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How to bridge the gap between c-suite and branch for a better customer experience

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26th Feb 2015
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It goes without saying that today’s retailers are evolving into radically different beasts from those encountered by consumers as recently as ten years ago. The ubiquity of smart devices means that shoppers now interact with their favourite brands on their terms, expecting continuity and a seamless experience regardless of the channel they use.

Keeping up with these technological changes and consumer expectations is an ongoing challenge. As a result, the retail industry has struggled to avoid the emergence of organisational siloes, a major problem for brands trying to develop an omnichannel presence. One example of this is the way that the ecommerce departments of retail businesses are often positioned in competition with brick and mortar stores, and run by different teams.

Another disconnect is the emerging gap between senior management and shop floor sales staff, a problem resulting from ineffective communications channels. Senior executives have limited visibility of insights available at shop floor level, while real-time management information is rarely accessible to staff on the front line.

A long standing problem in retail is how best to empower sales assistants on the shop floor and capture information based on the customer interactions they have each and every day. As a result, it can be difficult for head office to get an accurate view of how individual branches are operating. The loyalty card was once seen as the answer to this problem; however, limited to reporting on purchase histories, it provides a fairly restricted window into shopper behaviour. Naturally, companies are now turning to technology to help.

Brands are increasingly adopting employee facing mobile technologies designed for shop floor use. These solutions act as companions for sales assistants to provide easier access to information, execute transactions and improve interactions with customers. Aside from improving customer experiences, these solutions also provide real management insight into what happens on the shop floor - how sales assistants sell and how customers shop - which can be shared with senior teams and built into wider business strategies. Connecting the internal siloes, such technologies open up a two way conversation between different departments and operations.

The technology already exists for businesses to connect with people in a seamless, intuitive way which integrates with existing expectations and experiences. Here’s how it can work for retailers and service providers, such as dentists, financial advisers and the utilities sector:

  • Customers receive a message on their smartphone as soon as they enter a business.
  • At the same time, a sales/service employee is told that the customer has arrived via a vibration alert on their smartwatch.
  • The employee’s tablet then automatically shows the customer’s profile, previous appointments, requirements, wishlist, etc. where they can select the most relevant items and ‘throw’ them to an interactive screen.
  • The customer can then browse full product/service details and discuss their options.
  • The customer chooses the right service/item for them and can use the screen to order/buy/book an appointment.
  • The customer can then make any payments due via their phone.
  • The employee’s tablet shows that the transaction has completed successfully and their progress towards sales/service targets is automatically updated for real-time performance monitoring.
  • Finally, the customer receives an email receipt/booking confirmation on their smartphone.

Just five years ago, none of this connected journey was possible. Today, innovative software companies working with widely-available consumer technologies are now able to roll out this sort of experience in a matter of months. Needless to say, there are big business benefits to be had in being able to access and make intelligent, targeted use of all the information available about customers and their preferences. The result is better employee performance, improved customer experience and increased loyalty.

Naturally, there will be questions to be answered around security, particularly when it comes to sensitive data such as medical records and payment details. Ensuring that all connected data is relevant, used appropriately and disposed of correctly may well involve an upgrade of the Data Protection Act. However, provided users are invited to ‘opt in’ – by choosing to download an app, for example – all the evidence suggests that most of us are keen to sign up to a connected experience across our favoured devices.

According to Salesforce’s ‘2014 Mobile behaviour report’, 83% of us believe that a ‘seamless experience across all devices is important’, and around 65% are willing to share personal information in order to receive better service. Our connected universe will undoubtedly get bigger over the coming year.

Ultimately, mobile and Cloud strategies hold the key to breaking down the barriers between business siloes, allowing companies to create end-to-end experiences for both employees and customers, but it requires an aligned objective and ambition to start with. Once retailers place these technologies at the heart of their organisation, they will begin to see the emergence of a truly integrated commerce operation. This in turn will enable them to approach both challenges and opportunities from a holistic standpoint that incorporates input from both the c-suite and individual branches.    

Dan Hartveld is CTO of Red Ant.

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