As the world’s largest retailer, nothing Walmart does goes unnoticed. So a shift in scheduling processes for 650 of its small format Neighborhood Markets is likely to have many other organizations with an hourly workforce paying attention. The new program is called Customer First Scheduling, but it isn’t just focused on customers. It aims to create a better shopping experience by providing a more consistent work experience for its hourly employees. While I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the ins and outs of the Walmart system, media coverage highlights the fact that workers will have more control over when they work, and will also be able to maintain more consistent schedules over longer periods of time.

Companies like Walmart have long used data to streamline their supply chain, making sure they have just the right product in just the right place when a customer needs it. They, and others, are now using that data to ensure they have the staff they need in the right place at the right time. But the trick is to do so in a way that also delivers a work experience that creates engaged employees who deliver great customer service and stick around for the long haul. Optimizing simply for a reduction in labor cost has proven to be detrimental not only from a customer service perspective, but from a brand perspective as well. Just as customers won’t hesitate to give a bad review on yelp if they don’t receive good service, employees will head to job feedback sites and social media to let people know they had a bad employer experience.

In recent workforce utilization research, Aptitude defined three scheduling attributes that are aligned with improved employee experience and business results:

  • Predictable schedules – when an individual schedule follows a consistent pattern
  • Near-term schedule changes – adding or dropping shifts after a schedule is posted
  • Schedule availability – upcoming schedules are posted at predictable intervals

Data from the study shows that organizations with predictable schedules were twice as likely to have higher than industry average levels of employee engagement. Those avoiding last-minute schedule changes were 86% more likely to have better than industry average customer retention as well. Clearly consistency is important for both employee and customer experience. But so is flexibility. Organizations need to be able to adjust to changing market conditions, and employees need to manage their life outside work. Tools like shift swapping can help organizations maintain this balance between consistency and flexibility. Organizations with such capabilities were 53% more likely to indicate they had below-average turnover for their industry.

Technology is an amazing tool to help organizations deliver a better experience and better results, and to do so at a more reasonable cost. But it’s important to remember that technology doesn’t do anything that we don’t tell it to do. Technology is a tool. If your house falls down, you blame the builder not the hammer and the saw. Buying scheduling technology will only benefit your organization if you also have a clear strategy for your workforce, and everyone from senior leadership to frontline managers understands what you are trying to achieve. Technology can provide great insights and great data, but at the end of the day we are humans interacting with one another as employers and employees, companies and customers. For Walmart and all employers, success will depend on the right blend of technology, strategy, and human interaction.