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Comment: Putting service into customer service

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Retailers now have the latest mobile technology gadgets at their disposal which can be used to improve customer service and productivity, but RedPrairie’s EMEA Retail Industry Director John Bailey says it is essential that greater numbers of frontline retail staff start utilising these tools.

With retailers spending billions on providing a slick, multichannel shopping experience for consumers, the use of mobile technologies such as tablets and smartphones, by store staff has been somewhat overshadowed.

Mobile technology, online and social media channels mean that consumers walk into retail stores armed with a vast amount of information on goods such as reviews, ratings, price comparisons and detailed product information.

In order to make stores more than just showrooms for online merchants, retailers need to achieve parity of access to information between employee and shopper by providing mobile-technology enabled touch-points for staff.

Mobile devices can give store employees real-time access to information to which customers do not have access in order to add value to the customer experience. By allowing store staff real-time visibility of inventory and, in a real leap of faith, to hold inventory or outright sell inventory in other channels, there is an enormous opportunity in returning the ‘service’ to customer service.

Just as importantly, the use of mobile technology allows managers to access and act on management information in real time, orchestrating store operations from the front line, delivering both productivity and customer service benefits.

However, according to recent research from RSR, just 35 per cent of retailers equip their front line staff with mobile devices; hardly the stuff of legendary customer service.

From my experience, retailers are telling us that smartphones and tablets are too expensive to equip their staff with – I heard one retailer say that he was waiting for the iPhone to be cloned in China before he would consider purchasing for his store staff!

And although a high proportion of store staff have their own personal smartphones, these must usually be surrendered before going out on the shop floor, taking away the opportunity to add that extra element to enhance the customer experience.

But there are more affordable alternatives. A grocer uses ‘locked down’ mobile devices for their in-store managers and section leaders. Not really smartphones and not stock counting guns, but something in between. The trade-off is that these devices don’t have huge screens – but they are cheaper, especially when you consider the quantity in which retailers require these devices. There are also more ruggedized, so they could be accidentally dropped, yet small enough to put in a pocket.

One retailer we spoke to has just bought a load of iPads for regional managers. The main reason for having a tablet was to make web-size and orientation of operational information available on the move for store managers, and it is quicker and easier than booting up a laptop.

Equipping store staff with such devices is only beneficial if the information that they need to access is bang up-to-date. This can put a huge strain on IT systems as they need to operate increasingly faster in order to incorporate data ‘on tap’.

However, if the IT infrastructure can support this, there are some compelling benefits.

Using a mobile device, store managers can monitor customer number uplifts in real time but, rather than put out a call for the checkout help team, can summon specific employees to come off replenishment and onto the checkouts.

Further mobile technologies provide a two-way conversation. So when one of those employees’ mobile device bleeps with the request for them to move to checkouts but they are unable to do so, they can decline that request and it gets passed to the next available member of staff.

Age checks for alcohol sales can also be made from the till to the checkout captain and returned without the checkout captain having to move.

These examples show that mobile solutions can drive up the customer experience in store by providing real-time information, removing the need to return to an office or web kiosk.

As they say, ‘time is money’ and with a direct correlation between sales and the amount of time spent on the shop floor by store and section managers, every second counts.

Note: The views expressed here are those of John Bailey and do not necessarily represent the views of Retail Gazette.

Published on Tuesday 14 June by Editorial Assistant

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