Have you ever heard the saying “never let your boss be surprised”? Well, it’s a saying that has served me well throughout my career. To me, it simply means that great communication is the key to success. Everyone knows that communication is important when executing projects, but this is especially true for retail technology deployments.
One of the key communication tools I use is the call ahead. While it seems simple enough, done right, it means they must be designed at specific points within the overall deployment timeline. Call-aheads can be used for many purposes, but the most common use is to confirm site readiness, including equipment arrival, scheduling of resources, all pre-work completed, whom the Manager On Duty (MOD) can meet at the scheduled time to open the store, etc.
There are four aspects to call-aheads that should be considered for any size retail technology deployment:
When you design your retail technology deployment, include the specific points in the timeline to perform the various call-aheads. For the stores, this is usually a week prior to the equipment's arrival and then again two days before the scheduled deployment date. If, for some reason, the store is rescheduled or requires a revisit to complete the installation, be sure to reset the call ahead status so you check in again at the appropriate times.
Call-aheads should not just be used with stores, but with the deployment technicians as well. The more aggressive your schedule, the more important these calls can be. There is nothing much worse than the MOD showing up early to let a deployment technician into the store and the technician being late or not showing up at all. They should be called at least two days in advance of their scheduled installs. In the event they cannot meet the schedule, you have time to find a replacement without having to reschedule the deployment.
A word of caution—do not design too many call-aheads into the timeline. You want to balance the right number of calls to communicate the information needed for a successful deployment while not overburdening the store. Calling the store constantly to confirm information or reminding them of things will not be effective and can lead to confusion. Working closely with store operations can ensure that the touch points are frequent enough for success.
To be consistent and ensure clear communications, a script should be developed that all team members executing call-aheads use to convey the necessary information and confirm requirements. Scripts should include exactly what should be said and the specific list of items that must be confirmed during the call ahead.
When training personnel to conduct these calls, stress the importance of not improvising. While you don’t want the caller to sound like a robot and disengaged in the process, you do want to make sure that each store hears the same information. They talk to each other and share information among their sister stores, so inconsistent information can cause unneeded misunderstandings.
If you need to confirm something unique that does not apply to every store, make sure you include that in the script. Let them know they are one of a few stores that have this unique aspect, and you want to confirm with them. I strongly encourage you to develop these scripts with store operations to ensure you are aligned with the proper communication style to which the stores are accustomed.
I can’t stress enough that you must track everything related to your deployment, including the information discussed and feedback received during the call ahead. You can provide manual forms to be completed during the call ahead or an application in which to enter the information, but create a system for everyone to follow (i.e., don’t leave it up to them how to collect the information or you will have a mess of unmanageable data).
Let’s say you have a deployment that covers 1,000 stores, and each store requires four call-aheads. That’s 4,000 events, and that assumes you don’t have to call back to talk to the correct person. Don’t leave the information to someone’s memory or “shorthand.” It needs to be documented in a fashion that is clear and concise to anyone reviewing the call ahead.
It really does seem very simple to make a phone call, but you would be surprised by the things you learn during the call ahead and the things that happen as a result. Based on the complexity of your retail technology deployment and the various types of store footprints you have, it may be necessary to have different scripts for different stores. You must develop the workflow and associated criteria to determine which call-ahead script and checklist should be used for which type of store.
There should be a process in place to handle issues that are identified during the call ahead. For example, what happens if the MOD says she cannot have the deployment in her store on the scheduled day because of inventory or if she says the equipment has not arrived at the store even though your tracking information says it has arrived? These situations can cause you a great deal of pain to handle, or even fall through the cracks altogether, if you don’t have predefined processes to follow. You must have a way for these issues to be escalated to avoid any disruption to the deployment schedule
In closing, I hope you find the rule of “never let your boss be surprised” as a motivation to design call-aheads into your retail technology deployments. If you are thoughtful and consistent, I promise your boss (the stores) will be happy with their overall deployment experience.