Modern Retail

How a digital sales assistant enhances customer service

They say content is king online, and increasingly in physical retail, it is customer experience (CX) that takes on that regal moniker.

In order to deliver that all-important CX, stores are being designed in new ways – often with fewer products on show, brighter spaces, and a nod to the growing range of digitally-enabled services retailers now have as part of their offering. But central to CX success is the retailer’s overall service proposition.

Be it click & collect, ship-from-store for 90-minute and same-day delivery, or the straightforward inventory checks and product advice that in-store customers will regularly request, the service provided in shops must be flawless, especially against a backdrop of such intensive competition.

With prices often similar across the board and commodity items now available at the click of a button or swipe of a screen, in-store customer service is the differentiator for shops looking to attract busy consumers. It is crucial for retail executives and their store managers to do all they can to ensure their staff are up to the customer service challenge, and there are various ways of doing that.

Engaged staff = engaged customers

Retail is going through a challenging period, and according to the former managing director of Waitrose, Mark Price, retail employees are among the unhappiest of any industry in the UK.

The findings come from his new Engaging Works website, which was set up to help people find jobs and employment that make them happy, and which measures the workplace happiness of thousands of individuals. It found that against the 13 questions asked to workers around issues such as reward, recognition, empowerment and wellbeing, the retail sector scored worse than average.

In response to what Price describes as the most relevant question of all, “do you feel happy at work?”, 58% of retail workers said they were. That’s compared to an average of 65%, making it the second worst industry for happiness. There is clearly a lack of engagement felt by retail employees, and this is a dangerous place to be for the sector.

It cannot be underestimated how important it is to have engaged staff, who are up to date with efficient and understandable in-store processes, especially taking into account the aforementioned service-oriented scenarios facing shops today.

The last thing you want as a customer, when collecting an item that has been ordered online, is for the process not to be clear and to have disinterested staff who add unnecessary time to what should be a quick in-and-out shopping exchange.

I saw at the start of September Debenhams talking about how it has evolved its click & collect strategy over time to meet the needs of changing customer demands. At the onset of the multichannel revolution in the early 2000s, many retailers – including Debenhams – set up online order collection points at the back of their stores to try and encourage upselling, but over time they’ve realised that customers don’t want to navigate the whole shop to find their order. They want convenience.

If a store is large, or on multiple floors or areas, having an efficient process for customer collection is critical. When collecting their order, people don’t want to be waiting around while the assistant goes off to find the goods either. So, what’s the solution?

Digital assistants to the rescue

There seems great potential to utilise the growing trend for wearable technology across the retail workplace. With the right data science and systems set-up, these devices can be used to pass inventory information and other crucial order/delivery and operational messaging between staff.

It could be to instruct associates to retrieve the customer’s order at a time that will fit neatly with their arrival in a store, or it could be used to provide general information the customer needs about the availability of stock. Having that info ‘on the wrist’ can help retailers deliver seamless, valuable and face-to-face customer service.

With such a system in place, it is possible to implement a kiosk-based or mobile app-based approach, where a collecting customer can enter their required product details on arrival in a store which then feeds through to staff on their digital devices and informs them to get the product ready – or, at the very least, prompt them to go and meet the shopper.

Using technology at all stages of the customer service process also gives retailer yet more opportunities to gather data, which can be fed back into their operations to help them shape their business proposition as well as enhance their understanding of the shopper. Mark Price’s research about retail staff contentment is concerning, but with wearable technology, there’s an opportunity to better engage staff to help engage the customers – keeping everyone happy!

Contributor: Robin Coles, Director at Inovretail