As the more mundane aspects of customer experience inevitably become automated thanks to the increasing efficiency of AI and machine-led services, retailers will have to radically rethink their employment strategies. PwC forecasts that more than 10 million UK jobs are at risk of being lost to automation, with 2.5 million of those in retail. While at first glance this seems alarming, retailers in the process of enabling the digital store should see this as an opportunity to elevate the more ‘soft’ aspects of customer experience – those that involve person-to-person interactions which are still outside AI’s capabilities – beyond the transactional, increasing both the value and the status of their employees.
Three key commitments are central to this rethink:
Benefits of the online experience should be available in-store
The proliferation of mobile technology and the ease with which customers can use it to make purchases have erased the barriers between online and offline, which is why retailers need to empower colleagues to provide the benefits of online shopping in-store to keep ahead of their demands.
There’s evidence that making colleague-led online services available in-store increases revenue by as much as 3% and secondary purchases by up to 35%. Colleagues with in-depth, real-time knowledge of customers’ wants and needs, stock availability and product information, delivered via dashboards on mobile devices, are able to offer a superior level of service, from online ordering in-store to upselling appropriate products.
The only way to achieve this kind of frictionless experience is to allow information to flow freely between business areas, devices and back-end systems such as eCommerce and CRM so that it can be quickly picked up and intelligently applied throughout the customer journey. This is where retailers need to use a digital store platform to enable existing and new systems to talk to each other in real time allowing colleagues to identify customers, offer personalised service, enable seamless checkouts and respond to feedback in a way which makes the customer feel valued and listened to.
Sales colleagues need to have at least the same level of information as customers
Customers able to browse and buy products whenever and wherever they choose rightly expect to have the same kind of experience in-aisle. At the very least, in-store service should involve sales colleagues having access to the same level of technology and digital content as their customers. Lack of access to the right kind of devices and information to empower them to do their jobs properly has a negative effect on sales as well as colleague morale – research shows that 50% of sales colleagues are embarrassed by their lack of product knowledge with a significant percentage admitting that this makes them feel upset, awkward and angry around customers, while 73% admit to sending customers to a different store or sales colleague because they couldn’t answer simple questions about a product.
Empower sales colleagues to provide a new, higher-value ‘human’ customer experience through clienteling
Being able to identify and empathise with customer emotions plays a vital part in making a purchase, and this is an area where automation simply can’t compete. Once ‘hygiene’ and routine admin tasks become AI-assisted processes, sales colleagues will be able to focus on the more ‘human’ elements of service and, as a result, see their roles become elevated to better-paid and more highly-regarded positions. Providing a truly personalised, one-to-one experience based on shared data, from past purchases and tailored communications to personal tastes and product reviews, is what will drive in-store visits beyond the transactional.
The future of the high street depends on retailers making radical decisions about the shape of their business. Sales colleagues should be at the heart of each strategic move – front-line staff have the power to drive in-store visits and transform the experience for the customer by reinforcing the value of having access to a highly-motivated and knowledgeable shopping companion.
About Dan Hartveld
Dan Hartveld has a global reputation for excellence in the field of mobile retail. He has developed award-winning, first-in-class commercial solutions for leading retailers including Topshop, Burberry and MasterCard. Known for his expertise in the practical application of innovative technology to achieve measurable results for retail, Dan is a trusted expert and advisor with a proven track record in real-world business.
He was instrumental in developing Red Ant’s Connected Retail Platform and rolling it out across retailers, and he was a key member of the team which won the prestigious IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge for its cognitive sales associate app.