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Is Your Self-Service Ready for the Future?


By John Rossman, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal

By designing complex internal, cross-channel customer-facing processes from the customer’s viewpoint, retailers can create what I like to call “future-ready self-service.” What constitutes a customer self-service offering that is “future-ready”? Let’s take a closer look at a few key elements of a future-ready self-service strategy.

It’s All about Longitude

Most customers will approach the various channels your organization offers with a “lengthwise” view – they have a number of interactions over an extended period of time across multiple channels which they want to see all connected. Customers don’t care about the complexities of purchasing an item with their mobile phone and picking it up later that day at a local store. The difficulties of having transactional and inventory management systems immediately register a purchase made on a mobile device mean nothing to your customers. All the customer wants to know is that the service works and is a fluid, user-friendly experience.

Thus, retailers need to start viewing their omni-channel programs longitudinally. They need to design and implement customer-centric self-service transactional capabilities and solutions capable of delivering massive amounts of data at scale in a timely manner. Armed with this type of data delivery capability, retailers can realistically take the cross-channel approach their customers expect.

As is always the case with the implementation of new capabilities and IT systems, simply rolling out the latest and greatest technology will not solve all your problems. There are also leadership, policy and cultural issues that must be addressed.

Innovation is Not Incremental

Change at most retail organizations happens incrementally. Usually a grassroots initiative starts somewhere below the top leadership level and gradually makes it way to C-suite executives who ultimately decide if company-wide change will truly happen or not. You don’t have the time for that type of slow, incremental change when it comes to developing future-ready customer service.

Instead, future-ready customer service needs to happen NOW, thus requiring senior leadership to take the reins in executing the vision of future-ready self-service. Culturally, retailers will need to rapidly adjust their view of a transaction from their own goal of making a sale, to the customer goal of obtaining a product or service.

Meeting the Customer’s Goals

Stepping outside the retail realm for a moment, imagine how a customer views taking out a loan from a bank. While the bank’s goal is to execute a loan which will eventually return the original value of the loan plus interest, the customer’s goal is to receive funding. The best way to make the loan process more satisfying for the customer is not to simplify the loan application process, but to improve the entire experience of receiving funding.

Returning to retail, future-ready self-service is all about improving the entire experience of obtaining a product. Automating as many processes as possible is a big step toward this customer-centric goal. Rethink why a human being, whether a retail associate or the customer, is needed to touch or renew something involved in the process of obtaining products, such as entering a credit card number.

In addition, examine all the aspects of the customer experience in every channel. Site content, item descriptions, fulfillment, shipping, payment and returns are just as crucial to future-ready self-service as efficient cross-channel transaction execution. Can a customer check your inventory levels, both at local stores and at distribution centers, in real time? If not, they should be able to.

The Payoff

Of course, for the effort and expense involved in creating a future-ready self-service strategy to be worthwhile, the equation needs to include benefits beyond happier customers. Future-ready self-service delivers the “triple threat” of improved customer experience, decreased transactional cost and improved decision-cycle time. In practical terms, this means you are obtaining improved customer satisfaction as well as more frequent purchases and increased repeat visits and market basket sizes, all at a lower cost of doing business. In plain English, it means you are doing the right thing!

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