While customer service representatives (of the human variety) are still the backbone of the brick-and-mortar customer retail experience, they are certainly facing steep competition from technology these days.
However, before we let our minds wander too far toward a robot overthrow of our fitting room attendants, it’s worth noting that a slew of new devices and implementations may not be threatening the job security of retail workers as much as they are aiding them. “It’s the store associate that has to be able to serve and support the customer — they’re the ones on the front lines,” says Kelsie Marian, an analyst for Gartner, who recently spoke with CIO.
As the outlet reports, today’s millennial shopper is driving the adoption of technology in retail with their “Uber-like” expectations that their needs can, and should, be met at the moment that they arise. This has pushed retailers to arm sales associates with a variety of technologies to serve and support today’s demanding customers. CIO cites brands like Apple and Nordstrom as leading the way with handheld devices, inventory management technology, in-store operational analytics and mobile POS tools. But there are others that are finding innovative applications for new customer support technologies as well.
Not so long ago, Bloomingdale’s, with the help of agency Kurt Salmon Digital, began mounting iPads connected to the company’s inventory management system in fitting rooms. The tablet devices enabled both customers and sales associates to scan items and check for sizes, colors and reviews without interrupting their buying experience or leaving the floor to search inventory.
According to CIO, Kurt Salmon Digital also recently worked with the NBA’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City to install interactive digital kiosks throughout the store floor. The kiosks gave associates a way to strike up conversations and explore products alongside customers as a fluid part of the browsing experience.
“It’s a way to keep the sales associate on the floor and showing products, rather than having to go in the back and look for inventory,” says Eric Shea, partner at Kurt Salmon Digital. “The customer can request a shoe size and color, and the associate can have a full understanding of inventory.”
However, as Shea told CIO, retailers can’t simply drop technology into the hands of associates and expect magic to happen. A commitment to training, adoption and full buy-in from all levels of the organization is essential to success. “The technology needs to be easy to use, and the associates need to see value in it. If it slows them down, they won’t use it, and they need to trust that the data is correct.”