Netting Better Service

Retail’s multichannel explosion has done more than send e-commerce and catalog numbers skyrocketing. It has created an army of store-level employees ill-prepared to provide the heightened levels of service necessary in a multichannel environment.

Why does multichannel impact bricks-and-mortar customer-service levels? Because, explained Bridget Trask, VP of retail services for Cincinnati-based human resources and customer-care solution-provider Convergys, customers are increasingly using multiple channels to make purchases.

“According to Forrester Research, the percentage of customers who research products online before purchasing in stores has risen 40% in the last two years,” said Trask. “And Jupiter Research estimates Web research will affect half of all purchases by 2010.”

Since nearly 50% of consumers who use multiple channels to buy products switch from their preferred retailers when they purchase, said Trask, “Retailers who deliver a consistent, positive experience both on- and offline can reduce this crossover, and gain a competitive advantage.”

Consistently delivering a positive in-store experience is directly dependent on a retailer’s employees, who in turn are dependent on the retailer’s training program and information systems. Interestingly, some of the very processes, systems, tools and techniques that catalog-and Internet-retailers have used to improve the customer experience online and on the phone can similarly uplift the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.

E-commerce-inspired service tools: A solution that retailers can use to improve the in-store experience is one that brings customer and product information to the sales floor via a Web link. “The ‘Store Portal’ solution is integrated with a retailer’s core content and provides the store-level employee with immediate access to all kinds of relevant information,” said Trask. One weighty piece of information is whether or not that shopper is a multichannel customer. The Store Portal solution integrates all the customer’s experiences with the retailer so a store associate can see a customer’s entire transaction history across the channels, “allowing that employee to deliver a superior experience, which is especially important with high-value customers,” said Trask.

“An integrated customer experience in which store associates have ready access to the same capabilities and knowledge via a store portal or other technology is vital to meeting the expectations of shoppers in the store,” she continued. “Further, providing customers very relevant guidance in a warm, face-to-face environment with the ability to touch and take home the item the same day is an exceptional value that can’t be matched by the remote channels.”

Another tool that has traditionally enhanced e-commerce and catalog experiences and that now can elevate in-store shopping is the call center. “When customers call a store, they’re actively looking for a particular item—and if they don’t find it from you, they’re going to go somewhere else,” said Trask. “That makes handling those calls very important.”

Because store employees often will ignore a ringing phone or give the caller short shrift in favor of helping a customer in the store, a self-service or enhanced answering-service solution can provide retailers with a satisfactory alternative to live, in-store phone answering. The “Store Call Consolidation” application provides automated answers to frequently asked questions such as store hours and location, but more complicated queries are routed to contact-center representatives armed with complete product and inventory information—allowing employees to focus on in-store customers while still providing call-ins the service and ordering opportunities they want.

In addition, call centers can be used to centralize repair and maintenance functions so that employees can focus on customers. “As merchants move functions like answering store calls, operational repair and consumer affairs out of the stores, associates are freed to spend more time with shoppers, and retailers realize improved store support and reduced service costs,” said Trask.