There are countless vendors, analysts, and pundits talking up the concept that we are in the age of the customer. In a lot of ways this is true, but the same technology and social trends that have enabled the customer age are in essence really about individual empowerment.
Think about it, we as individuals can have more of an impact in our world than ever before. So many times, a single action, speech, complaint, etc. – which would have been lost among the crowd years ago – has shined the light on social wrongs, changed global consciousness, and in our industry, wreaked havoc on major brands’ marketing departments.
For the past several years, much of the development and attention around this individual empowerment has been focused on customers. The notion of more empowered, educated and connected customers sent shockwaves through both the B2B and B2C universe. And companies (especially B2C brands) bent over backwards to quickly address customers across social and mobile platforms.
And it was right to do so. Customers are individuals, and we should try our best to provide relevant messages, personalized service, etc., as much as possible.
But what about employees – namely, those that touch the customer on a daily basis? What tools have they really been given? As the front line to customer perceptions for many B2C brands, the in-store sales clerk seems to be the lowest on the corporate food chain for a B2C company. Low pay, little recognition, little room for advancement – and usually few tools to actually do the job well.
Some recent survey results from Forrester’s (News - Alert) Business Technographics Application and Collaboration Workforce Survey, Q4 2013, shed light on the growing need and desire among retail workers to have access to CRM and other empowering tools via tablets or similar devices. According to the research, 44 percent of information workers in retail sales engage with more than 25 people per week. But, while many (nearly 96 percent) may touch the CRM, only 18 percent use tablets as part of their jobs.
But, what if we flipped this value chain? No, I am not saying we should pay in-store part time help like CEOs. But rather, I am advocating equipping front-line customer-facing brand reps with better, modern tools to actually engage more effectively anytime/anywhere (and yes, that means not just while working in store).
The CRM tools of yesterday did not fit well into B2C usage paradigms. They were clunky, unwieldy, expensive tools that could potentially capture data from a point of sale – but not be used as a tool to better equip the employee with information and guidance at the point of interaction. But that is changing.
Today, it is more than possible to make a tablet PC available to every single in-store employee, for example. And, even in B2B scenarios, BYOD and other initiatives should allow business to give its outside sales reps highly usable, effective CRM tools accessed via tablets.
The cost to build these kinds of systems is a fraction of what this type of initiative would have cost five or 10 years ago, that is, if you leverage the right components. But, apart from the massive reduction in hardware and software costs we’ve seen – it simply makes sense to empower the front line. Look at the military – their lowest paid soldiers are often behind the wheel of multi-million dollar tanks, and utilizing fantastic technology as part of their jobs. Why should retail be any different?
All in all, today’s uber-competitive B2C marketplace means brands must differentiate in new ways. Competing on price isn’t going to cut it – brands need to create unique experiences, and be consistent in providing them. By equipping every front-line associate with proper tools, data, and policies that empower them to make a difference – the results can be something really special.
Edited by Adam Brandt