As new and impressive technological advancements (we’re looking at you, Amazon) take over basic brick-and-mortar tasks, you may be thinking the era of the human employee is coming to an end.
You’d be wrong.
Point of sale services or in-store price checking may be quickly becoming the purview of the mighty machine, but that doesn’t mean your human representatives are any less valuable to your physical retail operation.
Amazon has clearly changed the game with its recent launch of a cashier-less grocery store in Seattle, yet, in actuality, studies indicate your customer service staff is more essential to your brick-and-mortar business than ever before. AmericanExpress.com even reports the Walker Sands Communications “Future of Retail 2017” study finds a majority of the younger generation of shoppers (ages 18-25) along with a substantial 46% of the coveted age 26-45 demographic prefer to shop on site rather than online, simply because of the “unique experience” a physical enterprise brings with it.
“Experience” in this context has several meanings—exclusive pop-ups, in-store-only rewards, free giveaways, etc.—but one of the core concepts behind the term is human interaction. Your customer service staff, therefore, is the ace up your sleeve. They represent one of the (very few) things an online interface simply can’t provide: face-to-face contact.
Here’s our list of ways to take full advantage of the human touch and thoughts on how to encourage your in-store reps to reach their maximum potential…even in the digital age.
1. Employ helpful hints and good old-fashioned troubleshooting.
Lights up on a typical scene: A customer enters your store and has no idea where to begin. They think they want a specific item, but they’re unsure about the make, model, price and color.
Customer service to the rescue.
As of yet, there’s no systematic way to Google an aisle number and no internal GPS devices to help your consumers if they take a wrong turn and end up in men’s accessories when they’re really looking for children’s toys. There’s also very few applications that give real-time advice on a product, and none that would let customers test out an item in person.
This is where your friendly service representatives come in.
Got someone who’s perplexed about a particular product? A member of your team can easily swoop in and offer some pointers on which item will provide the best fit for your customer. Found a consumer who’s quite literally lost their way? A representative can guide them gently back to where they want to go.
Even in stores that rely heavily on gadgets, customer service teammates can offer hands-on help that will no doubt be greatly appreciated. The New York Times, in its profile of Amazon’s cutting-edge, automated-purchase supermarket, indicates that though standard cashier jobs may have become obsolete for the new Seattle store (and, by extension, any stores that utilize “self-checkout”), Amazon fully expects to retain its onsite employees for other tasks including troubleshooting “any technical problems” that may arise. Keeping this strategy in mind, it’s important you remember technology isn’t perfect; eventually, you may need a reliable service member to rush in, fix it, reboot it or debug it for your customers in a pleasant and timely manner. Without a savvy customer service rep to keep your systems humming along on the front lines, you run the risk of aggravating your consumers with every technological glitch. Over time, you’d run the risk of a decrease in sales as well. An approachably amicable army of well-trained troubleshooters can circumvent this problem.
2. Celebrate niche knowledge.
While it’s lovely to think that each member of your onsite team is wholly devoted to customer service every hour of every day, your employees actually do have a life outside your store (sorry to break it to you). Don’t despair. Instead, cherish their individuality and put it to good use.
Say, for example, that one of your reps moonlights as a jazz musician on the weekends. If you sell audio equipment, he’d be the ideal person to put on the floor. His perspective on the products will be uniquely personal, and customers will most likely be grateful for his guidance and insider’s point of view. Same goes for the woman you’ve hired whose family owns a vineyard. If you run a grocery with a wine department, you can have her organize weekly tastings and offer her expertise to customers looking for the perfect pairing to go with the dinner they bought in aisle five. Her background will lend a certain authenticity to your customers’ purchases… and probably keep them coming back for more.
Your customer service team should never be faceless. While you’ll want to present a united front in terms of policy, you’ll also want to “cultivate a knowledgeable and sensitive staff,” as Skout Deals CEO Bryan Payne would say. In doing so, don’t be afraid to tap into the knowledge your staff has at its disposal already. It’ll give them a welcome chance to flex their creative muscle (remember: happy employees make the best employees), and can leave a fabulous impression.
3. Deploy shadow operations.
Never underestimate the power of a backstage staff.
Your business model is great and everything, but you probably don’t want any of your customers paying attention to the proverbial man behind the curtain. No one wants their shopping spree interrupted by an “out of stock” sign or a faulty checkout scanner. Enter your faithful service team, working tirelessly behind the scenes to maintain continuity of operations.
While your POS solutions may be automated, they’re still subject to outages, downtimes, and breakdowns like any other piece of hardware or software. A specially trained tech team can ensure these crises yield minimal damage. They can also smooth over any gaps in business functions by isolating problems and getting systems back up and running as soon as possible. You’ll likewise need team members to oversee business reports and review them for errors or mine them for important customer data. All these jobs are slightly different from those of an interactive troubleshooting taskforce, but they’re no less important.
And speaking of backstage: We can’t say enough about the employees who keep a close eye on inventory levels and who place orders or restock shelves when necessary. While their work doesn’t always put them in direct contact with the consumer, it’s essential in helping to create a seamless retail experience. Retail software solutions like Erply can provide effective tools to manage inventory, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that your employees understand the best way to use those tools. Customers want to believe your store is full of competent workers and that it operates in an easy, breezy, streamlined fashion. Thoughtful inventory management is key to maintaining this type of atmosphere.
If you take away nothing else from the list above, take away this: Retail businesses simply do not work without people. Your employees’ job descriptions may be shifting, but their worth remains intact. Don’t let the current self-service trend fool you. Human contact and human ingenuity will never go out of style.
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