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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are you missing the Art of Customer Engagement?

The sales associate platform is what I called it a number of years ago. When we talk about specialty and department store retail there is a somewhat different customer engagement model than in many other segments like grocery, convenience and quick service. These segments are focused and heavily reliant on the customer engagement occurring on the floor. Putting mobile devices in the hands of store employees and using these devices to perform their jobs is in its infancy. What you hear retailers asking for most are mobile POS solutions. Being able to check out a customer at the point of service is the hot need justified by more engaged sales associates with customers. This is true but I don’t believe this alone will differentiate your business and drive increased visitation and spend by your customers. There are many other mobile functions being explored like clienteling, digital catalogs, personal wardrobes, inventory look-up, customer information and unique offers to name a few.

Traditionally retailers have always balked at giving sales associates computers of any kind other than the cash register because they would become distracted and would waste their time not doing their jobs and not servicing their customers. Email for a store employee was and probably is still a big no-no for most retailers.  The biggest problem I have seen with these mobile devices has not been employees misusing the devices, but rather not using them at all. Why you ask? Because it is uncomfortable, clumsy, not well thought out and in many cases does not help! These sales people know what will make customers light up if they are so motivated, educated and have well thought out tools.  This is where business process or the art of customer engagement meets technology. When a customer enters the store what exactly happens next? Do you say hello can I have your name or swipe a loyalty card? Then what, you start showing them things they should buy based on some “big data” program crunching numbers all night? You get the point. Educating and training your employees on how you service and delight your customers is the first thing you should do building a culture of great customer experience. Contrary to what I hear, these young sales associates are not lazy and dumb, just unmotivated. You must focus on your employees and measure their level of enthusiasm about what and how they do their job. You cannot buy your way out by automating everything.

If you are vested in the store experience, the customer engagement model and the employee enthusiasm you are then ready to exploit the tools which can differentiate and magnify your brand. This is where I believe the store associate platform can now be used. The idea of a store associate platform comes from the same basic concept of an office worker except the person is moving (mobile) and they are engaging with people. These sales associates want the information they need to do a great job. Having a set of tools you can draw on for whatever comes up is a great way to make your employees feel valuable and motivated.

These platforms are available now and many applications are being built to assist retailers with the in-store experience. Consider a role based device where now with a well thought out engagement process and training your employees can do much more than just take a payment. They can actually in real-time provide the customer with virtually everything they need to close the sale. The sales associate can now not just have information about the customer and products, but also access to payroll, training, tasks, corporate communications, those things that make the employee feel like an active participant in making the company successful not just collecting a paycheck.

Think about it, get outside help, and really look hard at what is happening in your stores.


  1. The art of customer engagement harkens back to the methods of interaction in the General Store and village hardware, where the owner (and eventually staff) treats the customer with respect, asks questions, listens, learns what the need is, and then finds, explains, and serves up the right part, product, etc. We can call it engagement, selling, service, putting the customer first--but it all boils down to the same thing--enabling the consumer to buy what, when and where they want.

    So when we talk about new engagement models, we should be discussing platforms that enable retailers and brands to engage users in varying ways that are suitable based on the user's needs and expectations with a customer experience optimized for both in-store and all channels.

    Retailers and brands can optimize this customer experience (#CEX) and engage the user on their terms via new solutions like #PoKos #CEM:

  2. Precisely! The goal is to have a relationship with your customers like the local general store owner, but to do it within a chain of stores. Thanks for your feedback and links Timo!