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Tech Guest Viewpoint - Can I Trust You to Talk to My Customers?


By Jeff Seabloom, Alsbridge

At one time, IT service providers could demonstrate their retail industry expertise by showing a PowerPoint slide of customer logos. That’s no longer sufficient.

Traditional retail technologies and service requirements are being fundamentally redefined by digital commerce, mobility and autonomics. According to Forrester Research, in 2014 online and Web-influenced sales accounted for more than half (53%) of total retail sales. Mobile-based payments in the U.S., meanwhile, are currently about $50 billion and annually and are expected to almost triple by 2019.

To navigate this new frontier, retail enterprises increasingly rely on service providers who can apply technology to deliver individualized customer service, optimized supply chains and nimble inventory management systems. Smart shelves, omnichannel retailing and supply-chain-to-consumer integrations are becoming table stakes.

Finding the right service provider partner in this environment presents a challenge. The old school “one store at a time” approach to IT is a recipe for failure. Providers need to understand the idiosyncrasies and intricacies of point-of-sale, help desk machine-to-machine, kiosk and ERP technologies – and, equally important, how these technologies vary by sub-vertical.

Here are three questions to ask prospective vendors, and how their responses can help you determine if they make the grade.

- What work have you done in my industry? Not all retail is created equal. Shelf life and product life cycle management require fundamentally different capabilities. If a service provider tells you that grocery chain experience and fresh meat and produce on shelves is relevant to the inventory demands of teen fashion, be leery. Sub-vertical specialization and demonstrated expertise should be a prerequisite.

Can I trust you to talk to my customer? Service desk consolidation is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s complex retail environments. The reason is that omni-channel models mean more online, mobile and remote payments – and more opportunities for incidents to occur. A problem a customer has finding a product or paying a bill, moreover, is often caused by or related to an IT problem. As a result, if the agent who talks to IT staff also talks to external customers, you can often avoid solving the same problem twice. And if your provider’s service desk agents can address customer problems in a professional manner, and possibly do some upselling while they’re at it, you have a significant value add. If, on the other hand, they can’t get past bits and bytes, you don’t want them near the lifeblood of your business.

- What makes you qualified from a technology perspective to be a leader in retail? Leading providers in the retail space are today leveraging SMAC technologies to analyze consumer preferences based on shopping cart contents and to deliver individually targeted recommendations based on past purchases. For example, data and analytics are helping clients target ad campaigns by predicting buying behavior using factors like rainy weather (when people are more likely to call out for pizza). Can your provider be equally creative in creating a competitive advantage? Another key is to modernize and automate managed services delivery models and processes to meet the demands of retail. Beware the provider whose expertise is couched in technology terms – “we know cloud,” or “we’re SAP experts” – rather than retail-specific business issues.

In today’s highly competitive retail environment, relying solely on generic technology expertise presents a significant risk. Client expectations increasingly – and rightly – focus on high levels of service quality coupled with industry-specific provider knowledge and tailored offerings. Don’t settle for less.

Jeff Seabloom is managing director of Alsbridge

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