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GUEST COMMENT Natasha’s Law is a reminder to retailers that they need to give knowledge management the attention it deserves

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Laura Morroll, Director at management consultancy, BearingPoint says that the recently passed Natasha’s Law may well protect others from harm, but it also reminds the whole retail sector that there is more work to be done to ensure accurate information and data is collected and readily available to both staff and customers….

Knowledge Management is often overlooked by businesses and plays an increasingly important role in enabling memorable hybrid customer experiences that delight customers. Poor knowledge management practices can also have a significant impact on the employee experience for agents (and team leaders) and expose businesses to additional risk in the form of customer detriment and regulatory compliance breaches. Together these factors can have a significant impact on business growth and profitability. In the new world of hybrid customer experiences and intense product/service competition, many retailers aren’t giving knowledge management the attention it deserves. 

The choice of products and services on offer to us as consumers has never been so great – you could argue it’s a buyer’s market, and yet why do some retailers make it so hard for us as consumers to make informed purchasing decisions?

It’s challenging enough in a single channel physical retail or service context where, even though customers can touch and feel the product, the exact ingredients or materials may not be visible. The passing of Natasha’s Law in October 2021 requiring all food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packed for direct sale foods was an important step forward in providing transparency for customers but there is so much more to be done in the wider retail setting.

The increase in online share over the past 18 months has sharpened the focus on the quality of product or service master data. As a consumer searching for a new kettle recently on a well-known online retail platform, I was faced with 603 options from different brands, at different prices, in different colours, with different finishes and different volume capacities; the choice was rather dizzying!

Reflecting on the activity upstream to source, range, attribute, list, and manage copy and imagery for these 603 different kettles, the potential pitfalls from a knowledge management perspective are wide and deep. Add in a physical or contact centre channel and there is a requirement to train colleagues on the features and benefits of the products, providing product knowledge to ensure customer queries can be handled efficiently and the path to purchase supported.

It’s not just activity involved in setting up a product for sale but the governance processes surrounding the accuracy of that set up and the associated master data that creates pitfalls for many retailers. This is often driven by different parties fulfilling different parts of the process in different systems that, more often than not, do not talk to each other. There is also a high level of risk of a link in the knowledge management chain breaking because the process owner doesn’t see or fully understand the impact of the data they are entering being inaccurate. It’s not surprising really when we consider that the individuals entering the data are often the lowest paid entry level Buyer’s admin assistants who are aspiring to meetings with suppliers and buying trips to far flung places, not to data entry. 

Poor information results in several costly outcomes; a high level of returns where products don’t meet expectations based on the product description, complaints and dissatisfaction of the service provided and a loss of future custom when customers lose trust in a company.

The prize for getting it right is a significant one. Our research shows 91% of customers visit their favourite websites first and will keep coming back as a first port of call because their journey is faster, easier, more personalised and higher quality than the competition and knowledge management plays an important role in this.

And it’s not just customer loyalty and top line growth that we’re talking about as a benefit here, the avoidance of cost from regulatory penalties and excessive employee churn as a result of job dissatisfaction makes an even more compelling case for a focus on improving knowledge management.

So, what can retailers do to improve the quality and visibility of data for their customers?

Legacy systems are often at the route of issues where source entry data is held in different domains and consolidation of data to create a full picture of the information that is needed relies heavily on manual intervention. Product master data, service information, customer order and customer case data is likely held across different PIM (Product Information Management), EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale), OMS (Order Management Systems) Marketing and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems that don’t talk to one another. 

Connecting up these systems is an important step forward and many retailers are undergoing digital data and system transformations to ensure the appropriate APIs are in place.

It’s one thing to pool data but what’s more important arguably is for retail businesses to work through their customer journeys and fully understand at what moments in the journey different data points are required, to whom they must be surfaced and in what format to support the path to purchase for the customer and the colleague service process.  

Only with this perspective on data can future system landscapes be architected in the most efficient way to democratize the data and information to customers and colleagues accordingly. Starting any system investment with a customer and colleague lens and with the end in mind is critical and ensure that the right decisions are made and that knowledge really is power.


Laura Morroll, director at independent management and technology consultancy, BearingPoint

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