Business and IT process automation expert Neil Kinson reflects upon how retailers can improve their customer service to achieve a competitive edge in 2014
Over the past few months retailers have been well and truly put to the test; first Christmas, then the January sales, closely followed by key retail milestones such as Valentine’s Day, according to Neil Kinson, vice president in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Redwood Software.
Following a surge of heavy customer demand, retailers’ ability to deliver good quality and timely service has been thrown into the spotlight. “Some rose to the challenge, while others struggled,” said Kinson. If retailers are to remain competitive in 2014, he argues that they have no choice but to devise a strategy that hinges on excellent service.
But what makes for good service? Kinson said it is measured by positive customer interactions and experience at the front end – what a customer sees when they enter a physical or online store.
“If retailers are to meet expectations and serve customers the right products or services at the right time, they will need to invest in refining their supporting back-end processes. Reliance on too many, time consuming, labour-intensive back office tasks will see retailers struggle to deliver efficiency and accuracy at the front end.”
So, how can retailers stay ahead of the game and pull away from the competition with innovative customer service offerings?
Don’t just gain, retain your customers
Kinson responded: “Customers now expect a seamless shopping experience from a virtual or physical storefront right the way through to delivery of a product or service. Our own research commissioned by OnePoll
found that, when asked about online shopping habits, 72.5% of consumers said they left online market places because they couldn’t easily find what they were looking for.
“With savvy consumers looking for the best possible experience, retailers need the correct systems and processes in place to keep them coming back. From ‘click and collect
’ to dark stores
payments, there are numerous innovations designed to retain customers. However, all these tactics hinge on effective co-ordination across the front and back end; it’s the only way to ensure a joined-up shopping experience.”
Turning spotlight on the back office
Although back-end tasks are not ‘customer facing,’ Kinson said any errors will be felt by the customer as soon as there is a product or service failure at the front end. “Waitrose
learnt this the hard way last Christmas, with an IT glitch forcing the retailer to pay compensation and cancel orders,” he said.
“Using tightly automated processes, retailers can keep up-to-the-minute, accurate data and automate manual checks for their systems in order to reduce the likelihood of these kind of errors.
"Coordinating back and front-office activities in this way is essential if retailers are to keep a close eye on critical activities such as stock listings, inventory checks and build an overall picture of operations that ensures customer expectations are met at all times.”
Delivering beyond expectations
Fast, efficient procurement and delivery – no matter what you’re offering – is especially vital when customers subconsciously monitor your response time in seconds, he added: “Nowadays, quick and efficient service isn’t just an expectation, it’s a necessity from a retail perspective.”
The acquisition by eBay
, a UK-based marketplace that uses a network of couriers to deliver local goods in a matter of hours, and Amazon
’s introduction of a new 30-minute quadcopter delivery service both set out to satisfy the changing, fast-paced nature of customer service this Christmas.
“With these companies raising the bar for impressive customer service, rapid delivery and complete accuracy for each order will be must-haves for successful retailers in 2014,” he reiterated.
“Ultimately, excellent customer service is all about making critical processes less risky and time-consuming to support the best possible customer experience. In today’s connected world, very little is truly ‘behind the scenes’,” concluded Kinson.
“The winning retailers in 2014 will be the ones that repeat this as their mantra, combining an industrial mind-set with faster, strategic automation, to ensure savvy online customers keep coming back for more.
Neil Kinson leads the Redwood European operations, as well as having global responsibility for the development of the RunMyJobs partner ecosystem. Prior to joining Redwood, he was part of the EMEA Leadership team at OpenText, holding a number of executive roles.