Originally published on Retail Technology Review.com, 31 October, 2017

Retailers must empower staff with tech in the same way they do customers

By Alan Johnson, General Manager UK&I at Fruition Partners

Often, tech is the only thing that really differentiates one business from another, so it’s clear to see why retailers place such importance on empowering consumers any way they can.

Whether it’s click and collect, online shopping, next day delivery or improved in-store experiences, there’s constant one-upmanship. As a result, there’s considerable pressure on IT support functions that must deliver excellent customer experiences, whilst providing staff on the frontline with the information and tools that they need. At the same time, IT still needs to manage support for multichannel retailing and the back-office systems. To do all of this, IT Service Management (ITSM) is critical – and the support team is under pressure to ensure that it’s seen as an enabler rather than a roadblock.

It’s not just about the customer when it comes to retail

Many retailers can make a simple but costly mistake when it comes to IT; investing in the best systems to service customers, but often leaving the back office in the lurch. As such, one profitable route to achieving the status of an ‘enabler’, is for retailers to realise that the same self-service concepts they use to meet their customers’ demands can be translated into better IT service delivery internally. What staff experience when they are at home ordering from Amazon or streaming films on Netflix, they want to experience at work.

In store and back-office environments, IT support needs generally to fall into one of three categories; wanting something fixed, wanting another kind of help or wanting something new. It’s entirely reasonable for a staff member to ask themselves, ‘If I can do this online via self-service in my personal life, why can’t I do this at work?’ Unfortunately, in many organisations, coming back into work often feels like re-entering the IT dark ages. In the world of IT service management, email is still clinging on as the primary tool of communication between IT and their users (both internal and external), followed closely by costly and often-frustrating telephone support lines.

The portal to simplicity

Self-service technology can be one way that retailers enable better IT support – by offering self-service via online portals to enable staff. The technology to do this is robust; staff can use a portal to find information, log and track requests, order equipment and receive support via online chatrooms or message boards. Employees find they get better service internally and IT support staff are freed up to focus on other issues. And there’s no need to stop this innovation at IT; the same portal can help employees to access other internal services such as HR, finance and facilities.

A route to success

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the change required, or in-fact know which process to go through to put in place such a system. As such, for an organisation contemplating the self-service route, we have put together the key steps to be considered:

  • Plan before beginning – To ensure success, retailers should only plan to put in place systems that avoid spinning wheels and prolonged development, and that deliver results quickly. The quicker staff see benefits, the quicker they will buy-into the services being offered.
  • Make a usable portal – Make the portal easy and efficient to use, applying the same standards that you would for a customer-facing retail self-service experience.
  • Support all devices – Ensuring the portal experience is consistent and seamless across all supported devices and locations is vital to make the systems effective.
  • Scalability is key – Managing content growth and change dynamically is vital to keep the system running smoothly, retailers shouldn’t need a web developer for maintenance.
  • Upgradable for best performance – Choose a platform that offers frequent and low-risk upgrades, and check that the provider listens proactively to your requests for change.

Technology has enabled the retail industry to change its business model to meet increasingly high consumer demands. The next step in this process is to use technology to change the game in also meeting employee demands for better, faster, slicker support and service. In the process, retailers should expect to save costs, improve staff satisfaction, and free up the IT team to focus on how technology can enable the business to meet customer and employee expectations of the future.