Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the ‘trifecta’ for small business success. In part one, we looked at the cloud’s role in the affordability of technology, enabling SMEs to give customers the kind of connected experiences previously reserved for larger corporation. In part two, we looked at the need for best practice processes to drive the effectiveness of that technology investment.

In this final part, it’s time to talk about the most valuable asset in this trifecta. The element that brings technology and processes together, to deliver truly customer-centric experiences: people.

People are the most important part of brick-and-mortar retail. For all the talk of building digital connectivity into the physical shopping environment, there’s a reason people still turn to stores despite the wealth of online convenience, and that’s the personal service they receive.

There is no ecommerce substitute for the ability to see, touch and try an item before buying, or the chance to have a completely tailored one-to-one conversation about the capabilities of that product relative to the consumer’s needs. The challenge for retailers today is to blend technology into that front-line service, so that it empowers better customer encounters, rather than putting a barrier between the store associate and the shopper.

Empowering the store associate

One of the primary reasons that retail technology is under-utilized in the brick-and-mortar environment is a lack of buy-in from users. No matter how effective a solution is on paper, it’s never going to return on investment if the store associate doesn’t believe in it, or use it frequently.

Getting customer-facing staff involved early on in the process is vitally important to making store technology drive profit. Nobody likes to have a new gadget forced on them from senior management. Collaborative decision making is key; listen to the everyday problems that store managers are experiencing and give them the digital tools to solve those issues.

Once buy-in has been secured, the next step is to ensure staff are thoroughly trained in how to use the new solutions. This is challenging for two reasons: firstly, staff churn means that often a user is brought up to speed, only to leave the business, and then the training process has to start again from scratch once a replacement has been recruited.

Secondly, the development of in-store technology has made customer service a much more complex challenge. Staff are still having to carry out the same tasks as usual, but with added obligations, such as processing click-and-collect purchases, placing orders for items currently out of stock, and queue busting during peak trading times.

An effective way to manage this explosion in responsibility is to segment store staff into ‘teams’ that take on a specific tasks. For example, training a proportion of staff to use mobile POS devices for richer customer service, and others to use it for processing transactions in the waiting line during busy periods. It’s often useful to have a ‘super user’ in these areas, who trains the wider workforce to excel in key functionalities. This also enables peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, which is a powerful way to increase faith in the technology’s benefits.

Another point worth mentioning is that training staff should not be thought of as a one-off investment. Just as it’s important to make sure new updates are made to the solutions they are using, store associates should be offered regular refreshers and advanced user training. This will ensure that their knowledge of retail technology is razor sharp, and that digital devices are firmly embedded in brick-and-mortar customer service.

Ultimately, the phrase ‘you get out what you put in’ is key to technology investment whatever the size of business. The more involved and nurtured store associates feel, the greater effort they will put in to make digital tools a seamless part of the customer experience.

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