Call Center in Mexico Artificial intelligence and automation has everyone scared for their jobs these days — especially in retail. It’s being used to predict demand, reduce inventory and automate decision making. Walmart is deploying robots to analyze shelving inventory and look for missing labels or prices. Kroger is implementing smart shelves that automatically update pricing. Amazon recently launched cashierless checkout with Amazon Go and is planning on opening more stores this year. And Walmart has even patented the ability to put a storefront directly in your home, bringing people-free retail into your living room.
What does this mean for customer service and the future of the in-store experience? Are we headed for a robot-automated and impersonal shopping experience or an experiential one with a more personalized human touch? The answer is yes to both.
Technology Automation For Convenience
As the CEO of a retail technology company, I am excited to see so much disruption all at once. In countless meetings with the C-Suite of leading brands and retailers, I’ve seen that while many themes of technological disruption are consistent, the needs and responses differ by category based on price point, customer frequency and vertical. For lower priced categories where convenience and frequency are key such as grocery, convenience and big-box retailers, there is a tremendous amount of technology innovation investment designed to innovate on price and convenience to aid your everyday shopping experience.
At every turn, technology is being applied in-store, in inventory and throughout the supply chain to provide customers products cheaper, faster and more conveniently. Huge investments in customer data will lead to personalized offers streamed to you as you walk through stores. My company uses the freed up space from the cashier stations to place experiential centers in stores so customers can explore new products, powered by interactive retail displays that know what products you are touching. Brands can compete for mindshare using a host of digital technologies such as interactive retail kiosks, dynamic digital shelving and mobile marketing platforms that retailers rent out. Standardizing on technology platforms that are broadly applicable across categories, brands and campaigns will be critical.
And with a focus on convenience, wherever possible, I think that customers will more frequently automatically replenish items or order them directly without ever going to the store. Or you will be able to simply walk out of the store with your items without ever talking to a cashier or having to scan an item yourself. A lot of technology is needed to make that a seamless process from CRM, payments, computer vision and RFID sensing and loss prevention.
I believe customer service jobs across grocery, pharmacy, convenience stores, big-box retailers like Target and Walmart and more will be gutted in favour of technology management positions to keep the store running smoothly. For example, Walgreens is closing Rite Aid stores and reducing in-store headcount. Technologies will have to be thrust upon the consumer to compensate for the lack of human touch.
Technology To Enhance The Customer Service Experience
Luxury retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, single brand retailers like Apple, Zara, Nike and speciality stores like Best Buy and Verizon Wireless are busy converting their stores into experiential discovery centers that define themselves on the ability to engage consumers and provide a next-level of customer experience.
To do that, retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue are empowering their sales associates with tablets and mobile tools that allow them to pull in the customer profile for purchase history and recommendations, access inventory both in-store and online, pull in digital media and even contact the customer directly for post-purchase marketing, thus deepening the sales associate relationship as a key differentiator to online purchasing. If your brick-and-mortar differentiator is around customer service, begin investing now in the entire life cycle of customer service, from hiring to training to delivery and measurement. You can use advanced analytics and machine learning in the hiring process to better predict which sales associates will be successful. You can apply learning management systems to training at scale, which is especially important in the retail industry because of high turnover. In-store tools, whether it be on dedicated iPads or apps on employees mobile phones can help at the point of sale.
In an omnichannel world, retailers are beginning to look past the sacrosanct revenue per square foot metric and instead focus on customer engagement and omnichannel influence and attribution, and rightfully so. Retailers will do everything possible to bring customers into their stores and get them to stay as long as possible.
Thinking through ways to engage customers with experiences in-store may unlock that answer. Barnes & Noble is opening up bars and cafes and Macy’s is even holding yoga classes. Millennials are shifting their spend and time to experiences and therefore customer service should come with those experiences hand-in-hand.
What is the future of retail and customer service? Be prepared for a world of high touch, experiential shopping bliss to go with your ultra-convenient and inexpensive shopping options for every day.
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