Webhelp’s Managing Director (Retail), Mark Guest, discusses  the current challenges faced by retail customer experience and operations leaders - and the opportunities they present.

My appointment earlier this year as managing director for the retail sector here at Webhelp UK coincided with what is hopefully a successful transition towards living with the current pandemic.  As a result, I’ve been able to travel around the UK and spend time with retail customer experience and operations leaders to understand the challenges they face, and the opportunities these challenges present, as they support their businesses to navigate through another year of disruption, changes and pressures.  

Take customer confidence, which remains fragile at best.  The Office for National Statistics reported a 1.4% monthly decline in retail sales in March, something that is continually referenced in my conversations with retail leaders – concerns about inflation and the subsequent impact on supply chain, product price and ultimately consumer confidence are commonplace. 

Attracting and retaining employees is another prevalent theme, our own research with CX leaders across multiple sectors supports this view where 72% of those surveyed cited managing staff attrition as challenging with a further 27% expecting this to become more challenging in the future. 

Interestingly, in spite of supply chain management seldom being more complex, consumer confidence remaining fragile, staffing issues continuing and ethical and sustainability considerations becoming more prevalent, the customer expectation, be it online or in-store, remains incredibly high. 

It’s clear that retailers need support in managing this proliferation of challenges.  Customer loyalty is at stake, better cost management is required and revenue is on the line – in our view it’s the brands who deliver high quality, digital-led and human centric customer experiences that will best navigate this latest round of challenges. 

In this article I’ve listed out three of the most common challenges discussed, and potential next steps to resolving them. 

Successful transformation is within reach 

There’s a number of different factors that contribute to a successful transformation programme, including the digital customer experience, the in-store experience and online self-service, alongside the channel strategy that supports the customer journey, all of which need to be considered in the wider context of balancing the human with the digital. 

And in terms of timing, it’s seldom been more important to think about transformation.  In our research with CX leaders across multiple sectors, digital transformation was a common theme with 92% telling us they plan to transform their customer operations in the next 12 months. 

Thinking specifically within the retail sector, our work with The Very Group to design, deliver and continually evolve their transformation programme saw dramatic improvements in advocacy, loyalty and revenue and acts as a good example of what’s possible in a large-scale transformation project.

Flexibility is key to supporting your customers and your people 

With 90% of CX leaders believing it is important to quickly flex and scale their operations in response to customer demand, the availability of flexible demand solutions is growing in importance. 

The trigger here could be planned peak retail events such as one-off sales, the festive period or Black Friday or unplanned through staff attrition or recruitment challenges. 

The ability to access flexible demand solutions, where BPO providers rapidly deploy teams to meet short-term spikes in customer activity, offers a cost-effective solution to customer demand-related challenges whilst ensuring a positive customer experience throughout. 

From a people perspective, we help clients with the flexibility challenge, supporting our people to work from wherever they are and however they want to work.  This delivers an always-on, cost-effective solution, customisable across multiple geographies and languages, and with access to specialist skills as required – combining to offer a solution capable of meeting short and long-term customer operation demands. 

There’s a demand for highly specialised customer journey supporting services 

Retailers have a real desire to focus on what they do best – selling their brand and products to their customers.  The growth in the digital customer has presented a challenge here; there’s the explosion of data available and how to harness this, there’s increasing regulatory and security pressures, and there’s the management of often multiple digital and e-commerce platforms. 

Innovative BPOs can support retailers to utilise the wealth of data available from front-line, real-time customer interactions and turn this into actionable insights aimed at delivering transformative, personalised and innovative customer experiences, while digital content services through a combination of dedicated content managers and AI solutions can enable brands to serve the right products to the customer at the right time via their online platforms. 

I’m looking forward to a busy second half of the year talking to retail leaders about opportunities within their business and how the team here at Webhelp can support them.  Whether it’s taking the next step on a digital transformation journey, supporting with resourcing challenges or delivering game-changing, innovative data and analytics projects, there are lots of opportunities for brands to enhance their customer experience in spite of the challenging landscape through which we’re all currently navigating. 

Mark Guest

Managing Director (Retail) 

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