David Flower, vp EMEA, at technology performance firm, Compuware, APM division, explores how retailers can boost customer service and satisfaction in a multi-channel environment
As retail endures one of the toughest periods it has faced in recent years, it is critical to look at every aspect that contributes towards that final sale and consider how that process might be improved.
Achieving this involves understanding the customers’ needs, how they like to buy – in-store, online or a combination of the both – and how to accommodate these requirements.
It used to be retailers only had to worry about reaching their customers in-store and keeping them happy there. However, this has changed a lot to include the online aspect of customer service as people buy goods online.
This means the challenge for retailers – bricks and mortar and pureplay digital players alike – lies in how effectively they embrace and use digital technology in-store and online to drive their businesses.
Success lies in your service delivery chain
If retailers want to succeed in this digital world they need to ensure the quality of their customer service across the entire service delivery chain (the path customers take towards a purchase) is up to scratch.
They must evaluate the service delivery chain at every step and devise a strategy to continually optimise and improve it.
This involves evaluating the technology used, customer and non-customer facing applications and people, and identifying how every aspect across this chain comes together to deliver that final sale. This should include customer service as experienced in-store, online and across multiple devices.
Any plan that is developed needs to consider the following factors:
Customer journey mapping
Mapping the entire customer engagement cycle is critical. How is your brand supposed to develop deep relationships with customers without knowing how they react and perceive communications with them at various stages during the buying cycle? Tracking and monitoring this becomes vital. It will provide true insight about experiences and perceptions of your brand in an online and offline world.
From a technology point of view, this means identifying what technologies your customers have to engage with during their purchase cycle. Understand at which points you fail and succeed – and establish why? For example, how well does your website perform (on PCs, tablets and mobiles)? What is its performance like compared with competitors? What is the industry standard and how does this compare with your customers’ expectations?
Co-ordinate your front office and back office systems
Recently Compuware released results of an international study looking at the impact of business and employee-driven IT trends and models on retail. The CIO survey reveals how models such as cloud computing and SaaS, as well as trends like the consumerisation of IT, social media and mobility are exposing new blind spots in IT management. One of the key consequences highlighted by the survey is how an overwhelming 78% of retail sector CIOs worry, as the consumerisation of IT gathers pace, it will lead to greater business risks.
To rectify this, brands need to ensure the systems responsible for holding their digital world together – front and back office systems – function without falling apart.
For example, it’s no good if a ‘front-end’ ecommerce system works if the stock management and post sale marketing and delivery systems fail (and vice versa).
Marrying in-store and online worlds
Creating a positive seamless union between a brand’s bricks and mortar customer experience and its website’s experience is no easy task. However, it is not impossible to achieve, which is why customer engagement mapping and performance monitoring is critical. How can you marry in-store and online worlds effectively without knowing the various engagement points with customers?
Once this has been defined, it becomes easy to establish how to develop your data management plan, your technology roadmap and how you will bring these worlds together in the most cohesive way that makes technology a true business enabler.
Learning from pureplay and bricks and mortars players
One drawback of the online world used to be it was difficult for customers to physically engage with products in the same way they would in the real world. Although this will never actually be possible, images and rich media (video) have helped change the way we enquire about products online.
Click and collect is a further development to rich media that enables people to purchase the product online and collect it in store or view it in store – giving them a final opportunity decide whether the product is right for them before they buy.
Another development that can be noticed in some stores is the addition of kiosk-like technology to the shop floor. For example, in some retailers, if a person is browsing the shop floor and cannot locate their item, they can purchase it in-store, online via an onsite web application from a local computer or kiosk terminal. This is another reason why it’s so important to ensure offline and online worlds are married up.
Although it seems bleak, retail has never been in a more exciting state of flux. There is a real opportunity to prepare for the future and for retailers to get their technology and customer service roadmaps right.
The current web infrastructure, digital and technology developments have completely altered the way we communicate and trade, and with the right customer engagement map, technology and performance management strategy in place, it is easier than ever before for technology to play its part in contributing towards sales.
Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium, sums up the multi-channel trend nicely. He said: “Squeezed household budgets mean customers are turning more and more to the internet to research what they’re buying and look for best value. Being able to check competitors’ goods and prices while they’re in a store is a big part of the continuing boom in retail searches via mobiles and tablets. It’s a sign of these tough times this isn’t restricted to major purchases – the biggest growth in mobile retail searches is on food and drink as people compare different offers.”