Ready To Launch? Why a Soft Pilot Is Best


Most companies have a solid plan in place when rolling out a new program, policy, or procedure – test it as much as possible in preparation for the official roll out.


When that doesn’t happen, things can go awry pretty quickly. One example is Kmart, a retailer who has been gearing up to face technology with a mobile app that allows for an easier shopping experience, with great features such as coupons and rewards points being immediately redeemed from their account and mobile purchasing. The idea was simple – users could find what they were looking for through the search feature, as they were shopping they had the ability to scan the items with their phone, offering up their phone at checkout to complete the transaction. Sounds pretty great, right?


Well, it has potential.


According to an article that was recently published, the company started using it at one of their stores in mid-2013 and added two additional stores a month later, with the goal of rolling it out across all of their locations by summer. Starting slowing and testing at a location or two is a good start in any planning of such a new service. They seemed to miss a step, potentially, by rolling it out on a smaller scale.


Effective planning for something like this takes patience and small steps to weed out any potential issues or hiccups before it goes live. By starting in only a few stores, the company did well to release it slowly. However, it seems as though they may have missed a couple of steps before that – when releasing a program, a soft pilot may include some of these steps too once planning and design is complete:


1. Testing conducted by those who created the program or app to pinpoint any areas that need improvement.


2. Testing conducted by a group of employees who have had no prior experience with this new program – this gives companies the first insight into consumer use. Feedback from this group can give some quick insight into any tweaks that might need to be made.


3. Training/testing by front line staff who will be responsible for this new program, BEFORE it rolls out. Because something new can be daunting for all involved, it’s so important to get the front line staff up to speed on the new program. Let them use it as a customer, make sure training is solid for using the new technology while interacting with staff, and get some feedback from those front line workers on potential challenge areas.


These steps may have been overlooked by Kmart, as evidenced by a reporter’s account of their experience when using the new app during a recent shopping experience.


1. Product searches didn’t go so well – the article cites an example of typing in “healthy food” and receiving coupons for unrelated items such as jewelry and an outdoor play set.


2. All items didn’t scan so well – testing of all types of packaging will ensure a smooth process. In this case, there is some user related challenge if they are unfamiliar with scanning items, especially more tricky ones such as bags, where the bar code can be hard to make completely flat. Hopefully Kmart did testing in several groups across several types of product packaging.


3. The biggest caveat of this experience? When the reporter went to the checkout line to complete the process, the employee had no idea what to do, and claimed she had never seen this program before with prior customers. It was clear that not all of the employees at this target location were familiar with the process and might not have received training on it.


Proper piloting of any new program will help alleviate potential issues; just testing at a store or two as the pilot isn’t enough. Following the steps above for launching a new program can lead to less issues, bumps, and frustration for both customers and employees along the way. Hopefully, Kmart will get the app running smoothly before it is rolled out to all of its locations.


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