Once upon a time, marketers cautioned retailers that a dissatisfied customer would share her experience with an average of seven friends. Today seven sounds downright quaint. Today’s informed consumers are often avid users of social media sites that allow them to post their good experiences along with their bad. A bad shopping experience not only puts a retailer at risk of losing that customer — it also means the potential loss of all of that customer’s friends, co-workers, and other contacts — people who have never even visited the store.
Consumers’ use of social media is magnified by a marked increase in consumers’ service expectations. Through the recession, value was considered the key to driving retail sales. Post-recession, value is still important, but service tops consumers’ priority lists. High customer expectations plus a social shopper has powerful implications for retailers.
Retailers are responding with customer-facing technologies to enhance their service offerings, from smartphone apps to social media sites, but so far consumers are unimpressed. In-depth research into customer service has proven that friendly, attentive staff are critical to creating a positive impression.
And behind every well-trained, customer-satisfying retail staff is an effective workforce management program.
Outweighs Value Service
Good service clearly pays off: Eight in 10 Indian consumers (80 percent) are willing to spend an average of 22 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, May 2011.4 Consumers in India are most likely (16%) of all countries in the survey to spend money only with companies that provide excellent service.5
In the 1990s a group of Harvard researchers proved a direct link between superior service experiences, customer loyalty, and financial performance, documented in their book, The Service Profit Chain – How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth To Loyalty, Satisfaction and Value.6 Another study, published in IIMB Management Review, found “knowledge of sales persons was a significant variable since Indian consumers are idea shoppers” — defined as shopping to gather information. Knowledgeable sales people are the fourth-most-important factor in the success of modern retail formats, after stock availability, quality and brand variety, the study found.
Customer service professionals play a major role in providing an excellent experience for the consumer. In the Amex study:
- 56% of Indian consumers are most likely to say that in their best experience, the customer service rep was able to solve the problem
- Indian consumers were among the most likely (60%) say that customer service professionals addressing their issue in a timely manner was a factor
- Consumers in India were the most likely to share their customer service experiences with others, both good and bad
The bottom line: Retail associates are critical to the service experience.
Customer Service: Still Room for Improvement
Fortunately, India is ahead of most markets studied in consumers’ rating of businesses’ efforts to satisfy their customers: Among Indian consumers responding to the American Express study:
- Almost half (45%) believe companies ‘value their business and will go the extra mile’
- Just over one in ten (11%) said companies generally exceed their expectations for customer service
- Two-thirds of Indians said companies have increased their focus on customer service
But despite the higher rankings compared with other countries, Indian retailers still need to maintain and enhance their service to keep demanding consumers coming back. A significant 25% said businesses missed expectations, 34% say businesses don’t do anything extra to win their business and 33% say as consumers they are not willing to spend more to get excellent service — they already pay too much. Those are negatives that must be overcome.
Boosting Service Through Workforce Management
Happy associates = happy customers.
Good service happens when well-qualified associates are given the tools, the training, and the opportunity to deliver the quality of service shoppers crave. Being well-prepared for the job and well-treated by the employer enhances job satisfaction for the associate, who is then much more likely to deliver a positive shopping experience. Customers reporting a fantastic service experience in the AmEx study found that 65 percent of customers who have a fantastic service experience credit friendly associates. Two-thirds say associates who are ultimately able to solve their concerns are most influential on their evaluation of their shopping experience.
A sophisticated workforce management system enables retailers to create a workforce that can consistently deliver superior customer service. Leveraging an advanced workforce management suite can help retailers attain their customer service quality goals through:
1) Self-service: Employees, particularly those in the younger demographics, express a strong preference for work-life balance and the ability to use technology to exercise control over their work schedules. Through a workforce management system’s self-service capabilities, associates gain quick and convenient access to portals for functions such as checking time worked and requesting work hours and time off. Respecting employee preferences helps reduce absences, turnover, and costs and increases retention.
2) Optimal schedules: Delivering high customer service levels means ensuring that enough of the right associates, with the right skills and training, are in place when customers need them. Creating an optimal schedule requires incorporating lots of factors: historical trends, upcoming events, labour standards, store profile data, work rules, labour budgets, and more. An advanced workforce management system uses this high-quality information to create best-fit schedules optimised to labour budgets and customer demand.
3) Continuously improving operations: Real-time visibility into a retail operation is the key to augmenting the entire employee management process. An advanced workforce management suite not only incorporates industry best practices for getting the most out of the workforce, it also enables retailers to take a deeper dive into the data to continuously improve operations.
A Superior Workforce Leads to Standout Service
The AmEx research found 80 percent of Indian consumers will bail, or have bailed, on a transaction because of a poor service experience.11 With far-reaching social media channels, one missed purchase because of a negative experience becomes 100 — because the shopper will share her negative experience with her network, and those contacts with their networks, and so on. This costs much more than that one missed purchase; with many options to choose from, that customer is unlikely to come back.
Together with a still-challenging global economy, that makes enhancing customer service levels a critical priority for retailers. And while technology certainly plays a strong role in enabling a satisfying customer experience, the workforce is where the rubber meets the road.
The secret to delivering customer satisfaction is a superior workforce. And the secret to a superior retail workforce lies in enhancing the entire employee management process — hiring the right associate, implementing self-service, setting optimal schedules, and continuously improving operations as the marketplace evolves. That makes an advanced workforce management system a critical contributor to creating a standout customer experience.