HRTech Interview with Diljaan Gill, Director of Training at Match Retail

Discover how AI is revolutionizing training requirements for customer service teams, reshaping traditional approaches and enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in meeting evolving consumer demands.


Diljaan, could you discuss your approach to learning and development within the retail sector, particularly in the context of both call centre training and broader HR strategies?
When we talk about learning & development in retail, especially at Match Retail, we’re really painting on a broad, vibrant canvas.

Working in retail has always been mercurial, always ever-evolving. If I can continue the art piece metaphor, retail is constantly changing colors with trends in technology and consumer behavior.

As the Director of Training, I approach this with a blend of traditional retail acumen while striving to experiment with new, untried ideas and strategies. It’s about ensuring that our call center teams and broader HR strategies are not just keeping pace, but are ahead of the curve.

Let’s start with call centers. Here, the training isn’t just about handling calls efficiently. It’s about giving our team the knowledge and tools to make every customer feel special. Like every business, we’re integrating AI to streamline processes. But the core remains focused on enhancing human interactions.

For broader HR strategies, it’s about nurturing a culture where continuous learning is as natural as breathing. We’re encouraging our teams to embrace change, be it new software, shifting consumer trends, or evolving communication channels.

Embracing tech this way is not about running to grab the shiny new toy; it’s about reflecting the tools that our customers use and trying to stay a bit ahead of where they’re going.

We’re building a team that’s as comfortable chatting about the latest fashion trends as they are navigating an e-commerce platform. The goal is to have a workforce that can switch seamlessly from discussing product features to troubleshooting an online order with ease and confidence.

Given your extensive experience, how do you perceive the influence of e-commerce on traditional retail training? What are the key challenges in this space right now?
The influence of e-commerce on traditional retail training is like a wave that’s reshaped the shoreline. It’s profound and irreversible. Training programs need to evolve significantly to address the shifts brought on by e-commerce and omnichannel marketing and online/offline customer preferences.

Traditional retail training focused largely on in-person customer interactions, product knowledge, and store operations. But with the advent of e-commerce, the skill set required has expanded dramatically.

Now, our training programs promote ongoing digital literacy, understanding online consumer behavior, and mastering e-commerce platforms. We’re teaching our staff not just to sell, but to engage with customers across multiple digital touchpoints. This involves understanding the nuances of online marketing, social media interactions, and even the basics of data analysis to understand customer preferences and trends.

Again, e-commerce has brought a sea change in customer expectations. Today’s customers are well-informed and expect a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re browsing online or walking into a physical store. Our training programs, therefore, are built around the integration of online and offline experiences. We’re equipping our staff to provide consistent, high-quality service, regardless of how the customer chooses to interact with us.

The key challenges in this space are manifold. Firstly, there’s the rapid pace of technological change. Keeping our training programs up-to-date with the latest digital tools and platforms is a constant endeavor. Secondly, there’s the challenge of blending the digital with the physical – ensuring that our staff can provide a seamless, omnichannel experience. And thirdly, there’s the human element – maintaining the warmth, empathy, and personal touch that’s always been at the heart of retail, even in a digital world.

Ultimately, the influence of e-commerce on traditional retail training at Match Retail has been transformative. It’s about striking a balance – leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience, while also preserving the human connection that’s the essence of retail.

AI is increasingly integrated into retail, especially in customer service. How do you see AI reshaping the training needs for customer service teams?
The integration of AI into retail, especially in customer service, is completely altering how we approach training. It’s important to note: AI in customer service isn’t about replacing human interaction; it’s about augmenting it. Our training programs are being tailored to understand and use AI as a tool that enhances, rather than supplants, the human touch.

Let’s break it down. In customer service, AI tools like chatbots and automated responses are great for handling basic queries, freeing up our human staff for more complex, nuanced interactions. But this doesn’t diminish the importance of human empathy and understanding. In fact, it elevates it.

Our training programs are now making a special effort to show how staff can work alongside AI — understanding its capabilities, its limits, and where the human touch is essential.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe AI represents a threat to people’s jobs in customer service; it’s an enabler. It’s about harnessing the power of AI to elevate the human aspect of service, making our team more efficient, more insightful, and more empathetic. At Match Retail, we’re training our staff not just to use AI, but to use it wisely — to enhance the customer experience in ways that only a human-AI partnership can.

With AI’s growing role in customer interactions, what strategies do you recommend for maintaining the crucial balance between AI efficiency and human empathy in customer service?
We train our staff on how to take over from a chatbot interaction smoothly, ensuring that the transition from AI to human is seamless and organic and doesn’t disrupt the customer’s experience. We’re all trying to understand the strengths of AI — its speed, consistency, 24/7 availability — and complement it with human strengths like creativity.

Moreover, training in AI also involves making sense of the data that these systems collect — and using that data responsibly in ways that ensure customer privacy and confidence. It’s about using insights from AI interactions to better understand customer needs and preferences, and then using that knowledge to enhance the human side of customer service.

We’re preparing our staff for a future where AI and human service coexist harmoniously. It’s a future where AI handles the routine, while humans excel in areas where emotional intelligence, understanding, and personal touch are key. This synergy between AI and human capability is at the core of our training, ensuring that our team is ready for the evolving landscape of retail customer service.

We’re also using AI to enhance our team’s capabilities. For example, AI-powered tools can provide real-time insights and suggestions during customer interactions, helping our staff to offer more personalized, informed service.

It’s like having a personal assistant that’s always there with the right information at the right time.

The issue of front-line staff turnover is particularly seasonal. Could you discuss how training programs can be structured to address this challenge in Q1 as well as how you view the issue throughout the year?
Addressing the challenge of frontline staff turnover, especially in a seasonal context, is a multifaceted task. At Match Retail, we’ve developed training programs that not only equip staff with the skills they need but also engage them in a way that fosters a sense of belonging and purpose.

Seasonal peaks in retail can often lead to a high turnover rate, compounded by constraints like reduced hiring budgets and limited employee hours. Our approach is to tackle this head-on through training and engagement.

The key is to create a training program that’s both comprehensive and engaging. We’re focusing on skill development, particularly in areas like AI and other software tools that are increasingly important in retail. But it’s not just about the technical skills. We’re also focused on the development of soft skills: communication, empathy, problem-solving. Those attributes are obviously crucial in customer service. That said, sometimes we all need to be reminded of the most obvious things, which tend to be taken for granted.

Engagement is another critical aspect. We’re creating a training environment that’s interactive, supportive, and, most importantly, fun. We want our staff to look forward to coming to work, to feel like they’re part of a team, a community. We’re using gamification, interactive workshops, and team-building activities to make training an enjoyable, rewarding experience.

But it’s not just about the training period. We’re also focusing on ongoing support and development. We’re providing opportunities for continuous learning, for career advancement, for personal growth. It’s about showing our staff that they’re valued, that they’re an important part of our team, not just seasonal help.

It’s important to stress that it’s not just about seasonality. Retail turnover is rampant — and so are budget cuts and reductions in labour hours. The drive to “do more with less” to achieve greater efficiency is only a driver of turnover. This cost-cutting dynamic leads to employee disengagement.

The solution is Cross Training, which can play a critical role to retain, attract and increase employee satisfaction/engagement.

For example, when a department reduces labour hours, Cross Training allows existing department employees to support other departments when the need arises. The ability to shift people with a range of expertise reduces the impact of hourly reductions and the need to hire more personnel for other areas of the business — which usually leads to extra hiring costs due to onboarding and training net new staffers.

The cycle of constant hiring and reducing staff is what causes so much unnecessary tension among staffers as well as managers. Cross Training provides stability.

The results speak for themselves. By investing in our staff, by giving them the skills and the support they need, we’re seeing a decrease in turnover rates, even during seasonal peaks. We’re building a team that’s not just skilled, but also committed — a team that’s ready to provide stellar customer service, no matter the season.

You have to view training as an investment in our people. It’s about going beyond the basics, creating a training program that equips our staff for the challenges of retail, but also encourages constant self-improvement and awareness. That’s how you get a workforce that’s ready to grow with us.

How do you integrate cultural experiences into retail training to enhance employee engagement and reduce turnover?
Incorporating cultural experiences into retail training is not just about ticking a diversity box. It’s about creating a training environment that’s as rich and varied as the world we live in. At Match Retail, we’re integrating cultural experiences into our training programs to enhance employee engagement and reduce turnover. It’s about acknowledging and celebrating the diverse backgrounds and perspectives that our team brings to the table.

Our approach is varied. First, we’re ensuring that our training materials and methods are inclusive and representative of different cultures and experiences. We explore scenarios and real-world examples that reflect a variety of cultural contexts, ensuring that our training is relevant and relatable to everyone.

We’re also bringing in speakers and trainers from diverse backgrounds, giving our team the opportunity to learn from a wide range of experiences and perspectives. It’s about exposing our staff to different ways of thinking, different approaches to problem-solving, different ways of connecting with customers.

But it’s not just about what we teach; it’s about how we teach it.

We’re using interactive, experiential learning methods that encourage collaboration and dialogue. We’re creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their experiences, their ideas, their stories, who they are.

It’s another area where the value of Cross Training applies. This concept doesn’t just incorporate staffers’ disparate skills; it incorporates their varied cultures, languages, and other diverse attributes that reflect people’s unique communication styles and preferences. Cross Training really is about mixing all ingredients together in a way that produces a better whole that everyone can relate to.

In light of inventory challenges, how important is comprehensive product knowledge training for retail staff, and how does it impact sales and the customer experience?
Product knowledge is more than just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. At Match Retail, we’re placing a strong emphasis on comprehensive product knowledge training for our staff. In a world where inventory challenges are becoming increasingly common, this kind of training is essential for maintaining sales momentum and providing an exceptional customer experience.

We don’t just teach our staff about the features and benefits of the products we sell. We’re turning them into experts, able to answer any question, address any concern, and provide insightful recommendations to our customers.

This involves in-depth training on our entire product range, not just the items currently on sale. We’re using a variety of methods to achieve this – interactive e-learning modules, hands-on workshops, product demos, and more. We’re making product knowledge training an immersive, engaging experience, one that’s both informative and enjoyable.

As for overcoming inventory challenges directly, when a particular product is out of stock, staffs have to be inspired to suggest alternatives, to guide customers to other options that might suit their needs. This helps to maintain sales momentum, even in the face of supply chain issues.

One of the biggest differentiators in retail depends on the brand’s ability to provide a level of service that’s not just satisfactory, but recognizable and uniformly outstanding.

You’ve touched upon the use of AI in content development and training. Can you provide examples of how this is being effectively implemented?
The use of AI in content development and training is a fascinating area, one that’s full of potential. At Match Retail, we’re exploring how AI can be used to create more effective, efficient training programs. It’s about leveraging technology to enhance the learning experience, making it more personalized, more captivating, and more impactful.

One of the ways we’re doing this is through AI-driven content customization. Imagine a training program that adapts to each individual’s learning style, pace, and preferences. AI algorithms analyze each learner’s interactions, performance, and feedback, and then tailor the content accordingly. It’s like having a personal tutor that knows exactly what you need and when you need it.

We’re also using AI for skills assessment and gap analysis. AI tools can quickly and accurately identify areas where each staff member needs additional training, allowing us to focus our efforts where they’re needed most. This helps to ensure that our training programs are not just comprehensive, but also targeted and efficient.

Another exciting application is in the creation of realistic, interactive training simulations. Using AI, we can create virtual scenarios that mimic real-world customer interactions. This gives our staff the opportunity to practice and refine their skills in a safe, controlled environment, before applying them in the real world.

As I’ve noted, it’s not just about the technology itself. Service comes down to the human element. That can’t be overstated. We’re combining AI-driven content with hands-on workshops, group discussions, and other interactive learning experiences. That’s where the human connection comes in. It’s another big differentiator — and customers can tell the difference.

Are there any emerging trends or innovations in retail training that you find particularly exciting or transformative?
One of the most exciting things we often talk about is the use of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) in training. These technologies offer an immersive, interactive learning experience that’s unlike anything else. Imagine putting on a VR headset and stepping into a virtual store, where you can practice customer interactions, explore different scenarios, and learn in a way that’s both engaging and effective. It’s a game-changer for retail training, offering a level of realism and interactivity that traditional methods can’t match.

Another trend that’s gaining traction is the use of gamification in training. By incorporating game-like elements — points, levels, rewards — into our training programs, we’re making learning more fun and engaging. It’s about tapping into the natural human desire for competition and achievement, turning training into a challenge that our staff are eager to take on.

We’re also seeing a shift towards microlearning – breaking down training content into small, easily digestible chunks. This approach is particularly effective in today’s fast-paced world, where people often don’t have the time or attention span for long training sessions. It’s about providing bite-sized learning experiences that can be easily fitted into a busy schedule, making training more flexible and accessible.

Lastly, there’s a growing focus on soft skills training. Again, it’s incorporating a deeper sense of empathy. That’s the basis of great communication and actual problem-solving that’s the foundation of customer service. It’s about going further and offering the kind of skills that can’t be replicated by a machine.

Diljaan, what advice would you offer to our readers who are looking to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving landscape of retail, particularly in terms of learning and development initiatives?

If I were to offer guidance to anyone looking to stay ahead in this current and fast-approaching future of retail, particularly in terms of learning and development, it would be this: be open, be adaptable, and be curious.

In terms of the details, that means staying informed. Keep up with the latest trends and technologies in retail. Read industry publications, attend conferences, join professional groups. The more you know about what’s happening in the industry, the better equipped you’ll be to adapt your training programs accordingly.

But it’s not just about keeping up with the trends; it’s also about being open to new ideas and approaches. Don’t be afraid to try something new, to experiment with different methods and technologies. Some of the most effective training programs are those that break the mold, that offer a unique, innovative approach to learning.

Adaptability is a key point worth repeating. Consumers’ shopping tastes and habits are constantly shifting. Training programs need to be able to shift with it. Be prepared to revise and update your programs regularly, to ensure that they’re always relevant and effective.

Technology shapes the way we interact, access and share information about our world and our interests. Conversely, that’s made the human touch more valuable than ever. With all those elements in place, you can create a training program that not only meets the challenges of today’s retail landscape but also prepares your team for the opportunities of tomorrow.

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Diljaan Gill

Diljaan Gill Director of Training at Match Retail

Diljaan's career is marked by strategic foresight. His tenure in various leadership roles, including his current position as the Director of Training at Match Retail, demonstrates his aptitude for aligning training and growth initiatives with overarching organizational goals. His approach is not just about meeting targets; it's about setting new benchmarks in industry standards. Diljaan has been instrumental in shaping the organizations' strategic direction, ensuring alignment with business objectives while nurturing a culture of continuous learning. His leadership is pivotal in the development and execution of training programs that resonate with both the organizational vision and the individual needs of team members.