Embracing the Ever-Changing Role of Technology in Retail Customer Service


Customer service used to be as simple as answering phone calls and being friendly and helpful to customers. Now, technology has changed the ways all businesses operate, including how customer service is handled. According to a McKinsey Global Institute’s study, automation may take up to 70 million jobs by 2030. Therefore, nearly a third of the American workforce could face the need to pick up new skills or enter different fields in the near future.

In particular, the retail industry has undergone a transformation fueled by AI, chatbots and social media, resulting in heightened customer convenience and the expectation for 24/7 customer service support. As a result, the ways in which retail organizations offer customer service is changing. Now chatbots can answer easier questions like “why isn’t my coupon code working?” and customers can use self-service tools to see real-time order updates.

However, just because technology can tailor business processes to better serve their customers, doesn’t mean customer service representatives are out of the job; it just means their jobs are changing. With this newfound complexity comes issues that require a higher-touch approach and customer service representatives that must be well-trained in resolving more difficult problems. Here’s what retail customer service managers should be doing to help their representatives adapt:

Train Them Effectively

When new technologies and systems are adopted, customer service representatives need to be effectively trained. But this doesn’t mean just handing them a manual every time something changes; it means providing dedicated training to make sure they actually understand the technology’s impact, and how their roles are expected to change as a result. Representatives need to understand the workflow with hand-offs between automated assistants and/or chatbots over to them; likely, because an issue arose that was too complex or the customer became frustrated. Representatives must understand not just the process of getting the information so they can address the problem at hand, but also react accordingly to a more complicated situation.

Besides technology trainings, representatives need to be trained any time a promotion is being advertised online and be closely aligned with marketing teams. For example, if a Facebook ad featuring a promo code is not working for a customer, the representative needs to be told about the ad and trained properly on how to solve the problem.

Hire the People That Can Take on the Job Now

Part of the puzzle is training current employees and the other part is hiring for this evolving role. Managers need to screen for softer skills to ensure new hires can manage an increasingly complex job. Representatives need to be more understanding and resilient as they will encounter more customers that are demanding and have more complicated problems. They must be able to bounce back quickly after a tough call. Managers should start by asking the right questions in the interview, like retail-specific customer service scenario questions, have candidates take a personality test and share past examples of when and how they solved a difficult problem. Additionally, they should be hiring representatives with previous technology knowledge. Organizations can do this by asking more technology-related questions in the interviews and not just customer service-based questions. With technology, things are always changing, which means representatives must be nimble. They also have to be quick learners who are able to maneuver technology, adjust to new software upgrades, and also proactive enough to flag a technology glitch when something appears off.

Candidates that can do it all— social media, email, chat and voice— will excel the best in retail customer service because they are able to serve the same customer across various channels. Each channel requires a different skill set. For example, representatives that work on chat and email must have polished writing skills and understand how their tone might come across differently through digital channels, compared to the phone.  Retailers are also able to deploy representatives flexibly to deal with seasonal peaks in customer service, like holidays and big sales.

Technology is changing the retail customer service environment and managers and representatives will need to embrace the technology and change with it. With the right mindset, skillset and training, it shouldn’t be an uncomfortable process. Representatives serve as the perfect complement to technology, which can result in more effectively helping customers to deliver a better overall experience.

-Fara Haron, CEO of CRM Solutions, Arvato North America and Philippines

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