Keeping customers happy in a multi-channel retail world

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Independent retailers wishing to succeed in the digital world need to ensure that the service they provide to customers across the entire service delivery chain is efficient and of highest quality, advises David Flower, VP EMEA, Compuware APM Division.

It is fair to say that the digital world is developing at a rapid pace. Online shoppers in the United Kingdom alone spent £5.7 billion pounds in April, up 10% from the same month in 2011, according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group, a well-known e-retail trade group. For traditional bricks and mortar retailers, it can be a challenge to keep up – but keep up you must because whether you like it or not, digital will affect your business.

Independent electrical retailers are renowned for their excellent in-store customer service. However, if you want to succeed in today’s increasingly digital world, you must ensure the quality of your customer service across the entire service delivery chain (the path a customer takes to make a purchase) is second to none.  Excelling only in-store will not be enough to sustain competitive advantage in the long term.

Here are some best practice techniques employed by the world’s most successful retailers, all of which are making the most of multiple customer touch points.

Get to know your customers    (I mean really get to know them)

Without a detailed understanding of your customers’ likes, dislikes and preferences, it is virtually impossible to create a meaningful, long-lasting relationship.  In the same way that blind dates rarely result in a wedding, it’s fair to say that you cannot build a trusting relationship if you don’t understand who you are communicating with. Tracking and monitoring your customers’ behaviour and preferences will provide true insight about experiences and perceptions of your brand in an online and offline world.

From an IT perspective, this means knowing what technologies your customers use, if any, during their path to purchase.  Identify at which points you fail and succeed – and establish why? For example, how well does your website perform? What is its performance like compared with competitors? What is the industry standard and how does this compare with your customers’ expectations?

Align your front office and back office systems

A recent Compuware study revealed how the latest trends such as the consumerisation of IT, social media and mobility are exposing new blind spots in IT management.  The survey highlighted that over three quarters of retail sector CIOs worry that as the consumerisation of IT gathers pace it will lead to greater business risks.  To avoid this companies must ensure the systems responsible for holding their digital world together – front and back office – perform adequately.  It’s no good if a ‘front-end’ e-commerce system works but your stock management and delivery systems fail.

Build a bridge between your physical and digital worlds

Creating a seamless union between your bricks and mortar customer service and your website can be a challenge.  It’s not impossible to achieve but it does underline the importance of knowing your customers and creating an aligned IT infrastructure. With this knowledge in hand it is easy to establish how to develop your data management plan and your technology roadmap, and how you will bring these worlds together in the most cohesive way that makes technology a true business enabler.

Look to the future and learn from the best

In the early days of the internet, a key drawback was that it was difficult for customers to physically engage with products in the same way they would in a physical store. Images, 3-D modelling and rich media (video) have all helped overcome this and have enhanced our ability to research products online.

‘Click and collect’ is a further development to rich media that enables people to purchase the product online and collect it in store or view it in store – giving them a final opportunity to decide whether the product is right for them before they buy.

Another sales channel that’s gaining momentum is the use of kiosks on the shop floor.  This is particularly useful for situations when an item a customer wishes to purchase is not available on the shop floor.  The customer can still purchase it in-store, but via an onsite web application from a local computer or kiosk terminal. This is further evidence of the importance of marrying your physical and digital worlds.

 Conclusion

Despite today’s continued economic uncertainty, opportunities within retail abound. New digital channels, particularly social media and mobile, have changed how customers interact with organisations and brands. But with the right customer engagement, technology and performance management strategy in place, it is easier than ever before for technology to play its part in contributing towards sales.

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