledge that.

Live chat management
As a business, you need to plan how you will manage your live chat offering. The difficulty of integrating live chat with traditional contact centers has proven to be two-fold. First, the cost of integrating web-based live chat technology with telephony-based contact center technology has been shown to be prohibitive. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the required skill sets of live chat agents are very different from telephony agents. They must be treated differently to be effective. Many contact centers have struggled with this concept. As stated above, the agent piece of the live chat puzzle is a critical one, and it has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and business ROI.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the convergence trend is accelerating. This will place increasing pressure on the remaining chat specialists and MCI players as well. Regardless of which direction you choose, make sure that the provider can not only address your particular live chat requirements and effectively support the agents who will be handling your chats, but that it also has plans to continue to invest in, nurture and enhance its chat solution to address future industry challenges and opportunities.

Steve Castro-Miller, is VP Chat Products, LogMeIn, which provides essential cloud-based services to individuals, businesses, and IT organizations for remote access, collaboration, customer care, and remote IT management. He can be reached at [email protected].


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