In my opinion: service is being sacrificed in the pursuit of new technology, says IT support provider Barron McCann

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barron-logoTechnology is driving the customer experience in ways the industry has never experienced before. But is this always a good thing? The problem with any new offering is that unless the support network is there to ensure it remains in use, there is a huge risk the customer experience could be tarnished and sales lost as a result. Signs are the economy is slowly improving and with that, confidence and spend is increasing, but are retailers at risk of falling at the first hurdle by failing to keep their services up and running.

Alan Watson, managing director of IT support provider, Barron McCann, investigates

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Watson: at what price technology?

Thanks to the recession, the retail sector over the past few years has been characterised by an obsession with chasing every pound of customer spend as if every customer has no sense of loyalty or preference. Whilst there is a segment of the market that is highly fickle and easily swayed when it comes to their choice of brand, there is also a strong and substantial segment who remain loyal to certain retailers and, as a result, have expectations of what they should and shouldn’t receive from these retailers each and every time they shop with them. 

This focus on constant technological advancement on the shop floor is a classic example of a strategy that is perhaps more focused on attracting and impressing a new audience than it is about holding on to the customers they already have. In many cases, it’s a reactive ‘me too’ strategy by retailers who fear they will be left behind by their more technologically advanced competitors. Whilst over the long-term , they will risk being left behind if they don’t move with the times, it’s not something that is going to happen in just a few weeks or months. What many retailers forget is that along rushing out new technology, they also need to have spent adequate time planning an effective roll out and maintenance strategy. 

Out of order: sorry for the inconvenience

The problem is not with introducing new technology, but with ensuring it remains in service and customers aren’t left disappointed when they can’t use it, or it negatively affects their shopping experience. Customers are constantly being attracted by the lure of the hassle free e-commerce experience, so it is imperative that when they do venture into stores, they have a pleasurable experience when they are there. The journey doesn’t end when the retailer buys the technology and implements the devices in store. There is staff training, maintenance, updates and upgrades, performance issues and more that must form part of the offering if it is to be successful in winning customer acceptance and enhancing the shopping experience. 

Consumer technology for business use

A key problem with the failure to integrate technology successfully is the poor choice of solution. Many retailers often try and implement consumer-designed devices that simply aren’t fit for their needs. Tablets are a key example of this. This may seem a sensible idea, but you forget these devices were not designed to withstand the demands of a retail environment. As a result, we’ve found the devices break very quickly. Retailers are then faced with either bearing the cost of replacing the devices, or abandoning the idea completely, which can be damaging for customers who will just see them as introducing ‘fad’ ideas that they cant maintain. When sourcing new devices for stores, it is imperative the solutions are chosen for both functionality and durability as well as aesthetic appeal. 

Customer centricity at the core

Any innovative thinking when it comes to in-store implementation, must be driven by its ability to enhance the customer experience. Customer-centricity is key, otherwise the idea will just end up as an expensive (and unsuccessful) marketing stunt. When considering new technology in store, it is imperative the time is taken to ensure every aspect of delivering and maintaining that service is taken into account as part of the roll out. IT maintenance, in particular, is critical; as it is one of those provisions that is directly related to whether customers leave the store ‘satisfied’ or not. Long queues due to out of order machines, or long-winded checkout times due to poorly performing devices or poor staff training on how to use them, will simply cause customers to either abandon the purchase completely, or decide to shop elsewhere next time. 

If you can’t do it properly, don’t do it at all

The answer is pretty simple really, if you can’t do it properly, then don’t do it at all. Customers value consistency in service and, whilst introducing whizzy new EPoS devices and integrated shopping experiences is great for enhancing the customer experience, don’t underestimate the power of the good, old fashioned, simple transaction. Your customers certainly won’t thank you for taking the enjoyment out of shopping with you, just to keep up with the Joneses. 

For more information visit www.barronmccann.com

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)