Capturing customer loyalty, LIVE

Today’s customers provide a paradox for retailers. Despite having faster and better access to online stores than ever before, 85 percent of consumers still prefer to buy their products in a physical location.

Retail stores, however, aren’t always equipped to give consumers the experience they want and need. Too often, products aren’t on the shelf or are listed at the wrong price point; displays are incorrectly arranged, or are different from store to store, making it difficult for customers to and what they’re looking for; salespeople can’t give intelligent answers to in-depth product questions; and so forth.

As behind-the-scenes work increases, knowledgeable employees devoted solely to helping customers are in danger of becoming relics of retail’s past. Employees are now spending 70 percent of their time on behind-the-scenes tasks such as responding to corporate and manager emails and preparing for new promotional campaigns, leaving a mere 30 percent of their time to assist customers. If a satisfied customer is the main goal of any retail transaction, then employees’ time would be much better spent focusing their attention on the sales poor, creating great experiences.

Fortunately, retailers can now employ mobile workforce management tools to improve the consumer experience and drive customer loyalty. These platforms allow employees to easily communicate with management and corporate headquarters. Data collection tools, such as survey mechanisms and photo capture applications, instantaneously demonstrate that stores are complying with set-up and pricing directives. Without the need to be harnessed to laptops, employees have more free time to satisfy both management and customer demands — and, in turn, create brand loyalty.

Provide the Path of Least Resistance

Susan needs a new ball glove. Curt is searching for a particular type of wood stain. Marti wants to compare three shirts to see which will look better with her new trousers.

We are operating in the “age of the customer,” and most customers have multiple devices within fingertips’ reach at all times. You would think Susan, Curt and Marti would just reach for a tablet, click a few buttons and make a purchase, right?

You would be wrong. Like many consumers, they want to feel and smell the leather on their palms and examine true colors with discriminating eyes. They don’t want to wait for their products to arrive, and they certainly don’t want the hassle and cost of having to return products that they don’t like.
Even though consumers want to buy their products in store, in the end, they are often driven online to purchase because of some sort of breakdown at a retail location:

  • “I couldn’t find the product.”
  • “It wasn’t priced correctly.”
  • “The person on the floor couldn’t answer my questions.”
The result is always the same. “I left the store and went online.”

Retailers should be creating a path of least resistance for consumers to keep them in the store and improve customer loyalty. That means ensuring that shelves are stocked with products in their correct locations with the correct prices attached. It also means that multiple locations have identical set-ups and pricing. It shouldn’t matter which location Susan enters to nd her glove — she should know where to go because the ball gloves are always to the left of the cash/wrap in this retailer.

If she needs help figuring out which one to buy, she shouldn’t have to look high and low for an employee to ask. She wants to ask her questions, try on a few gloves, choose one within her price point, pay, and head out the door.

Improve Communication via Management Tools

With mobile platforms, corporate headquarters can now disseminate new promotional campaigns with the click of a button. They can send detailed plans and pictures of how endcaps and displays should look, including how products should be arranged on specific shelves and priced, to thousands of stores at the same time. Moreover, these campaigns can be shared among specific store-based managers and employees.

Unfortunately, many stores still practice the same archaic strategies that have been employed for years. The in-store compliance trail was paper-based and deep. Stores received email communications with diagrams that were printed out and shared and were sometimes difficult to follow. Managers then provided email confirmation of compliance to headquarters….

Or not.

According to ISI, “Compliance is largely unmonitored and therefore unmeasured or ad hoc at best.” A 2012 white paper by Dr. Hugh Phillips provides an even bleaker picture:

  • 21 percent of companies actually measure compliance,
  • 23 percent don’t measure at all, and
  • 28 percent assume that campaigns have been executed correctly.

Considering that 70 percent of employee time is spent on executing campaigns and NOT helping customers, ensuring compliance would seem like the absolute least step retailers could do to assist customers. If sales associates aren’t going to be on the poor to help them, stores should at least make sure that the products customers are looking for are properly displayed, with correct prices and adequate stock. The end goal is to shorten the amount of time employees spend on back-end tasks.

That’s where mobile platforms come into play.

Mobile-based tools have made live data capture instantaneous. Once displays are set, employees can simply snap a photo and instantly send it to headquarters, offering visual proof of compliance. This makes tracking compliance across a district easier than it has ever been. And if there are problems, corporate headquarters can intervene with the few locations that need assistance, rather than pestering thousands and thousands of managers with nagging follow-up emails.

Photos are an important part of mobile communication platforms for retailers, but they are only one way store employees can demonstrate compliance. Corporate can initiate surveys with detailed questions about when, where and how campaigns were fulfilled. Managers and employees can quickly respond to these surveys simply by pulling out the mobile device of their choice. There’s no need to wait until the end of a long business day, when someone may be less than inclined to pull up a chair in front of a computer and answer the questions. Responses can be provided on the spot and in real time.

These tools also put employees back on the oor, armed with detailed knowledge of the location and price points of thousands of products. And these employees are ready to serve customers and help build brand loyalty in the process.

As ever-greater numbers of stores comply with campaigns, and verification is instantaneous, fewer in-person visits from district managers are needed. While this ultimately saves managers’ time and helps a company’s bottom line, it also achieves something even greater — a better in-store customer experience that will help further goals toward building long-term customer relationships.

Create Loyal Customers

Consumers who are provided great service and who have a great in-store experience are much more likely to become repeat customers. When Susan doesn’t have to look for someone to answer her questions, and Curt can examine five different colors and prices of wood stain in the store, and Marti can finds shirts (and belts and shoes!) to go with her trousers, they experience the path of least resistance. When these consumers visit again and consistently and what they are looking for, on the shelf, priced correctly, with employees to help, they become loyal customers.

Mobile tools can help retailers capture the in-store experience in real-time. In the process, they can provide the path of least resistance for their customers and create easy communication avenues internally. Both help build brand loyalty.

About the Author
Stefan Midford is the Founder and CEO of Natural Insight and is an evangelist for simplification of the management of retail workforces. He has over 30 years of experience in information technology, operations and workforce management. His extensive business background provides him insight into the strategic challenges facing organizations with distributed teams.