Retail Customer Experience: Technology Should Create Better Customer Interaction

Discussion
Aug 16, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

A panel at the Retail Customer Experience Executive Summit in Minneapolis exploring how technology can help empower sales associates agreed that technology should never replace human interaction. In fact, it should increase one-on-one interaction.

“The thing about technology is that it’s cool, so it’s neat to have things in your stores, but we’re a firm believer that customers are not getting in their cars to go to stores just to interface with technology or walk over to a touchscreen,” John Christie, AT&T Mobility’s executive director of retail sales operations, said. “They want to interact with people. Our technology allows our employees to get out from behind the counter and interact with customers.”

That technology includes tablets, kiosks and digital screens to not only simplify the queuing process, but to also assure customers that they’ll quickly receive help. Customers either check in with iPad-carrying employees or on kiosks as they enter AT&T stores. Digital screens display customer names, allowing them to easily view who’s next in line. On the back-end, Mr. Christie said, the system also provides employees with each client’s needs and order history.

“We’re faced with high volumes of customers coming in, and this allows employees to see who is in line, why they’re there and what offers they are eligible for,” Mr. Christie said. “They can have a very focused, direct conversation, and customers like that.”

Like AT&T, Tim Williams, retail project manager at Cabela’s, said one of the outdoor retailer’s goals is to communicate to its customers that it understands their needs.

“We’re looking to see how we can use mobility to connect with our customers,” he said. “Mobility transforms the way that our (employees) can interact with customers. Just being able to put that power in the associates’ hands gives them a total connection to the customer.”

NEC’s Graeme Spicer added, “A frustration comes when (you’re) bringing technology into a retail space for the sake of having a cool technology. It may not be the sexiest of applications, but we know that digital signage is changing shopping behaviors. We also know that it helps free up time for sales associates to do some higher-value-added stuff.”

For example, a Cabela’s employee may use the time he’d normally spend on giving price info — now displayed by a digital screen — on chatting to that customer about what he specifically wants in a pair of boots.

“That associate can dedicate that time to really help understand the customer,” Mr. Spicer said.

Discussion Questions: How should mobile and digital technologies empower sales associates? What will likely be the main hurdles in realizing the vision of a mobile-empowered employee?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Technology Should Create Better Customer Interaction"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I was at this panel and the one thing that kept coming to me was how, through all this technology these brands were in essence making their employees into one-person call centers. In fact, one audience member challenged, saying she had been in such a store and felt the employee was just texting someone because they never looked up at her.

Let’s face it, most retailers don’t train the soft skills now, do you really think they will when you give them a tablet to look down into?

The Millennial generation is one of the most creative and personable. Why take all of that out with a tablet or smartphone? There’s a generation gap in retail and technology that is but a part of why premium brands are suffering.

Freeing up time to wait on more customers does not make a better experience, it’s just a juiced up way to say, “Next!”

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
9 years 9 months ago

The main obstacle to more technology empowerment of sales associates is, surprisingly, the lack of metrics. By that I mean that retail executives lack the insight to measure the positive outcomes that come from a better (information-enabled) shopping experience. The outcomes that must be measured are sales uplift from technology intervention. This one is manageable. But there are more metrics that are more challenging. How much more frequently is the customer shopping? How much customer flight has been prevented? How much is the customer talking about the positive experience to his/her friends and family?

In the face of these illusive answers the retail executive has nothing to combat arguments to cut expenses and to limit cap expenditures. The retail exec must therefore make a blind faith decision in order to open up his store to the mobile universe that promises to overwhelm commerce at all levels.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Technology that brings the internet into the fitting room is a perfect example of ‘technology for the sake of technology.’ The fitting room customer is a committed customer, i.e., if the item(s) they bring into the fitting room meet their purchase criteria, they will buy. They are not browsing!

Fitting room technology should promote sales associate and customer interaction. It should allow the customer to initiate interaction with the sales associate, and give the associates 100% visibility of the fitting room process to control the flow of customers and give them what they want when they want it.

Leaving a half naked customer to fend for themselves navigating through a web experience in a fitting room, while waiting customers pile up impatiently outside is not a good use of technology, nor is it good experience for any customer.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 9 months ago

Not surprisingly, Apple is a good example of how to use technology to enhance the customer experience. In their stores, Apple associates become a store unto themselves: they can provide information, interact with the customer to better understand their needs and offer the best solution, and then check them out, either through a hand-held or any of the demo equipment.

The hurdle is how to use technology to bring the elements of broader information, problem solution, and ease of purchase to other categories. As Bob points out, too often technology is deployed for the “gee whiz” factor without first understanding the specific needs to be addressed. The retailer that starts with the customers’ needs and works backward from there to the technology (as Apple has done) can benefit greatly, but that must be part of the operating culture of the company to begin with. Otherwise, it’s just another waste of capital.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Mobility can empower sales associates by providing more information about products, stock counts and pricing, all of which should make the consumer shopping experience faster and better. The main hurdle is retailers empowering employees to use this information to solve customer problems, and having enough well-trained sales associates on the floor to make a difference.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 9 months ago

Coming from a technologist…technology does not create better *anything* unless it is purposeful, tightly integrated with the organization’s workflow and easy to use. A large percentage of all technologies you come across fails on at least one count. Don’t implement technology because it is “cool”. Cool is ephemeral. Cool is a distraction. Cool is costly. Don’t implement technology because it looked good in the boardroom. Try it in the field. Watch users use it. Lastly, how is this technology integrated and maintained? At what cost and by whom? Technology is an enabler, never an end in itself. If the vendor tells you their product is “cool”, don’t walk, run.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 9 months ago
I would use the word “could” not “should”. There is a big difference between the promise of new technologies and the realization of these. For instance, I’m seeing lots of retailers apply their bad practice in direct communications in the digital space and then even amplify it by sending even more irrelevant stuff because it’s cheaper. Online media is another example of promise without better accountability and ROI. From a service perspective I’ve also seen examples of people-based service being reduced / replaced by online solutions. One of the big hurdles retailers face is in data distillation…or actually in generating the right insights from the data that employees can easily navigate. To provide better service than today, they need all the people and sales skills to be at least maintained. Then they need to be equipped with valuable knowledge of the individual customer they are speaking to so they can serve them in the right way; not just a list of products browsed or purchased. This data-insight challenge is not new. However it has not… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
9 years 9 months ago
The retailer/consumer relationship is much more complicated than the technology. Technology is a facilitator but until retailers make customer service a serious metric, other metrics like sales per employee hour, rings per minute, cases per hour, etc. will continue to dominate. Probably the biggest turnoff for me personally is the big red sticker on anything I buy more complicated than a toothpick. These stickers say “If you have any problems with this product do not contact your retailer, call 800-999-9999.” In my mind, they are an immediate indicator of how much the store where I spent my money cares whether I am satisfied with the purchase. So assuming I am not alone there are five areas where the retailer I choose can use technology to provide better service: Change the corporate culture so that stores know customer service is a critical measure of their success. Make sure the product I am shopping for is available, if I can’t walk out the door with it then why did I need to drive to the store instead… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Apple can make this work, but I’m skittish on how well this will work with retailers who don’t train or adequately pay their sales help. Already, many associates are texting, off in a corner somewhere, ignoring customers and work. One grocery retailer I know doesn’t allow use of any electronics on the sales floor, for just this reason. I’ve been among the crowd of people following sales associates all over the floor while they wait on someone ahead of me, hoping I can be “next.” But to make that work, you don’t need a computer. You just need one of those little “take-a-number” devices commonly found in delis. “Next!”

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

In-store technology must drive the compelling reasons to shop that particular store. Apple has already been cited in the comments on this article because they address questions and needs the shopper has: in-stock conditions, email receipts, POS, etc. The technology must not become a distraction, and that can be addressed through comprehensive training. (Easier said than done).

One more aspect is the fact that shopper utilization of technology has increased 36% in only the past year. If the connected shopper stops in a store, the employees need to be able to have more information about their own store than the shopper already has in their hands. There needs to be more integration of the shoppers’ technology with the store level tools. More adaptation of buy online and pick-up in-store without hassle nor delay needs to become more mainstream.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Technology itself does not empower retail associates. Retail associates have to be empowered in so many other ways regardless of technologies. Few, if not very few, retailers empower their associates at all. Without that, no matter what device you provide, it won’t matter a bit.

Based on that, the largest hurdle will be the vision itself for what is expected as a result of ’empowering’ technology and the means to measure its results. Going beyond that is a means to train, mentor and coach its use towards that vision as an ongoing effort.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

This is an interesting discussion. But nowhere do I see where there will be better trained sales associates. We must realize that there is more to being a “sales associate” than getting hired, having a name tag and given a piece of digital technology to carry around. When will we at least begin to understand this?

Robert Drew
Guest
Robert Drew
9 years 8 months ago

Technology that is both cashier-enabling and shopper empowering is the sweet spot. Much of retail is still about people selling to people and when the right solution is brought to life in the store great results follow. The Apple Store experience is less about mobile POS technology and more about the customer interaction and customer service that is made possible by untethering the sales associates. In other retail formats, such as C-stores and QSR, it is about smart suggestive selling powered by technology. Regardless of retail format, the call to action is personalization at the moment of truth made possible with the right technology.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Of the two promised benefits of mobile technologies for store associates, will the benefit come more to assisting customers or speeding checkouts?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...