Overcoming the Challenges with Providing Truly Omnichannel Retail Customer Service

Jan 29, 2016

Of the customer contact channels, the most prevalent is still in-store B2C and B2B retail.  But it is also is the most difficult channel to integrate voice and online channels with.

Companies seek to meld in-store with other channels to maximize employee productivity, grow sales, and increase loyalty, by utilizing store staff during idle periods, by tapping in-store subject matter experts, and by connecting customers to staff who they have strong relationships with.  However, while the core technology to route service calls from ACDs to store staff has been around and trialed for at least 10 years, for example, it is still not widely used.

The prime obstacle is the in-store environment coupled with how people engage with each other. There is no greater change of channel, physically and mentally, than when a salesperson switches from serving a customer who is in front of them to one who is on the phone, or in a SMS exchange, or a text or video chat, or social community session.  The staffer’s body and body language shift, which breaks contact with the customer.  The same is true in reverse.  When a customer walks in while the staffer is on the phone or online he or she has to rapidly end or pause the interaction, with a promise to contact them back.  But while this practice is acceptable with informal calls (not routed through switches), and with email, SMS, or social media, it may not be so with calls made through the contact center or in web chat.

It has long been a best practice to have at least two people in a store at all times, one person to handle the transactions and the other person to engage with customers at the counter, on the sales floor or finding items, and to provide security.  The need to respond to customers contacting over the phone and digitally adds to the rationale.   

But if retailers want to divert more customer contacts to in-store staff then we need to set best practices because of the following reasons.  People online don’t know they are dealing in store, and people in line certainly don’t feel like someone on the web is more important than the effort they put forth in actually driving to the store.

At the same time companies have to figure out when to have customer contacts reach the in-person staff.  A counter or store’s pace quickly moves from slow to supersonic when there is a sudden influx of customers.

Above all, customers and retailers, online and/or in-person, are looking for the next great Customer Experiences.  They expect not only attractive products, but also online and in-person displays and services that are going to capture their attention and deliver faster, more seamless purchasing and service.

Vendors are working on imaginative solutions to these issues and opportunities. They will be covered in a Frost & Sullivan report to be released later this spring on omnichannel retail customer service.

I was given a demo of one such technology at last week’s National Retail Federation show at New York City’s Javits Center.  I donned a pair of Epson augmented reality (AR) glasses—they fit well over and I could see with my corrective lenses--furnished by GoInStore. I used them to view an eCommerce site and engage with it through a hand-held mouse that also allowed me to be fully aware of my surroundings.

GoInStore was showcasing its solution that enables in-person staff to serve online customers through AR glasses or their smartphones or tablets.  These customers could see what the staff sees.  But the solution enables the staff to deftly prioritize customer channels.  Its call to action button is configured to only show under predefined conditions, for example, when there is an available salesperson or the product of interest is located in the store. GoInStore has developed proprietary BI software to analyze online behavior to ensure that these customers are connected to in-store subject matter experts.

Granted, AR glasses are expensive, this is new technology, and GoInStore is targeting higher-end retailers whose customers expect exceptional service and are willing to pay for it.  But if there is anything technology teaches it is that if it shows a strong ability to anticipate and meet needs its price drops, innovation is spurred, and as a result it becomes widely used.  Let’s see what happens with tools like GoInStore’s in retail omnichannel customer service and sales.

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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