Putting the customer back into customer service

By Martyn Jones, Chief Commercial Officer, VoCoVo

It’s been a difficult few years for the retail sector, characterised by a combination of rising business rates and a landscape that has become increasingly unpredictable. This has been further exacerbated by the current crisis, which is forcing the sector to re-think strategies.

While options are limited at the moment for retailers, they need to keep focus on the future and ensure that customer service remains at forefront, arguably even more so in these challenging times. Many retailers have turned to technology as the answer but it’s not just about technology – it’s about getting the balance right between the human touch and technology. Most importantly, it’s about ensuring any technology implemented is an enabler for employees and the business overall.

With that in mind, where should retailers be focusing their efforts and how can they ensure that they are putting the customer back into customer service?

Changing customer expectations

Consider that the way we shop has changed dramatically – even before the current crisis. Thanks to the internet, consumers are now coming into store armed with more knowledge than ever before and expect retail staff to have that same level of expertise. As a result, many retail teams are being left behind as consumers educate them on their own products, pricing and policies.

In fact, research online, purchase offline (ROPO) has become a widespread phenomenon – customers first qualify purchases and minimise risk by researching online before committing to an in-store purchase. For retailers this means that any workforce knowledge gaps can create a measurable risk and result in a number of lost sales from customer frustration.

And it’s not just consumer expectations about staff that have changed as a result of the internet. Shoppers have also grown more accustomed to the independence of ‘self-assisted’ experiences, they expect to be served or helped instantly, and have less patience for any delay or slip in standards of customer service.

The one thing, that has remained constant however, is the continued need for that personal touch and interaction.

The value of human touch

Modern retail has for decades been transitioning from the classic shopkeeper-customer relationship to the impersonal mindset that has shaped much of the modern mass-retailing era. This includes the rise of self-service checkouts and in-store tech designed to make customers more independent. Yet, there is a desire among consumers for more human interaction. It means that any contact with retail staff can be the difference between a good and bad customer experience. And, as mentioned above, a lot of this comes down to the quality and usefulness of the information the retail assistant is able to provide.

Some retailers are now trying to go back to a one-on-one relationship and are working out how to scale a people-based model.

Whilst technology undoubtedly has a role to play in improving customer experience, retailers should be considering technologies that work as an aid for store staff and help them to deliver the best possible service.

It makes no sense to throw technology at customer service hoping for a cure-all, without having a good understanding of the customer experience. In fact, the ill-thought out deployment of technology, i.e. in replacing shop-floor labour with screens, may even complicate the customer journey. And retailers cannot afford to make mistakes here, with retailers losing sales because of poor customer experiences.

Keep in mind that the cost to acquire a new customer is always higher than simply taking better care of and retaining current customers. Key to building lasting relationships and long-term customers loyalty is to strategically combine the traditional customer-first approach with the latest retail technology, with staff playing a starring role.

The value of voice

One of the ways retailers are boosting customer experience and staff delivery of that experience is by connecting employees via voice communication. In this way, retailers can create a culture of ‘networked knowledge,” whereby any member of staff is able to deliver the right information to customers instantly when needed.

Staff can interact as if they were all in the same room, passing information, resolving queries and allowing tasks to be quickly allocated and actioned. Wireless headsets, for example, can also be set up in conference groups, allowing specific teams to talk to each other, and incoming phone calls can be routed straight to devices too, improving the customer experience before customers even enter the store.

The future of customer service

Great customer experience can be the difference between a store’s success or failure – now more so than ever. In-store, shoppers interact with products, staff members and form a lasting impression of the brand, so effective communication is essential – whether that is between management and customer facing colleagues, colleagues or customers and store colleagues. And the busier the store, the more critical it is to have in place solutions that will allow communication to take place instantly and effectively.

By arming staff with voice communication technologies, such as wireless headsets and handsets, staff can benefit from real-time access to actionable data to improve store operations, while customers can benefit from engaged and excellent customer service.

Connecting employees and equipping them with the data they need is vital to building relationships with customers on the shop floor. We already do it in other sectors, so why should retail be any different? It’s time to put the customer back into customer service and make it easy for customers to get the answers they need by providing employees with the right tools to deliver the best possible experience.

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