The Evolving Retail Front Line(s): How To Train For The Biggest Shopping Day Of The Year

  • November 15, 2019 at 2:31 PM EST
  • By Retail TouchPoints Team
Jonathan Rende, PagerDuty
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By Jonathan Rende, PagerDuty

It’s official: Cyber Monday is now the biggest online shopping day of the year. Many companies rely on and plan for it to contribute significantly to their sales goals for the year, knowing that consumers are spending their time — and money — online. This year, Cyber Monday sales are expected to total $9.4 billion — a 19% increase from last year. But having that much money on the line means technical hiccups can have a serious impact on a company’s bottom line and brand reputation for the entire year.

Poorly performing retail apps or worse, web site crashes, can be devastating for a company on Cyber Monday. Often, the most disastrous problems come out of the blue. It’s impossible to anticipate the unexpected, but there is one group that has preparing for anything down to a proud science: emergency responders. Retailers can learn a lot from the preparedness tactics of first responders to get ready for the biggest shopping day of the year.

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Planning Ahead

Through a series of drills and training exercises, emergency responders like paramedics and firefighters ready themselves for any foreseeable eventuality.

Companies can replicate this by holding drills, synthesizing errors, glitches or other potential disruptions. Set aside a time for your company or team that is normally less demanding and encourage your employees to react as if it were real — as though they were on the front lines during a real crisis.

Redefining The ‘Front Lines’

The way FEMA defines its mission is a great way for companies to think about proactively minimizing vulnerabilities. Coordinating efforts between local and national agencies and volunteer groups is a big part of FEMA’s objective. In order to mitigate potential catastrophes, these teams — each with its own function — all need to mobilize and act in unison. Think of your workforce the same way: each team has its own strengths and responsibilities, but they all work together as a united front:

  • Customer Service: When there’s a problem with an app or web site, the customer service team can be inundated with support emails, calls and angry social media posts. They need to be aware of the problem as soon as possible so they can keep customers happy. It can cost five times more to gain new customers than to keep them, so investment in this area serves the company well in the long term.
  • IT & Ops Department: The first line of defense. They identify the technical problem, contain it if necessary, and fix it as quickly as possible.
  • C-Suite: C-level executives need to be aware of the problem in order to proactively communicate to investors, shareholders and the media about the timeline for the problem’s resolution, as well as assuring them of measures being undertaken to prevent future incidents.
  • Security: Ideally, a security team’s activities are integrated into the development process. This team collaborates and engages developers to ensure security issues are identified, prioritized and managed in a timely way.
  • Sales and Marketing: Teams engaging with customers more broadly need transparent and current information in order to position the status of the issue accurately and appropriately to current and potential customers.
  • Finance: Typically the ones who have the closest relationship with the payment gateway, processor or merchant bank. If an issue affects payments in any way, this team needs to know the situation and how much is at stake in order to react and address these issues before significant revenue loss occurs.

Training For Emergencies To Avoid Them

Every company will have its own plan, but here’s how a scenario of preparing customer service might play out:

Let’s say the retail shopping cart or checkout suddenly stops working. The development and IT Ops teams get alerted to this issue first. They instantly notify and engage the customer service team, allowing them to prepare for the problem before customers contact them. Then, when customers begin to open cases with service agents, that team is already armed with the most current information on the problem. Meanwhile, the CFO is alerted, allowing him or her to account for both the lost revenue from the outage and understanding risks to SLA agreements or top-line predictions, and the CEO can contact shareholders, if necessary, to be upfront about the problem and immediately detail the solution. At the same time, a sales executive is meeting with an important supplier and is alerted to the issue, giving them the proper context to be fully transparent.

In any set of interrelated services that make up a complex system, outages that impact a customer experience can always happen. Accepting this inevitability will allow organizations to always be prepared. While it’s impossible to foresee every potential pitfall, practicing strategies rooted in connectivity and collaboration will help companies prepare for the unpredictable. Modeling the teamwork of emergency preparedness teams can prepare retail teams for whatever threats may surface — this Cyber Monday and beyond.

As SVP of Product and Marketing, Jonathan Rende brings to PagerDuty over 25 years of experience in the mobile, performance management, and automated software quality industries. Rende has held various product, marketing and engineering executive roles with Informix, Mercury/HP Software, Appcelerator, and Keynote Systems. Prior to joining PagerDuty, he served as the Chief Product and Engineering Officer at Castlight Health, Inc., where his focus was on delivering and launching to market their next generation predictive analytics platform for enterprises.

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