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29 Sep

Connecting Retailers For Better Customer Service

Sales clerk using a digital tablet to assist customer

A recent report from McKinsey & Company highlighted how social technologies are impacting the workplace.  This analysis is understandable for a typical office-based organisation.  But will this really ‘cross the chasm’ into customer-facing environments, like retail?  Or is this just another fad that will pass retail by?

social media in 2018

The problem with communication

Before we delve into some of the report’s findings, I’ll position this in a retail context.

Put simply, we don’t communicate enough in retail!

As a consumer, how many times have you been into a shop, and wanted to ask;

  • Do you have this in a different colour / size / design?
  • Which products are in the promotion?
  • Can you tell me more about this product’s specifications? Or even,
  • How much is it?

Something stops you asking.  The shop assistant might be busy replenishing the shelves, busy with other customers, or maybe you just can’t find anyone to ask!  Either way, you leave feeling unhappy.

Communication is challenging for retail employees too.  They have questions like;

  • What time does my shift start on Thursday?
  • How should I arrange these products on the shelves?
  • Can I book five days holiday next month please?
  • When does the next delivery of chilled products arrive?

Taking it to another level

Verbal interaction (I refer to it as ‘Talk 1.0’) has been around for many years, and is still the preferred method of communication.  This method does, however, have its limitations.  Most notably, the person on the receiving-end must be available.

Thankfully, communication has evolved over the years, and the face-to-face conversation is no longer the only option.  The arrival of the postal service and, much later, email, heralded a revolutionary new method of conversing.  It no longer mattered if the recipient was available or not.  I refer to this as ‘Talk 2.0’.  This method of communication is ok, but just like Talk 1.0, it has a major flaw.  Because the sender has time to prepare the letter/email, and they know they might not get a response for a while, they write more!

In the search for an optimisation, the person responding to a letter/email batches-up the process of responding.  In a retail context, this means a manager could be away from their team and, most importantly, their customers!

Despite this major flaw, the McKinsey report clearly shows how email is the number one method of communication, by a long way.  And this is especially true when communicating across organisational business units.

Better service from the ‘social workforce’

Retailers have been encouraging their employees to get back to the shop floor for years, after the introduction of back-office technology took them out-of-sight.  But this only solves part of the problem.  You can’t expect a transformation in team and customer engagement, by simply moving the back-office PC to the shop floor and maintaining Talk 2.0.  The methods of communication need to evolve too.  This is where ‘Talk 3.0’ comes in.

In-fact, you’re already using the methods of communication I categorise as Talk 3.0:

  • Text messaging;
  • WhatsApp;
  • Facebook Messenger;
  • WeChat;
  • Snapchat, etc.

More detailed stats on these messaging apps can be found here.

These messaging apps truly evolve communication by encouraging short messages and using notifications to prompt a more timely response.  Use of emojis and text-speak has optimised this further, and with added benefits of being able to send pictures and video, it’s no wonder this method of communication has become so popular outside of work.

What might surprise you, is that this idea of a more ‘social workforce’ is already resonating with some leading retailers.  The McKinsey report highlights that teams connected through messaging and collaboration apps, are optimising their behaviour through increased communication and improved self-organisation.  And it’s a well-known fact that a workforce that’s more engaged, delivers better customer service.

Retail is entering a new era of workforce management, where connected & engaged employees is the new standard.  This change is not so much a fad, but more an evolution in the way we all communicate.  The big question is, how long will it take retail to get on-board?

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