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Addressing employee indifference via AI for the frontline worker

  • Posted on October 31, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes
AI for the frontline worker

In today's business landscape, which is punctuated by continual change, frontline workers — be it retail staff, assembly line workers, customer support agents, or patient care personnel — are pivotal. Often the sole human connection to the consumer, frontline workers must consistently deliver value in the face of tremendous stress – global employees stress levels remain at a record-high level. Organizations are grappling with challenges of productivity, rising operational costs, and, critically, employee indifference. A 2023 Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report discovered that 77% of US and Canadian workers are "not engaged" or "actively disengaged", numbers that only worsen in East Asia, where countries like China and Japan have a workforce where 83% are not feeling engaged and Europe where 87% of employees are classified as either “not engaged" or "actively disengaged". In addition to these challenges, many organizations still lag in adopting modern work methods like digitized processes and flexible schedules.

The employer challenges

  1. Inconsistent productivity
    A consistent challenge for employers is dealing with the inconsistent. How do they ensure that frontline workers are efficient and productive? This is crucial for sectors like retail, healthcare, and manufacturing. Legacy training and onboarding methods, nonsensical and lacking of real-time and contextual insights result in employees either doing their best with limited resources or at worst neglecting critical tasks and customer needs, impacting revenue and profit.

  2. Escalating operational costs
    Increasing wages, training expenses, and costs of turnover are pushing the boundaries of sustainable business operations. The frontline leaders, responsible for managing these workers, often struggle with limited resources and in some cases are leveraged as part of the hourly workforce to get the job done. Coupled with copious amounts of data and emails vs. useful actionable information it only adds to their stress and demoralization.

  3. Employee indifference
    Frontline workers feel disconnected from the organization and don’t feel part of what’s going on. The lack of clear two-way communication, absence of immediate feedback and limited growth opportunities contributes to the feeling of indifference. Added to an imposed working schedule that starts the loop of continual shift adjustments, overall service quality and brand reputation suffer as a result

How AI and devices address these challenges?
As AI becomes democratized and the workforce is more digitally adept and device-enabled than ever before, now is the perfect time to focus on productivity by engaging and empowering employees. Let’s delve into how AI can empower frontline workers to deliver a win-win-win for them as well as the customer and for the head office.

  1. AI-driven productivity enhancements
    Onboarding and learning: AI-powered apps on handheld devices can offer curated onboarding experiences and on-the-job training. Instead of classroom sessions or relying on colleagues shadowing employees, workers can receive real-time guidance and prompts for feedback at the right moments throughout their day.

    Predictive analysis: AI can predict machine breakdowns or patient health deteriorations or forecast increases in shopper traffic respectively. Frontline workers, equipped with this foresight via their devices or wearable, can act proactively, boosting productivity and purpose.

  2. Cost management through AI
    Reduced turnover: AI-driven HR tools can predict employee dissatisfaction by analyzing behavioral patterns and feedback. Early intervention can prevent turnover, saving costs related to hiring and training.

    Efficient resource allocation: With AI, frontline leaders can analyze work patterns, peak times, and resource availability. This facilitates efficient resource allocation, directly impacting the bottom line.

  3. Engaging the disengaged with AI
    Personalized career paths: AI can help map out personalized growth trajectories for employees based on their strengths, preferences, and performance data, ensuring they feel valued and engaged.

    Real-time feedback systems: Handheld devices with AI can provide instant feedback to frontline workers, fostering a sense of accomplishment and clarity. When workers know where they stand and how they can improve, their engagement levels soar. Nudges at the right time in the right context can also help people feel part of the process.

  4. Smart scheduling and enhanced communications
    Schedules that employees want to work: AI algorithms can predict peak hours, analyze past worker performances, and consider worker preferences to automatically generate optimal schedules and open shifts that are value-additive for the business wanting to manage cost and reduce the schedule edits and for the employee who wants the ability to earn more.

    Real-time communication: AI-powered chatbots and communication tools can relay critical information to workers in real-time, ensuring they are always updated. For mobile workers, geolocation-based updates about nearby tasks or assignments can be communicated instantly.

What outputs could we achieve by integrating AI with frontline operations?

  1. A more productive workforce
    Satisfying work and personal needs: With real-time insights and suggestions, consistent training, feedback mechanisms and providing functions that help employees have more choice over their work life the workforce can perform at its optimum with AI. Our recently published AI Readiness report examined the impact of AI and workers felt that the adoption of the technology could make them more efficient, innovative and empowered in their roles with 78% agreeing that use of AI would make them less frustrated in their role. This not only boosts the overall productivity but also reduces the things that sap employee energy that can be put to better use.

  2. Enhanced customer/patient experience or product quality
    A well-trained, proactive frontline worker is the cornerstone of exceptional customer experience. Our research indicates that 85% of respondents believe their customers will be ready for most, if not all, of their interactions and processes to be done through AI by the end of 2024. Whether it's a retail store ensuring shelf availability of products, a hospital providing timely care, or a manufacturing unit reducing defects, AI-equipped workers can significantly elevate service and product quality.

  3. Engaged and connected employees
    When employees feel their growth is aligned with the organization's success, their engagement levels spike. AI-driven personalized career mapping, coupled with continuous feedback, ensures that the frontline workers and their leaders feel part of the fabric of the organizational.

In conclusion, the challenges with frontline workers and their leaders, though multifaceted, are not insurmountable. The blend of AI technology and handheld devices promises not only to address these challenges head-on but also to usher businesses into an era of unprecedented efficiency and growth. Organizations that embrace this synergy will undoubtedly set the gold standard in frontline operations.

An organization that harnesses AI-driven tools and implements transformative processes and ways of working isn’t just investing in technology; it’s investing in its future. Significant enhancements in productivity, customer conversion, and deep engagement with frontline workers will be the clear result. An organization genuinely investing in their workforce in a way that works for the business and for the employee doesn't just service the notion of general improvement; it redefines the very standards of employee and customer care.

As the Microsoft partner trusted by 94% of top retailers, we help accelerate retail digital transformation in an AI-first world.

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