The Retail sector is fundamentally changing, and technology has a critical role to play
The past decade has been a challenging one for the Retail sector, to say the least. Much has already been written about the impact of online shopping and streaming services on the high street, and the rise of COVID-19 and recent supply chain disruptions have only compounded the challenges facing even the most established brick-and-mortar retailers.
But as with other sectors, these challenges - while considerable - represent an opportunity to transform the way Retail organisations operate. This encompasses everything from the way they engage with their customers and staff to how they ensure their infrastructure has the inherent flexibility to pivot in response to any future COVID-scale shifts.
Key to this is putting the right tools and processes in place to ensure staff are properly supported and able to consistently meet customer expectations. While there's no doubt this will be an evolving process, as expectations shift, the landscape evolves, and new technologies emerge, let's consider some of the ways retailers can begin putting this into practice today…
Maximise flexibility and adaptability
It's impossible to predict what the future will look like, so the ability to adapt to the unexpected will be one of the main factors that separates retailers who continue to thrive in the years ahead from those who struggle. The way services are delivered may well change overnight, which means micro and macro views of every business process are essential - from supply chain, to back office, distribution, financials, and management of staff. To avoid siloing and enable effective streamlining, solutions such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), pipeline management, and staffing software should be implemented and properly integrated, ensuring all data is consolidated and centralised.
Not only will this boost agility and operational resilience, a holistic view of each customer's experience will also allow for more effective, data-driven decision making at all levels.
Focus on the contact centre
With footfall in physical shops a fraction of what it once was, and no sign of whether this will ever return to normal, the contact centre is now the focus of many retailers' customer contact strategies, and many customers first point of interaction. An omnichannel contact centre is therefore not optional - it will be an essential part of building engagement and maintaining an exceptional customer journey in the 'new normal'. Regardless of which channel customers prefer to make contact through - whether its to make a purchase, follow up, or register a complaint - they should enjoy the same standard of personal service as they would meeting an agent face to face.
This can be effectively integrated with the solutions described above, ensuring all customer data is stored securely at the point of creation and fully centralised, so it will be available to agents whenever it is required, and other members of staff can be immediately engaged when their input is required to deliver a successful resolution.
With such platforms in place, staff will be able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues just as effectively as if they were on-premises, regardless of where they are actually working from, ensuring that, in the event of any future moves towards full remote working, business continuity and service quality can be maintained.
It's all about relationships!
While the implications of this new technology for the UK's Retail sector are extremely exciting, it's important that we do not lose sight of the personal touch. For example, while bots are certainly useful for routine enquiries, freeing up agents to focus on more challenging cases, there are times when face-to-face contact is essential, even if this is through a video call - something the omnichannel Contact Centre excels at, as cases can easily be escalated to a new channel or agent, without any break in the customer journey. Technology should open up new opportunities to display empathy with customers, not act as a poor substitute for it in the name of efficiency.