Last week, I had my eye on a humidor. I had done my research online, found one I liked and loaded it into my Amazon shopping cart. I was ready to pull the trigger, but at the last minute I decided to go see it in person at a local shop and get the opinion of the employees, who I guessed would be experts on the topic. It was a bit more money, but I’d have it instantly.
I walked in and started looking at things and picking them up — it should have been obvious I was interested in making a purchase. However, not one associate came over to ask how I was doing, if I had any questions, or to even say hello. So I looked around for 10 minutes and walked out. I had been primed and ready to take their recommendation and pull out my card, but in the end I wasn't motivated by a knowledgeable employee to do so. I'm not sure what the store's employees were doing instead of assisting shoppers, but I left the store with a poor customer experience (CX) and likely won't be back.
Lately, you can hardly open your email or attend a conference without suggestions on how to improve customer experience through technology: install self-checkout lanes, add wireless payment options, implement a robust mobile app, offer free ship-to-store, implement email reminders for items left behind in online shopping carts, and make sure it all works together through omnichannel initiatives.
These implementations are all beneficial for most modern retail operations, but they have one key thing in common — they all facilitate customers helping themselves, rather than being helped by someone else.
Sure, self-service is an important part of the shopping experience sometimes — when customers know exactly what they want to purchase and they need to be able to do so quickly and conveniently. But what about the traditional backbone of customer experience — customer service? Is serving the customer no longer important to customer experience? Not according to digital analyst Brian Solis. “Customer experience is a difficult process, because so many stakeholders interpret CX differently and then prioritize investments and resources accordingly,” he says.
“The IT department thinks it’s about technology,” Solis continues. “The marketing department focuses on channel and content trends. Customer service focuses on contact centers. Advertising creates clever campaigns and activates experiential events. And executives make decisions based on gut instinct and maybe even cognitive biases. I could go on and on. Even though these are generalizations, much of the work I’ve seen in CX isn’t really customer-focused.”
So how do you make sure your customer service efforts are really focused on the customer? By going back to basics and realizing the power of interacting with a real person while shopping. Spending more time with customers isn’t the focus of many of the latest articles, webinars, or presentations about customer experience, but a recent report says human interaction is still paramount to customer experience in retail.
The report found that 84 percent of shoppers will visit a brick-and-mortar location because they want to get advice from a sales associate, and 58 percent find online shopping doesn’t provide the same level of service they can get in a store. What’s more, recommendations from sales associates have an effect on sales as well as experience: 87 percent of shoppers said they’re more likely to buy something recommended by a salesperson, and 77 percent are more likely to buy something from an employee who has helped them in the past.
Making more time to assist customers can be a challenge when there are so many tasks involved in keeping your stores running. Automation can help your team quickly take care of non-productive tasks and work with customers instead.
Some retailers pursue automation simply to be more efficient — perhaps hoping to cut payroll in the process. But Harvard Business Review’s Greg Satell says automation goes beyond efficiency by allowing creation of higher-level value. “So the first challenge for business leaders facing a new age of automation is not try to simply to cut costs, but to identify the next big area of value creation,” he says.
For retailers, that area of value is spending time with customers. By making sure your team members spend their time on the clock providing hands-on, personal service to your customers, you increase sales and loyalty in your stores. If an employee had helped me find the right humidor that day, I not only would have made a purchase right then and there, but I would have been back again. Becoming more efficient at the tasks your customers don’t see creates more time for activity they will see, enhancing customer experience and bringing them back for more.