Like many national retailers, Sleep Country Canada Holdings Inc. has a diverse group of employees across the country, working in more than 250 stores, as well as warehouses and distribution facilities, delivery services and a head office.
“The whole point of this was to create a way for us to communicate with our [employees] across Canada,” says Alex Chnaiderman, director of total rewards at Sleep Country Canada, referring to the organization’s new communications strategy. “They all have a work email, but a driver on the road isn’t going to be stopping in the office to check their email. So we really wanted to find a way to tap into that communications piece.”
The new strategy was inspired by a 2018 presentation from the company’s marketing and e-commerce team. It focused on customer usage and website traffic, he says, noting a key takeaway was that most traffic was either via a tablet or a mobile device.
“This was exactly what we needed to do — we needed to communicate to our [employees] on the level of the information they wanted. . . . This was our best way to tap into all of our [employees] and be able to reach as many of them as possible with any information we needed to.”
Later that year, Chnaiderman led an information session with Sleep Country’s total rewards team, asking them to choose their top two apps and share what they liked about the products and what needed improvement. The result was a list of about 80 or 90 different features, which were narrowed down to a top 10.
The team also determined it would focus on easy access, convenience and ensuring employees had information at their fingertips, he says. “Our [employees] typically don’t have questions about all this extended stuff while they’re working; it’s at home, when they have time, when they’re talking with their family . . . and they think, ‘That’s a great question. I have no idea.’ This was a way for us to provide them that access, that info at their fingertips, so they’re able to answer all of their questions and not have to wait until they’re back at work to ask somebody or look it up.”
Due to budget limitations and considering his technology background, Chnaiderman created the communications app himself. In September 2019, it was launched as a pilot project with 30 to 40 individuals from across the company. In October, it was rolled out to all employees.
Where employers have a dispersed workforce, particularly in retail, it can be challenging to reach all employees. Tom Milne, creative director and senior communications consultant at Eckler Ltd., says he’s seeing companies develop apps as a “single source or avenue to develop clear messaging without the broken telephone approach of passing it through managers and others.
“If you can get that uptake and you can get people to actually download the app, . . . that would be that one place to completely cut through the clutter.”
Sleep Country employees can download the app from iTunes or the Google Store and start using it immediately. If they enable push notifications, they’ll receive regular communications from the company in real time.
The rollout included a huge internal marketing campaign, says Chnaiderman. “In addition to that, we continually push the information. We’ve started putting a footer on all of our emails about [the app] — if you’re an [employee] of Sleep Country, just download this and everything you want will be there.”
In the first month, the app had 280 downloads, growing to 400 in the second month, 600 in the third month and almost 1,000 by the fifth month. “If we are at the front of this and continuously [showing staff] everything we’re offering and making sure they’re utilizing everything we’re offering, this is how we keep our folks happy and productive,” he says.
Going forward, Sleep Country will use the data to continue to tailor its total rewards package and its communications with employees. “We’re going to hit one year of working with this app and then we’re going to start, . . . ‘OK, we had a good year . . . let’s look at the data, let’s reach out and ask them what they liked [and] what they’d like to see improved.’ And then we can start using the information we have to continuously enhance our product.”
Indeed, Milne notes the importance of analytics with these types of communications channels. “It presents a new opportunity, but it also brings back the other issues of how you truly measure whether people are getting that information. . . .
“You have to go back to those analytics and say, ‘Where are people going? How long are they staying? How do we better engineer this app or this website to improve user experience and ensure that message is getting through? People don’t often look at the analytics to improve the experience, but it’s a continuous process.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Sleep Country set up an external website and a 1-800 number, but the new app was also useful in reaching out to employees, says Chnaiderman, noting it had its own coronavirus section for frequently asked questions and any new information.
“During COVID, it’s especially pertinent to us to send key information to our [employees] about what’s happening, where we are with any information that’s coming in, from the various government resources as well. March and April was a very hectic time for us. That was one of the platforms that we utilized.”
Certainly, the pandemic forced a lot of organizations to jump quickly into open, two-way communications, says Milne, noting he hopes these have been tailored over time. “With all communications, you want to keep them short and succinct, provide a high-level overview where possible . . . and provide additional information when and where necessary.
“I think the development of apps and all these things very clearly speak to employees [and], in relation to COVID-19, definitely focus on the support programs that benefits plans offer. . . . So using the avenues [employers have] created to better provide access to programs that support employees right now.”
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.