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Are your retail call centre and customer service systems ready for today’s consumer?

Retail customer experiences are shared more widely than ever before. The proliferation of smart phones and adoption of social networks has given consumers a much louder voice; customers can share their experiences on Twitter and Facebook, they can share within their own social network as well as a retailer’s social network, and with the retailer’s other customers.

With this level of transparency, failure to manage customer complaints and issues in a timely manner can damage a retailer’s brand at an unprecedented speed and scale, and have a negative impact on sales.

A retailer’s call centre and customer service applications need to evolve to manage this change in customer behaviour. Legacy, siloed applications and teams need to be joined up to service all customer communication methods in a well-planned order of priority. Communication silos can confuse and anger customers who see themselves dealing with a retailer or brand, not a communication channel.

Many retailers have historically under-invested in customer service technology. This, coupled with the massive change in customer communication habits over the past five years that shows no signs of stopping, is the key driver for technology change.

By updating customer service technology, retailers can improve customer experience and loyalty

A retailer that updates its technology to improve customer interaction stands to differentiate itself from slow moving competitors. Prompt communication with the customer through the preferred communications channel gives an improved customer experience, increases customer loyalty and reduces customer service costs. Perhaps the biggest win is the development of a single view of customer contact and purchase history, giving customer service agents key contextual information when managing a customer service issue.

John Lewis, for example, benefits from closer integration of order touch-points and customer service applications. Their integration of Salesforce with in-store returns and click and collect processes enables them to collect and consolidate customer information at key times; this customer service first approach gives John Lewis a competitive advantage by building rich customer data, increased visibility of the customer contact lifecycle and the ability to provide customer-centric reporting.

Retailers can learn from leaders in other consumer sectors. For example, KLM has invested heavily in social customer care in response to changing customer behaviour. Facebook and Twitter are now key customer service channels and a large dedicated team manages customer service issues 24/7, with issue response times published on these channels, increasing transparency and providing confidence to consumers.

A fit-for purpose customer service systems architecture needs to access, aggregate and present contextualised information from many different systems to the customer services agent

Action on customer contact through social channels should be almost immediate, and customer complaints dealt with in public social networks should be migrated to private messaging within the social network or another private communication method, such as email or phone, to reduce visibility of issues.

Customers need to be identified more quickly – Twitter and Facebook users need to be matched to their email, postal address and/or mobile device. Customer service agents need to be given this information in context during issue management activities to allow them to switch channel with the customer.

A customer service agent also needs access to up-to-date information in order to service requests quickly. They need seamless access to customer, order and contact history information so they can take action.

To achieve this, customer services architecture that enables integration into many different systems and aggregates information in a context aware way, is required. A modern architecture includes:

  • Mature customer identification methods – The architecture associates many customer identifiers with a single customer. Facebook and Twitter IDs are matched to email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses. Customers are identified in-store where their consent is given.
  • Single view of customer contact history – Contact history should not be siloed by channel and customer service agents and store staff should have access to previous and active cases, regardless of the communication method the customer has used. This information needs to be delivered in a sensitive, contextual way to advise on the next best action.
  • Flexible integration methods – Customer services systems in medium to large retailers integrate with legacy green screen systems, custom built web forms, ecommerce engines, payment and fraud engines and PoS systems to allow staff to take action without switching applications frequently. The customer services application needs to support this integration and deliver the integration flexibly and rapidly to reduce what could otherwise be an unacceptably large integration effort and cost.
  • Modern application packages – Many retailers’ customer service applications have suffered a lack of investment and may not support emerging channels, modern integration methods or data aggregation and strong data quality. These systems should be upgraded or replaced when appropriate.

The following diagram shows the many third party and back office system integration points that a customer services system requires to effectively communicate and aggregate data for customer service agents.

Integration into customer interaction methods is typically achieved through APIs or specialist software, such as VOIP and scanning software. Interaction with back office systems, that often include mainframe, ERP and best-of-breed packages, brings challenges.


Fig 1: Example high-level customer services centric view of systems architecture

In addition to the technology changes, cultural change may also be key to a retailer’s success – siloes that existed to manage social, phone, email and in-store communications need to be broken down, not just at a technical level, but at an administrative and management level, too.

FIND OUT MORE about Javelin Group’s Technology Consulting practice.