Behavioural Technology and the Customer Connection in Retail

Retail is a people business, again. Your staff will define your year.

So we’re a month into 2016, and yet still the predictions for retail trends continues. Indeed, in particular I’ve been looking at a series of excellent articles on Forbes online around just that subject. There’s certainly plenty to get your teeth into. One that caught my eye is entitled ‘5 Big Things That Will Happen in Retail in 2016’.

What’s interesting, as is always the case with end-of-year and New Year predictions, is that the predictions are, well, predictable: data analytics to drive greater customer personalisation/mobility and mobile apps/ click and collect and so on. The one that stood out, primarily because it focuses on the people factor rather than the technology of change, concerns the changing role of the store associate. It’s time for some harmony.

Not many people know, or would admit to knowing, that the much-used phrase ‘Man and Machine in Perfect Harmony’ was created for the launch of the Ford Sierra in 1982. Take a look. I suppose we should assume they were talking about man as a species rather than a gender. What a great summary though of where we are today with technology and the essential role it performs in daily life. Technology is a given. Like the weather, it’s everywhere.

The end of IT

Outmoded notions that hi-tech is intrusive, that people fear it, that it’s invasive, alien and unwelcome are really breathing their last gasp. We’re now all enjoying the ride. It’s time to look at IT with fresh eyes.

Aptly christened ‘Information Technology’ – allegedly in 1981 to replace the somewhat less aspirational ‘Data Processing’ – technology has assumed a far more significant role than merely the exchange or processing of information; it’s now about how we behave in our daily lives. Behavioural technology is no longer purely in the domain of psychology, it’s in the domain of everything we do.

This is why it’s so important for retailers to embrace the change and basically stop regarding each new development as a trend or a prediction, and respond to it as an opportunity in the here and now.

Five harmonious people skills enabled by technology

Here are five ways that machines are bringing the magic back into retail and enabling store associates, as well as call centre agents, to engage with customers more and rise to the excitement and job satisfaction that awaits them once they do:

  • Guided customer journeys ensure every step makes sense
    The customer is always right but doesn’t always set off in the right direction. Customers need help. More importantly, they respond to it. Not all staff have the knowledge to offer informed advice. Technology gives them that knowledge.
  • Consistent approaches/processes build the brand
    All staff are members of a team and representatives of the brand. They’re in the frontline, where even the most compelling and expensive marketing efforts of the company can amount to nothing if brand values and promises are not brought to life at a personal level, one-to-one, face-to-face.
  • Smart devices in the right hands generate trust and confidence
    Customers don’t see it as a weakness when a staff member introduces a hand-held device into the conversation to help guide choices. They see it as a relevant and up-to-the-minute mode of behaviour with which they’re hugely familiar in their own lives and jobs.
  • The storehouse of product details/ options/ inventory
    Interacting with technology is a way of reassuring customers that best choices are being made, not based on personal opinions, but based on the compelling logic and power of the machine. Here’s the thing – it makes it more personal.
  • The minimum expectation for the maximum customer satisfaction
    Above all, customers today expect great service. It’s the minimum expectation. When they don’t get it, they simply look elsewhere. When they do, there’s a very strong likelihood that they will become brand advocates.

For sure, the role of the store associate is changing. But staff can’t be expected to carry the burden of bringing the competitive advantage of great customer service to life all on their own. They can be helped along the way by technology, new behaviours and some essential harmony between (wo)man and machine.

What are your predictions for retail 2016? Let me know.