‘The customer is king’ is a long accepted truism in retail. Everything retailers do revolves around the customer.

‘The customer is king’ is a long accepted truism in retail. Everything retailers do revolves around the customer. As a partner, we help retailers do two things:  provide that all important excellent customer service; and run the most efficient operation which frees your most valuable resource – your people – to focus on serving customers.

Technology can help with either of these, but they’re not mutually exclusive. In fact concentrating too much on the customer experience can have a detrimental effect on the operational aspects – leading, ironically, to an inability to meet customer demands.

So what if retailers ignored their customers for a moment? Not a popular approach in retail, I’ll admit, but hear me out…

In the technology sphere, the focus on improving customer service has recently taken the form of providing a more engaging in-store experience, with all the benefits of the web thrown in – no queues, full range available, instant reviews and recommendations and multiple delivery options. Meeting these expectations isn’t easy. It’s a real challenge for staff to keep up if they’re not given the right tools for the job and without a solid, integrated foundation you could see the whole kingdom come tumbling down.

To put this in context, on a recent Saturday morning pilgrimage to the DIY section in search of paint, I was on the verge of impulse buying a new gazebo (I know what you’re thinking and yes the weekends do just fly by!). When the sales advisor checked the stock for me he happily informed me that there were two in stock. Barcode scanned on the display, fast search on the stock and a positive result. So far so good. But it wasn’t on the rack the system pointed us to, nor could it be located elsewhere in the store or the warehouse. Result? A frustrated member of staff who now doesn’t trust the technology, and a sale lost – my appetite for garden furniture having now receded.

That’s why retailers occasionally have the right to be a bit more selfish; looking after themselves ultimately helps take care of customers better. Because getting it right behind the scenes – making the systems and processes smoother and easier for everyone – frees up and empowers resources on the shop floor, which in turn will help create that perfect customer experience.

Almost any efficiency or process improvement you make will impact your customers’ experience. In-store mobility, for example, to enable store staff carry out day-today tasks out like checking for stock without leaving the sales floor, means more customer-facing time.

Similarly, enabling store managers to pick up daily communications on a mobile device gets them out of the office and onto the shop floor. At the same time, you’re saving on printing and distribution plus making it easier to allocate information directly to the right people rather than depending on a manager to act as the postman. This puts managers back on the sales floor where they want to be, rather than isolated from colleagues and customers. Mobile devices in particular liberate activities (which previously were tied to a PC in the back office) to be carried out in the store where they’re often more effective.

Of course changing the way you work isn’t easy – and you have to be confident that any new technology is going to intervene in your current business processes in a positive way. In the case of my DIY experience, if the stock had been recorded from the display rather than on what was reported to have been delivered the experience would have been very different.

With so many mission critical processes tied to technology, you can be selfish – get someone else to do the worrying about networks, systems, hardware, software and devices; you should just have to turn up and get on with the real work of retailing. Which brings us back to customers…