Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Computer Says ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’: Transforming the Retail Experience for Employees Through Digitisation

November 23, 2016

Pre-digitisation, the pre- and post-purchase experiences were often completely separate, with marketing and sales taking charge of enticing the customer in and closing the sale and customer service carried out by an unconnected team. In recent years, the importance of good customer service has gained traction, with recent research conducted by KPMG Nunwood and Cisco highlighting increased revenues for brands scoring highest in this area.

However, the customer experience in UK retail remains far from the digital, frictionless ideal in most cases. That’s largely because what seems simple and straightforward is actually quite complex. Providing and end-to-end picture of a customer and their orders requires input from a variety of enterprise systems from browsing through ordering and fulfilment.

In today’s digital world, customers are increasingly unaccepting of this lack of visibility and become understandably frustrated when retailers are able to link up their systems seamlessly enough to target them with digital marketing yet cannot tell them where a parcel is. Or can suggest ‘other items you might like’ during the online checkout process but cannot tell them if an item is in stock elsewhere if it’s out of stock in store, or order in an online only line.

Speaking to Retail Week on the topic in 2015, retail industry veteran Bob Willett described the issue in a nutshell “We know more about customers than ever, but we’re not using that information terribly well, to provide the people that face the customers every day with the information to satisfy the consumer”.

A poor customer experience isn’t just frustrating for the customer. Delivering a below par experience invokes a range of negative emotions in employees who genuinely want to help, but are thwarted by not having the right information at their fingertips. Few people relish being unproductive or unhelpful, especially portrait of a saleswoman with crossed arms on Christmaswhen customers are quick to take to social media to complain about the terrible service they’ve received.

As I write, we’re on the cusp of peak shopping season for consumer goods, generating (hopefully for UK retailers) record sales, but in parallel high volumes of enquiries and returns. The closer it gets to 25 December, the more emotions will rise and the more pressure employees will be under to find that prized item in another store in the right colour or size, to locate that parcel, to fulfil a late addition to the list for Santa in the (St.) nick of time. And it all starts again on Boxing Day or even earlier, with manic sale shopping and, of course, returns.

At a time when margins are being not just squeezed but imploded by the living wage, utilising employees more effectively makes good business sense. In an industry where service impacts on not only the brand but the bottom line, it would be foolish not to focus on empowering employees to be more effective. So here are our top tips for digitally transforming the customer AND the employee retail experience.

  1. Think human. It’s a human who makes the decision to buy and a human who deals with any queries. It’s not either of their problems that some stock is dispatched direct from the supplier or that your systems aren’t integrated with your carrier. It’s imperative that you leverage technology to give a single, complete view of your customers as humans.
  2. Minimise time and effort. Utilise your existing network data to analyse where, when and why your customers are asking for help and use this to better design the experience. Frequently asked about how a particular product works? Consider video guides to assist employees and customers. Often get asked where to collect orders in store? Improve signage or look to combat by pushing messages when they arrive.
  3. Omni-channel isn’t just about sales. If customers have transacted entirely online or via mobile/tablet, they probably don’t want to call you to ask a query. Similarly, it’s very frustrating for employees to have to force customers to call or email (or heaven forbid write) when they want to communicate via social media. Collaboration can be channel-neutral with the right technology in place.

It’s important to recognise that this isn’t something to shelve to address in a few years’ time. According to IDC Research, by 2018 “80% of B2C Companies Will Have Created Immersive, Authentic Omni-Experiences for Customers, Partners, and Employees”.

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