While the way we purchase goods is evolving towards mobile, the majority of solutions place the onus on the customer, rather than using the technology to enhance the overall customer experience.
There has long been a debate as to whether technological innovation and expertise actually enhances the level of service customers receive. I predict that we are now on the cusp of a shift in commercial technology, towards purchase solutions with a greater level of human interaction. Without question, technology will still play a fundamental role in the transaction process and the relationship between businesses and customers. However, rather than using self-service tills or automated mobile phone solutions, we’re going to see a greater demand for a robust, customer-facing solution, which can drive efficiency whilst putting customer service first.
Why? Well, if you look at the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index there is a visibly strong correlation between customer satisfaction and sales. Bottom line, better customer service = higher sales and higher market share. So whilst the way we purchase goods and process transactions is evolving and shifting towards mobile, the majority of solutions are focussed on placing the onus on the customer, rather than using the technology to enhance the overall customer experience.
Sainsbury’s Scan and Go pay-in-store and Pizza Express’s pay-at-your-table services are just two examples driving the trend, but both are focussed on the customer processing the transaction themselves, removing the need for face-to-face contact, a move which a large majority of consumers are not yet ready to embrace.
The influx of new payment solutions hasn’t helped. The market is flooded with different solutions from iZettle and mPowa to NFC and text payment solutions. Consequently, many consumers feel confused and unwilling to commit to the technology. Mobile phone payments undeniably have their merits, but they only really cater to specific transactions. You may happily buy a CD or a pair of shoes on the move using your phone whilst on the bus or even in-store, in the hope you’ll get a better deal.
However, you’re unlikely to buy tickets to a concert or large, expensive items such as a television or home furnishings. Those purchases are far less trivial and require a greater level of validation. In many respects they are an investment, with a longer decision cycle. Customer service in these cases can be vitally important, not only in influencing the sale, but reassuring the customer. They are also a great tool for building brand awareness and customer loyalty.
That said, mobile payments are still largely in their infancy. This poses both a challenge and a huge opportunity for business, particularly those operating in the retail sector. The difficulty is, for many consumers, the notion of paying for something with their mobile phone is still an alien concept. So what can retailers do?
Consumer-facing, transaction-based businesses need to invest in solutions which make a worthwhile contribution to the customer journey and strong business sense at the same time. Mobile phone purchases remove the need for customer service, replacing it instead with a faceless automated system, which may not necessarily enhance the overall customer experience. People value face-to-face customer service.
Ultimately, they still like receiving a printed receipt, especially when they are dealing with a sole trader or small business. This provides them with security, and legitimises the transaction at the point of sale instantly, by issuing a printed record that the transaction has been processed successfully. This benefits businesses which are focussed on improving the experience they provide for their customers, but can allow senior staff to access live updates of the sales that are being processed and evaluate those transactions against their stock levels.
MPoS (mobile point of sale) via a handheld device enables this to become a reality. It bridges the gap between technological innovation and businesses needing to enhance the level of service they provide to their customers, as competition and the lure of ‘showrooming’ and online shopping intensifies. Mobile phone payments are fast and easy to process, but there are concerns over security and the legitimacy of payments. MPoS on the other hand can process transactions both on- and offline, especially in areas where mobile signals are weak or unavailable, such as on the train or at a music festival.
So is MPoS the new customer service champion? There is no denying the MPoS model is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, for businesses such as B&Q, Dunelm Mill or World Duty Free, which have large stores with high number of staff deployed in different departments, it offers huge potential. Staff equipped with these mobile units can provide excellent service to customers, enabling them to avoid queues. Meanwhile, the store can deliver live sales data to head office and remove the need for stationary tills, which occupy expensive potential sales space.
Organisations that embrace the mobile evolution in payment solutions, with customer service at the forefront, will be well placed to heighten their customers’ experience, whilst also increasing productivity and profitability.
Simon Pont is CEO at ECR Retail Systems.