Key takeaways

  • Brand promises are more important than ever when it comes to keeping customers.
  • Frontline staff often don’t have the tools that they need to do their job, let alone provide superior customer service.
  • By making life easier for employees with the right technology they are more likely to be engaged, empowered and on-brand.

 

We all know first hand the difference between good and bad customer service. Both leave an indelible impression.

Companies find out very quickly when a customer has a bad experience these days, usually in the form of a very public, and often viral, social media shellacking.

In a digitally connected society, the chances that a customer will make a decision based on the experience of another is high. Customers are demanding trust and whole generations questioning the practices of the companies they do business with, so such failings can quickly spiral into a public relations disaster.

As such, branding is now big business. Beyond differentiating a company from its competitors, a brand is a promise made to a customer. But even the tightest brand strategy can go awry if it falls over at the front line: where staff interact with customers.

No business sets out to provide bad customer service yet it happens with alarming frequency. No matter how many rules are put in place to guide frontline staff, things can go horribly wrong. But why?

The answer may not be in the quality of your employees, but in the lack of tools you’ve given them to carry out your brand promise.

The communication problem
(aka: a trust problem)

Frontline staff are often disconnected from the companies that they are working for. They have the keys to the store but no way of interacting with its owners. They are in charge, but not in the loop.

The problem starts from a top-down approach many businesses have to brand. The message often travels through so many lines of management that it is diluted and garbled when it hits the customer-facing staff. How can they follow through on a brand promise if they are not clear on it?

It’s no surprise that this disempowered and disengaged group is typically high-churn. It’s understandable why business would then be reluctant to invest in infrastructure for this group, but it is important to break this self-fulfilling prophecy and include them in the bigger picture.

The current state
of customer service

Take for example a retailer that markets itself as a one-stop-shop for groceries. If a customer enters and can’t locate an item, they naturally turn to a staff member for help.

But this employee is using a central POS and inventory system that is out of date, wrong, or updated only overnight. Disempowered, and feeling helpless, these are their only options to turn to:

  • apologise for not having the item
  • make the customer wait for the time to go and look
  • make other customers wait while they assist the first customer
  • tell them they could check another store
  • get their details so that they can check properly later
  • tell the truth, that the company doesn’t provide the tools to help

In all cases, the brand promise is broken. The result: customer advocacy eroded

The ideal state
of customer service

Now imagine a world where each staff member has their own connection to the company via their BYOD or a firm-provided device. They have email and dedicated head office support they can contact instantly. They have chat programs to connect with other employees or share messages. The systems in place for stock control work.

And they know, from daily interactions with management and the investment that has been made in them, that in all cases, a customer must have access to a product.

With the right technology in place, not only will all staff know what the stock levels are, and receive alerts when those stock are depleting on the shelves, but they can automatically trigger an inter-store transfer. Or perhaps put out a call-out on their secure shop messaging app that allows someone in another rather than a time-intensive phone call.

In store, the employee can let the customer know that they have the item, look up the customer’s details and have it sent straight out to the customer without that customer having to do anything at all.

In the event that the stock is truly unavailable, the employee is empowered, and feels trusted enough by the brand, to go above and beyond by offering a discount, special promotion or other such deal to ensure the customer understands they are truly sorry to have broken their promise and garner a second chance.

The power
of digital

Technology allows a business to enable two-way communication, to bring staff on the periphery into the fold. By encouraging engagement staff are more likely to work in unison and with the one brand directive in mind.

Many companies shy away from investing in high-churn positions, yet ironically, it is this lack of investment that contributes to the high-churn nature of these jobs. From delivery drivers to shelf-stockers, there are sound business reasons, not the least being the bottom line, why money should be spent on the employee experience of these staff.

In the same way that a business would not expect their customers to have a difficult retail experience, staff should not expect to have difficulty selling a brand. Staff who are battling with legacy systems, have no voice and/or are not being trained to be anything more than ‘capable’ will only ever be able to provide a minimal level of customer service.

Give your staff
a reason to like you

By investing in digital solutions that will make their lives easier, and by removing the pain points that they face daily, a company will empower its employees to not only provide the baseline of customer service that should be expected, but to go above and beyond and create truly amazing.

 

Contributor

Richard Blundell

Richard Blundell is PwC’s retail and consumer specialist in the Digital Services team.

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