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Photo courtesy of Neiman Marcus

As any retailer knows, the store associate plays a critical role in the customer experience, and in-store workforce communication can prove to be a challenging operational aspect.

But at Neiman Marcus, that challenge is fast becoming a distant memory thanks to an intelligent assistant and voice-controlled mobile app platform that is proving to not only enhance the customer experience, but boost the in-store associate experience and communication among associates and store management.

How it all started

As Scott Emmons, who runs Neiman Marcus’ Innovation Lab, explained, it all began with a multi-pronged quest.

The retailer needed a communication solution to better connect associates to foster an enhanced customer experience, Emmons told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview. Emmons was introduced to Theatro’s Content Delivery Manager platform at a retail technology conference.

“I immediately saw it as a good solution for our Neiman Marcus Last Call stores. We needed a communication solution to better connect our associates, and the fact that Theatro could also connect to our enterprise system was extraordinary,” said Emmons. “Now our employees can speak one-on-one to each other through Theatro using a simple voice command. They can help a customer check stock or find the price of a product without having to walk away or even break eye contact,” he said, adding “I really signed on with Theatro for the improvement in customer service that it enabled, but by day two of our pilot, we were pleasantly surprised that it paid for itself through loss prevention alone.”

The technology, now in play at 23 Neiman Marcus Last Call stores, offers a long list of features, from voice messaging that can be automated and delivered via dynamic rules, to helping associates find product information without running to an in-store terminal.

The platform lets retailers schedule messages to associates in one store, or all stores, or just a specific region, and also build a library of voice messages that can be accessed at any time.

Such instant communication lets associates find information quicker and easier, leading to a more rewarding customer experience and connect to each other for guidance and work support, said Emmons.

Unexpected rewards

But that is just the beginning of the benefits being delivered by Theatro’s CDM platform.

The technology has removed “overhead noise” from stores, which Emmons said has improved the customer’s in-store experience, and it has also dramatically improved associate response time.

“Now, when someone needs help in a fitting room, the associate helping them can speak directly to someone else based on their location, so an associate who’s already in the women’s clothing department can bring different styles or sizes directly to the dressing room and cut the turnaround time in half,” he explained, adding it’s also proven invaluable at registers as it’s speeding up the check-out experience.

And it’s delivering operational efficiency.

“We can quietly request register back-up, and the system actually allows associates to acknowledge the request so everyone else knows someone answered and responded, and they all can keep working on whatever they were doing, without a break in their productivity,” Emmons said. This way, store registers are fully manned as needed, and Neiman Marcus is saving in labor efficiency, he added, describing the technology as “win-win.”

The benefits for associates

While enhancing the in-store experience for shoppers is a huge benefit, the platform is also proving to enhance the workday for associates. Staff can now answer any customer question even if it’s their first day of working in a store. That’s led to faster and easier associate training.

“The learning curve for new employees has been dramatically decreased because they’re empowered with the knowledge of all our associates through a simple voice command,” explained Emmons.

For example, if an associate is on their first day at a store, they can ask a question of any or all associates while on the sales floor talking to a customer. That means they don’t have to walk away to get help or break eye contact with a customer to look at a tablet or smartphone app.

“It’s huge as far as empowering our associates and providing a best-in-class experience to our customers,” said Emmons. “Our customers have high expectations of phenomenal customer experience when they walk into Nieman’s, and Theatro helps us truly deliver on their expectation.”

Lessons from tech deployment

To provide such immediate and reliable communication, the Theatro platform depends on robust network connectivity.

Prior to deployment, Theatro does an in-store Wi-Fi survey and audit to identify weak signal or gap areas, and then works with the retailer’s tech team to reconcile any issues.

For Neiman Marcus, that delivered another benefit

“The Wi-Fi improvement was another happy and unexpected result from implementing Theatro,” noted Emmons.

Associate training on the platform didn’t pose a big challenge, Emmons said, as the technology is very natural and easy to learn.

We were shocked, actually, that even our associates that we thought might struggle with a new technology took to it so quickly,” he said.

In fact, when one store location was off the system for two days due to a power outage, associates were very happy to get back on.

“Afterwards, they said, ‘I don’t know what we used to do without Theatro! How did we communicate before?'” said Emmons.

What’s to come

In the future, Emmons is hopeful the platform and productivity apps will expand in terms of features and functionality, and that Theatro moves forward to build voice-activated apps like its SKU finder capability.

“We also look forward to a Spanish version as that would be a huge help for our stores that have a lot of Spanish-speaking customers. I know it’s on their road map,” said Emmons.

Neiman Marcus is a member of ICX Association
Posted with permission from



Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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