In an era of fast-moving technologies and changing shopping behaviours, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the future of retail lies in its ability to keep pace with new digital tools. However, you’d be wrong.
Yes, we lived in an increasingly connected society. Yes, a consumer’s buying journey might start on their smartphone, progress to an in-store visit, then be completed via tablet. But to assume that creating a joined-up customer journey is merely a matter of investing in the right tools and technologies leaves out one important factor: the human touch.
We may live in an increasingly digitalised society, but that doesn’t mean consumers no longer value the expertise, support and engagement that only a skilled retail employee can provide.
According to Forrester Research's January 2014 Customer Desires Vs.Retailer Capabilities: Minding The OmniChannel Commerce Gap report, 61% of shoppers value or highly value asking retail staff for product recommendations. In addition, 72% of shoppers said they would be inclined to ask retail staff if a desired product was in stock at another store.
These findings are telling, as in both cases the shoppers could self-fulfil their needs using a mobile device. Nonetheless, the majority still preferred to engage with an actual person.
In other words, while consumers certainly value factors such as convenience and value for money, the power of excellent customer service should never be overlooked.
So how does this tie in with efforts to provide your customers with a more connected, joined-up journey? Importantly, according to Forrester’s survey, consumers value useful interactions with retail staff, and expect staff to have access to the same information and tools as they do. For example, 45% expected retail staff to be knowledgeable about online-only products, in addition to those available in-store. Meanwhile, 69% of shoppers expected retail staff to be equipped with mobile devices that enable them to quickly look up product and inventory information.
The message here is clear: if you want to provide your customers with a joined-up journey, investing in the latest technologies is not enough on its own. You need to invest in your staff as well.
Retail staff can play a vital role in providing customers with a positive, joined-up experience – whether they’re offering in-depth product knowledge in-store, advising on delivery options via live chat, or using a tablet to order an out-of-stock item. But how do you get your retail staff to a position where they can offer the highest level of support, along every step of the customer journey? Your strategy might include:
• Ensuring that retail staff have access to the same technologies as customers, such as tablets
• Giving retail staff instant access to complete, real-time inventory and product information
• Allowing retail staff to access customer information that enables them to provide personalised customer service
• Holding regular training sessions regarding new products, in-store technologies and services (including those that are only available online)
• Providing in-store, help centre and delivery staff with similar capabilities and training
• Enabling retail staff to communicate with consumers digitally – for example, via live chat or text message.
Ultimately, no amount of new technologies can replace the human touch. The services you offer are only as good as the people providing them and, in the fast-moving retail sector, it’s more important than ever to invest in the recruitment and training of high-quality staff.
What’s more, it’s important to remember that by providing a joined-up journey, you are simply meeting today’s customers’ expectations – not exceeding them. This is not enough on its own to differentiate you from the competition. Having helpful and knowledgeable staff on hand, however, can make all the difference.
Natalie Bruins is head of marketing at K3 Retail
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