It’s 2022 and everything, including the way we shop, is hybrid. The 2022 Shopper Experience Index shows that almost two-thirds of consumers have embraced hybrid shopping permanently. Customers are shopping in person for products they’ve likely already researched online. Thus, the experience customers have when they go to a store needs to be as seamless, straightforward, and easy as it is when they browse the website.
Given that so much of a store’s operations, from point of sale (POS) to back-room service to employee management, requires technology, ensuring it’s all working properly is key to keeping customers happy. Retailers need to think differently about IT service and ensure that they’re anticipating and preventing digital roadblocks before they reach the customer, and that their technology teams are set up to do their best work.
Traditional Approaches to Service
Eighty percent of customers say that they’ve switched brands due to a poor experience. That means just one malfunctioning POS system or an incorrectly catalogued item can be disastrous for a retail store’s reputation. Traditionally, regional or contract IT teams manage tickets as they come in from employees, troubleshooting and scheduling service as available. But in the meantime, at least one customer has already been negatively impacted, with more likely on the way.
Rather than using a break-fix model, some organizations have moved to cycle-based maintenance to avoid negative experiences. This is typically more effective for equipment uptime, but it can result in performing unnecessary maintenance and actually adding to downtime.
Proactive monitoring and automation to maintain the technology and infrastructure at a store is the only approach that will help retailers get this right every time without ballooning costs.
Enabling Proactive Service Through Automation
Automated digital solutions open the door for organizations to deliver accurate, proactive service and preventive maintenance. These tools can measure the performance of technology like POS systems and trigger maintenance when they start to perform sub-optimally, but before they break down and impact employees and customers. Artificial intelligence- and machine learning-enabled digital solutions can also give companies the ability to predict problems before they happen, helping organizations reduce, or even eliminate, certain types of downtime.
One approach retailers can take to automate proactive service is setting up their systems to automatically generate an incident ticket for the helpdesk if a piece of equipment stops responding to the server. As a next step, the helpdesk can attempt to resolve the issue remotely. If unable to do so, they can then set up an appointment for a technician to make an on-site service visit.
Taking this a step further, another option to improve service is to use automated digital solutions in combination with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. With IoT and machine learning, anomalies can be detected and documented. In addition, data from IoT devices or wireless access points can be analyzed to create plans that are personalized to the device. It’s this type of highly personalized field service that will make the most notable impact on a company’s bottom line when it comes to cost efficiencies and service.
Proactive Service in Action
Lowe’s IT leadership quickly recognized that the break-fix model kept store technology from performing as well as it could. To solve the issue, Lowe’s created an entirely new organization called IT Field Services, with dedicated regional field service managers and a senior manager to oversee the program from a strategic level. Lowe’s armed its staff with digital solutions that technicians and store employees could manage via mobile, making it easier than ever to report problems, document maintenance, and to connect to and manage the integrated systems used to monitor the health of in-store technology. Beyond more seamless maintenance of in-store technology, one of the most notable outcomes for Lowe’s was great experiences for both customers and technicians.
Taking a proactive approach to service has exponential benefits for today’s retailer navigating heightened customer expectations in a hybrid world. Beyond delivering on customer wants and needs, it can reduce resolution time, drive operational excellence, improve service margins, and reduce the cost-of-service delivery. When every customer experience is so critical, proactive service powered by automation is a must have for retailers to win in 2022.
Bulent Cinarkaya is the ServiceNow vice president and general manager of field service management.
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