What if you go out to deliver someone’s groceries to their car and there is a screaming toddler and a frazzled young mom at the wheel? What do you do then? How do you train for that?

One of the world’s most recognized companies is Wal-Mart. A behemoth with more than 2 million employees, the firm is always competing and looking for opportunities to innovate. Becky Schmitt, Chief People Officer for Corporate Functions, recently explained some of the company’s approach and innovation. For example, one area in particular that is growing faster than any other part of the business is personal shopping assistance.

Wal-Mart, like every large business, is always looking for opportunities to create better experiences. Schmitt said the company looks for transactional roles to automate and then gives its people opportunities to have a more personal touch with customers. The online grocery shopping part of Wal-Mart’s business led to reducing the number of cashiers in favor of self-checkout stations. The firm then trained its best workers to take on new roles as personal shoppers. As of this publication the firm has more than 30,000 personal shoppers in its stores.

The experience component is important. Despite spending less time in the store, interactions with Wal-Mart employees (and personal shoppers in particular) are even more important for customers. That’s why the firm uses virtual reality to help train and prepare their workers for various scenarios that they might run into. For example, how should you respond if the customer’s item is out of stock? How should you treat customers with difficulties or challenges? This set of training examples in itself is highly indicative of the kind of work these people are doing. It’s not routine. It’s highly variable and requires a different type of training to adequately prepare workers to serve a variety of needs.

This change in pace for those workers actually drives higher satisfaction, and Wal-Mart’s data show that customers are more satisfied as well. Personal shopping isn’t seen as a second-tier job at Wal-Mart–the firm picks the best performers to move into these personal shopping positions because the interactions with customers are even more targeted and important than ever before. In Schmitt’s words:

We put our best people in these roles and they are excited to move to these more relational services with our customers… We’re moving from repeatable work to more meaningful work.

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