Retail's Killer App

By Tony Storr

Learn more about IBM Services for Enterprise Application 

Which mobile app has the biggest impact on your customers? It might just be the one used by your customer-facing employees.

The in-store experience has long been a differentiating factor for retailers. In fact, for 90% of the industry's history, some might say it was the only the differentiating factor. However, in today's connected era of online interactions and hyper-competitive Black Friday sales, stores can win or lose a customer with a single click.

But there's more to this scenario than might be obvious at first glance. That's because, even today, as well as into the foreseeable future, the human factor remains strong in delivering to the customer. And just as in the in-store experience, employees behind the chats and other online delivery experiences can make all the difference to attract and retain customers.

The Value of Relationships

Smart CMOs strive to embrace new techniques and technologies to ensure that the customer agenda is at the forefront of enterprise mobile app design. But to miss the human element is to leave the most important factor behind.

No matter how sophisticated the technology behind the apps customers use, the huge variations in customer experience across major retail segments come down to interactions with people. Whether a given enterprise refers to the people who use its products and services as consumers, clients, passengers, patients, citizens or fans, the major difference between satisfaction and business that goes elsewhere comes down to human engagement. And that comes down to an organization's ability to empower and inform its employees so they can better serve customers.

Simply put, even though CMOs have long focused on direct customer engagement through digital channels, relationships break down at any stage if an employee knows less than the customer, or simply lacks the authority to add value.

It's not always the fault of the employee. Employees are frequently frustrated by the lack of information or facilities that enable them to deliver a better experience. We don't solve the problem by deploying ever-more functional apps to customers and prescribing a rigid set of behaviors for employees. Instead, employees need new training and tools. That includes apps designed specifically for their role, to automate away mundane administration and provide relevant information when it's needed.

Results through Technology and People

Tools empowering customer-facing employees include apps powered by IBM's MobileFirst for iOS. The platform has been empowering employees since 2014. And now, new techniques, technology, and device capabilities are supercharging these apps with augmented senses as well as data and artificial intelligence employees need to respond in the moment. It's all in the service of giving employees more time to spend with customers, patients, investors, and others.

For example, one large US airline describes these apps as “untethering its associates to mingle and focus on travelers. By empowering frontline employees to deal with issues in context, the carrier has experienced a four-fold increase in customer satisfaction.

In Europe, another airline has delighted their cabin crew with an app that enhances in-flight service on short haul flights. This single app fixes all the issues that previously prevented flight attendants from reaching the back of the plane when needed. The issue had previously frustrated passengers in higher number seats.

Retailers on both sides of the Atlantic are also achieving greater customer satisfaction by replacing multiple apps with a single interface. Such an approach enables, for example, store associates to stay on the shop floor with customers rather than disappearing to check stock, delivery dates, availability in other stores, and other information needed to complete sales. The result is staff, and consequently customers, who are more empowered, informed, engaged, and happier.

So this season, think not only about your digital channels but also of the people your customers may engage. Both groups will thank you, and so will your shareholders.

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