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Meet The Tri: Shannon Flanagan

By: Catarina Santos

Get to know RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Influencers through the “Meet the TRI” Q&A series! Dive in to learn about a member of the thought leader community and follow their work and insights across our content and their social channels.

Shannon Flanagan is Vice President and General Manager of Retail and Consumer Goods at Talkdesk.

  • Name, Full Title, and/or Company
    • Shannon Flanagan VP|GM Retail & Consumer Goods at Talkdesk
  • Tell us about your background.”
    • I’ve been retailing it since I was 18. Now I consider myself a retailer gone tech, at least for now :). Over the course of my career, by design, I have chosen to grow through different types of roles in order to develop a well-rounded perspective. I have worked with/for hyper-growth startups to fortune 500 companies, in roles that span: strategy, operations, people, technology, marketing, sales and consulting. I’m most energized when I am designing and executing meaningful ideas that make a difference for teams and customers alike. I’ve always been driven by creating the conditions for people to love what they do every day and when organizations care about enabling strategies through connected people, process and technology plans, it can happen. 
  • Brief description of your current role and your space in the industry.”
    • I lead the Retail & Consumer Goods vertical at Talkdesk, a customer service (aka contact center) technology platform. Essentially my role is to bring the outside in view to the org so that we build capabilities that drive value and outcomes that meet the specific needs of brands. In my current role, I love that I get to tackle one of things in this world I have never been able to find Zen about – bad customer service. It’s so simple: as humans we all want to be heard, respected and helped. Treat your employees and your customers like you want to be! 
  • What challenges/opportunities are currently facing retailers?
    • So many! So, I’ll speak to those in my space. Recruiting and retaining talent! Modernizing their tech stack. Leveraging data and AI to differentiate by providing easy, fast, friendly, personalized, concierge like service. 
  • What hot topics or trends have you been seeing in the retail space? How do you support these hot topics?
    • I have nothing novel to add here. It’s economic headwinds, scarcity of talent, modernizing technology, curtailing theft, reducing returns, margin pressure, maintaining/gaining share of wallet, etc. I support these challenges by building solutions that create better customer and employee experiences which, in turn, help with all of the above (minus theft). Meeting the customer where they are, given all the channels and platforms they engage with and high expectations, it is harder than ever! 
  • How has the retail industry changed in the past 5 years? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?
    • First and foremost, the change in customer expectations for easy, fast, friendly, frictionless, personalized experiences. Product and price aren’t the differentiators they once were. Sustainability practices will continue to matter more and more. Technology will change the way both corporate and customer facing teams operate. The role and impact of brand ambassadors, influencers and other customers will be incredibly important in purchasing decisions. 
  • Do you have any interesting projects coming up?
    • At NRF this past year, I launched a Women in Retail Tech community. We had an amazing turnout! However, my co-founder dropped out, leaving me solo. And then life happened, meaning, I didn’t have the space to nurture what we started so I will be starting it back up again. This community is dedicated to supporting and empowering women in the retail industry who are interested in pursuing careers in tech – whether they are looking to transition into tech roles within retail organizations or are already working in the field. I’ll be on a panel for Women in Retail Tech with AWS at NRF in January – which hopefully will be a great catalyst for getting it going. 
    • Why do I think this is important? Because no one else is doing this.  We believe there is a wealth of untapped talent among women in retail who have a passion for technology. These women have the potential to make a significant impact in the industry, and we want to provide them with the resources, support, and connections they need. 
    • It’s not easy to make career moves across functions, so through mentorship and community, I hope to support others in their career journey to find what they best enjoy doing. 
  • Which resources do you use to keep up with industry news?
    • LinkedIn, RETHINK Retail, Retail Wire, Retail Drive, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, RIS, BoF to name a few. 
  • What is the greatest challenge the industry is facing?
    • Outside of talent, how to leverage data across all functions. Those that do, will change how teams work and deliver the right product at the right time at the right price at the right location (channel/platform). 
  • How do you continue to grow and develop as an influencer of the retail industry?
    • I read a lot! 
  • What are the most critical changes that we must make to face the future effectively?
    • Again, data! Recognizing that as a result of connecting data across product, customer, inventory, marketing, etc. operating models will change. 
  • Who is making the greatest advancements in the industry, and what are they doing?
    • Any brand that is genuinely values driven, investing and leveraging technology, like RFID, 3D fit, AI, realizes that loyalty is more than just points, product isn’t king, and price is only one factor and they truly put the customer at the heart of all of the decision investing in providing easy, friendly, fast frictionless, personalized service, will win. 
  • What has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
    • As a result of choosing to not “climb the corporate ladder” in a particular function, like merchandising, I’ve had the opportunity to see how the industry works across all teams. If you have a knack for connecting dots and love to solve problems, I highly recommend spending time in consulting and/or a strategic initiative type of role in your company. It exposes you to the interrelatedness and interdependencies to successfully execute brand objectives. 
  • What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?
    • Read! Network! Take on new roles! 
  • Is there anything we’re leaving out here that needs to be addressed?“​​
    • Customer facing employees have hard jobs that take a mental toll! Customers aren’t always so nice. At corporate jobs, it’s fast and high-pressure. As a mental health advocate, I’m particularly passionate about opening the aperture to talk about what it really means to be inclusive and compassionate about the conditions, as leaders, you are fostering. Most organizations don’t think about this. Furthermore, they have created environments that recruit and reward like thinking and experience and often don’t give their employees the tools to do their jobs easily and effectively… The stats for themselves – better outcomes come as a result of diverse perspectives and happy employees = happy customers. And when people are happy in their role, they pay forward that energy to customers, colleagues, friends, family and the world around them.