ANN INC Employee Tools and Internal Communications

Transforming thousands of retail associates into style ambassadors.

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In retail, every season means new styles, looks, and trends. For ANN INC.’s two premier brands, Ann Taylor and LOFT, it also means that 15,000 store employees need to remain informed and engaged.

The Assignment – Evolve the relationship between sales associates and clients

Vignette was first brought on in 2009 to help LOFT find more creative ways to evolve and enable the relationship between their sales associates and clients (ANN INC’s term for customers is clients). The too familiar greeting of ‘How can I help you?’ from a sales associate to client was met with rejection, creating a barrier instead of being helpful. LOFT was also experiencing tremendous growth, and having difficulty recruiting more retail-experienced sales associates to fill all roles. As one of the few forward-looking brands, LOFT staffed a small internal department focused on retail associate communications called Client Experience. At the time, the Client Experience team’s focus was to train and guide store managers and their sales associates to engage more consultatively with clients. LOFT had a vision of creating a client experience that would be a brand differentiator, but at the time didn’t possess the insights, expert knowledge, or creative resources to fully realize this vision. As one of the only agencies in the market specializing in internal communications, ANN INC. reached out and engaged Vignette. What started as a single project quickly evolved into a highly creative and collaborative relationship to realize a new and effective way to engage ANN INC.’s field and home office workforce.

Insights into the realities of the work experience for employees, clients, and recruits

The first step before any strategy or programs were developed, was to search for insights through meeting with business and brand leaders of ANN INC. From the President, Vice-Presidents, and HR leaders, Vignette interviewed and extracted the Company’s business, brand, learning, and communication objectives. We traveled to retail locations across markets and met with district managers, store managers, and retail associates to understand the realities of the LOFT experience for employees, clients, and recruits. Immersing ourselves in ANN INC.’s brand-related culture returned a wealth of data and insights, which shaped the client experience strategy and the future vision and direction of ANN INC. and all of its brands. Some important insights were:

  • The LOFT retail culture was high-touch. The elevated approach LOFT wanted to engage with clients wasn’t mirrored in how the home office engaged with associates and Field leadership. They provided communications, training, tools, and events that supported the brand values, but the overall approach and experience needed improvement.
  • Although the intent and desire was there, the past creative executions fell short of delivering employee engagement.
  • Product knowledge-based communications and tools dominated the Associate engagement landscape. While this was critical information, it needed to be balanced with a modern, elevated, and stylized experience.
  • Digital capability was minimal as the store’s payment systems receive primary use of the in-store bandwidth, making it harder to deliver digital solutions to stores.

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Evolving the Associate and Client Experience Internal Communications

After evaluating the current state of communications—and with a deeper understanding of ANN INC.’s culture—Vignette prioritized quick-win opportunities that would begin to transform the way the Client Experience team approached and delivered internal communications and  tools to the field and close critical gaps between the sales associates and clients. Removing the scripted model of customer service was our first priority. We created a messaging platform that both introduced and redefined the new style-focused client experience model, and replaced the scripted approach to greet clients with a simple, consultative approach that used new tools (printed materials) that cultivated a genuine conversation. ANN-INC-Employee-Tools-and-Internal-Communications-guides

Vignette Created a New Approach Called ‘Dress to Style’

Today associates are armed to engage clients in comfortable conversations, providing style services to assist client’s in additive ways. Internal cCommunications and tools have increased in seasonal frequency, reinforcing the the overall style advisor approach. Over time, managers are empowered to interpret these guidelines in ways they find effective within their stores. Vignette also created a new approach called ‘Dress to Style’ that contained simple client service tenets that served as the foundation to their practice:

  • We create a distinctive store experience
  • We deliver wow, and lots of it
  • We offer personal and engaging service
  • We are trusted style advisors

Leveraging existing internal communication channels

To introduce Dress to Style, we leveraged existing internal communication channels currently used within the brand. After the launch of the new approach, we continued to engage associates and managers with ongoing Dress to Style solutions across all tools, communications, and meetings. Some examples are:

  • Instructional design approaches used to optimize the learning experience for a field full of visual learners.
  • Coaching guides designed to improve and streamline the interactions between managers and associates.  
  • Style guides updated each season to help drive continuity across our work and other cross-functional partners with a small or large hand in the development of tools and communications.

ANN-INC-Employee-Tools-and-Internal-Communications-work-to-social Vignette also developed a strong working relationships with the LOFT and Ann Taylor marketing teams to facilitate the cross-functional collaboration between marketing and internal communications. This elevated the creative presentation of tools and communications, enabling more interest and usage.

Results

Vignette has been working with ANN INC. since 2009, collaborating with a number of brands and departments across the home office and field. As a result of our ongoing partnership we have seen positive results year after year in associate engagement, employee engagement, and business performance and. We continue to push the boundaries creatively to cultivate a meaningful connection between the company and its clients. Some important accomplishments include:

  • The scripted customer service model is long gone, and associates and managers are confident in the styling approach. Customers have responded with exceptionally positive feedback. Company meetings are punctuated with amazing letters from clients who talk about their styling experiences and how they are blown away by the genuine, thoughtful, and helpful associates.
  • In-store, LOFT continues to increase their DPT (dollars per transaction) and UPT (units per transaction).
  • ANN INC. continues to deliver the highest rated quality employee communications of any brand in the industry.
  • Our employee tools and communications are routinely used in the recruitment process to attract new talent to the brands.
  • Vignette’s strategy and approach has expanded to include all brands within ANN INC.—Ann Taylor Factory Stores, LOFT Outlet, Lou & Grey.
  • Tools and communications have kept paced with the increasing speed of retail fashion business. Delivery of collateral has expanded from four to five deliveries each year to ten to twelve deliveries each year.
  • Associate engagement scores continue to climb each year within the organization.

In 2009, we started with a project, fast forward to 2016, we’re a trusted partner who has refined a creative workflow and output that delivers results.


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