Retail staff need technology as slick as that on offer to customers

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By Paul Cash, Managing Director of Fruition Partners UK.

In today's retail world it's a given that technology is a vital enabler of competitive advantage with customers. Click and collect, multichannel shopping, next day delivery, improved in-store experience through developments such as beacon technology – the potential is huge and retailers are investing heavily as a consequence.

However, while investment focuses on improving customer-facing technologies, all too often this comes at the expense of the employee-facing back-end. This can place a huge strain on the IT support function as they seek to give customers the experience they expect, provide colleagues on the frontline with the information and tools that they need, and deliver support for multichannel retailing and the back-office. IT service management is thus critical to business performance, and the support team is under pressure to ensure that it's seen as an enabler rather than a roadblock.

Time for more 'consumerisation'

One profitable route to achieving this is for retailers to realise that the same self-service concepts that they use to meet their customers' demands can be translated into better IT service delivery internally. What staff experience when they are at home ordering from Amazon, paying their mobile bill or downloading films, they increasingly expect at work from a more 'consumerised' IT environment.

IT support needs generally fall into one of three categories: wanting something fixed, wanting another kind of help or wanting something new. A staff member is justified in asking "If I can do this online via self-service in my personal life, why can't I do this at work?"

And yet in far too many organisations coming into work often feels like re-entering the information dark ages. Email is still clinging on as the primary tool of communication between IT service providers and their customers (both internal and external), followed closely by costly and often-frustrating telephone support lines.

Help yourself

The alternative is to enable much greater levels of self-service via online portals. The technology to do this is robust and there are some pioneering retailers who are already reaping the rewards. Staff can use the portal to find information, log and track requests, order equipment and receive support. Users find they get a better service and IT support staff are freed up to focus on other issues. And there's no need to stop at IT; the same portal can help employees to access other internal services such as HR, finance and facilities, as well linking into other automated systems such as inventory management, purchasing, request fulfilment and shipping.

Travis Perkins plc is a good example, operating 17 businesses across more than 1,900 sites, Travis Perkins Plc is a main supplier to the UK's construction market. SolveIT, as the self-service solution is known at Travis Perkins, provides 24,000 users with the ability to both log IT incidents and enquire on progress whenever they want, with a clear view of when an incident will be resolved. They can also look up information to help them fix issues for themselves, and order hardware and software.

Seven magic words

For an organisation contemplating the self-service route, there are seven key words that may help in development:

  • Feasible - Bite off just the right amount to avoid spinning wheels and prolonged development, and deliver results quickly.
  • Usable - Make the portal easy and efficient to use, applying the same standards that you would for a retail self-service experience.
  • Mobile – Ensure the portal experience is consistent and seamless across all supported devices and locations.
  • Scalable – Manage content growth and change dynamically.
  • Upgradable – Choose a platform which offers frequent, seamless and low-risk upgrades.
  • Credible – Follow best practices and documented standards in development and configuration, and ensure code and architecture are simple and well organised.
  • Droolable – Make the portal user interface graphically excellent, competing with 'external' web design so that every visitor says, "Wow!"

Technology has enabled the retail industry to change its business model to meet consumer demand. Maybe it's now time to use technology to change the game in meeting internal customers' demands for better, faster, slicker support and service? And, in doing so, save costs, improve staff satisfaction, and free up the IT team to focus on how technology can enable the business to meet the next level of market challenge.

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