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Do Shoppers Want Face Time?

Tony Heyworth, International Marketing Director, LivePerson, explores how the merging of the physical and virtual worlds is changing commerce and customer service as we know it – for the better.

John Walden , Managing Director of Argos , questioned recently whether there was a need for store staff in an increasingly digital world. To some extent, he has a point – as more and more information about product and services becomes available online, it’s clear that consumers have many resources at their fingertips in order to answer store customers any questions they might have. Why would they need to speak to an assistant? However, this does not necessarily mean that the role of the store salesperson is redundant.

I’m sure sales staff would argue there’s more to their role than just providing information, and the question of whether they are ‘relevant’ or ‘redundant’ comes down to whether the additional value they add is cost effective and enhances sales, and if the customer experience surpasses that of the self-service DIY process of going online to find information oneself.

Walden’s statement is likely to be linked to a need for better cost efficiency as well as the desire to make Argos stores more digitally enabled. Digitally enabling stores shouldn’t necessarily mean eliminating the sales person, rather it can make sales assistants much more cost effective to deploy. Specialised product and service experts no longer have to be physically located in each and every store.The digital world has made it easier to deploy experts, and their expertise,to both physical offline stores and online webstores. How? By using a service such as Live Chat you can still assist customers when they can’t find answers to their questions not only when at home, or on the move, but when in- store using kiosks, or via a customer service assistant in store who can source answers from the pool of centralised experts, using a Live Chat app.These specialist salespeople will still be employed, but to even greater effect and efficiency across both the physical and virtual worlds – their knowledge will be deployed when and where it’s required.


Walden went on to explain that as click and collect, tablet and mobile increase in popularity and they become the primary purchasing and services channels, the store would inhabit a secondary, supporting role. It’s clear that it will become much more important to maintain human and thus more meaningful connections in an increasingly digital world.A study by LivePerson found that this shift to digital continues to accelerate. Some 78% of shoppers research online before even stepping foot in a shop to buy, and 39% of shoppers globally now spend the same amount or more online as they do in store during a typical month.The research highlighted that 25% use their mobile in store regularly and research by Ipsos MediaCT and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has shown that 65% of the consumers who use their mobile device in-store stated that the use of the device made them more likely to purchase the product.

The growth of the mobile channel is guaranteed: by 2017 revenue from mobile will account for €19bn. Retailers need to use this channel in tandem with the physical store; but don’t leave the channel to be completely self- service, make customer service staff available to customers who have questions and need help, otherwise they will abandon and go elsewhere.

As a great example,Australian home improvement chain, Masters, offer customers an iPhone app designed to not only offer practical support for customers whilst they are in-store, but also to provide additional insights while there. Instead of having consumers compare prices on their mobile browsers, Masters have incorporated instant price comparisons as part of the app functionality which facilitates product purchase via a code scanning function.They have also implemented an additional ‘chat now’ function, so a customer only has to key in a question to be put in touch with an agent in real-time.This means the customer can have access to both a staff member within the store and on their phone to answer their questions, whether to find out if an item is in stock or investigate delivery options.

So, rather than considering the physical store merely as support for the online channel, the store needs to evolve to be an important part of an integrated online and offline customer experience.The question is not whether there is a need for store staff in the digital world, but how retailers can maintain the human touch and harness the growth of the digital world (in partnership with the physical store) to improve the customer experience and at the same time cut costs. Some are already benefiting from first mover advantage.


John Lewis is regularly voted the UK’s favourite retailer and in April 2012 it was also voted “Britain’s Favourite Electricals retailer”. No-one was more pleased than Sitel, an expert in outsourced customer contact solutions, who for the past 3 years has been providing technical support and aftercare for all John Lewis Electrical Home Technology customers across the UK. The relationship climaxed with a recent prestigious European award win; “Outsourcing Works” – Award for Delivering Business Value in Outsourcing.

How does a retailer well known for delivering excellent customer experience across all channels maintain an outsourced customer service especially with service becoming the key differentiator for shoppers in an increasingly competitive marketplace?

“The key is to ensure the brand values are continually reflected in the outsourcing environment,” says Joe Doyle, Marketing Director at John Lewis’s outsourced partner Sitel UK. Like many of today’s retailers, John Lewis’s overall objective is to provide its electrical customers with exceptional customer service and achieve their desire “to have their customers for life”.

One of the benefits to John Lewis is that outsourcers are able to provide 24/7 customer service and have a number of other clients to be able to invest in with the very latest technology. For example, John Lewis customers with any technical enquiry can contact the John Lewis technical support centre by phone, email and white mail 8am to 9pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm on Saturdays, and 10am to 6pm on Sundays. The team has been set up and empowered to resolve most after sales enquiries in the first call and deliver exceptional customer service in line with John Lewis’s mantra “whatever is required to put it right”.

Outsourcing also provides cost efficiencies and leading edge customer insight and analysis. For John Lewis this allows any issues with products, manufacturers, service and repairs to be recognised and has helped to reduce the number of contacts and improve the overall customer experience.

Another benefit of outsourcing is the retailer can adopt the outsourcers’ best practices within their own business model. John Lewis has implemented this process throughout their branches and within their internal contact centres.

Joe Doyle adds: “Our long-standing outsourcing partnership with John Lewis proves that outsourcing works and can deliver exceptional customer service. We are so proud that this partnership has been recognised as a European example of how outsourcing can deliver real value.”

John Lewis agrees and as Barry Matheson , Director of Retail Services at John Lewis comments, “We are delighted to have our customer service contact centre recognised for its excellence in supporting our customers Electrical Home Technology after sales enquiries. This clearly demonstrates the strength of our outsourcing partnership with Sitel, and that it works incredibly well.”

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