Customer Service Is King


Customer service is getting its due, as more and more retailers are betting on enhanced experience and improved productivity to drive top-line sales. According to a recent benchmark survey, “The State of Retail Workforce Management,” conducted by Retail Systems Research (RSR) and sponsored by workforce-management-solution provider Kronos, Chelmsford, Mass., retailers have realized that today’s customers demand quality, convenience and personalized service over price.

Seventy-eight percent of the 160 global retail responders said that quality and consistency of customer service, and driving store sales, are the top business issues they are looking to improve through work-force-management technology.

John Anderson, global practice leader of retail at Kronos, said that this new survey may well signal the end of the low-price model in retail. “Retailers have traditionally competed somewhat on product selection and mostly on price, using deep-discounting strategies to increase store traffic,” Anderson said. Yet, he continued, mounting competition from other retailers as well as e-commerce channels are forcing retailers to abandon strategies that focus exclusively on product selection and price and, instead, focus on customer service and the in-store experience.

“The customer experience in a retail environment is highly dependent on the quality of the retailer’s work force, and the way that work force is managed,” said Anderson. While, in previous years, retailers sought ways to remove labor costs from the business, today’s merchants are emphasizing putting labor back into stores—by either maximizing the effectiveness of labor or adding employees.

Survey results showed that 66% of respondents offer “high touch” customer service, and 78% said their work force has become more important as a customer-service strategy over the last three years. Just 2% admitted that their work force has become less important.

“The work force has long been thought of as the retailer’s largest controllable expense,” said Anderson, “and it is now being regarded as the retailer’s most strategic asset. The work force is the primary interface between the retailer and the marketplace, and the work force enables the retailer to deliver on its brand promise.”

Survey respondents avowed high standards for managing their work forces—61% said they saw effective workforce management as key to driving customer satisfaction; 55% said workforce management provided the opportunity to increase sales; 44% felt it would improve employee productivity; and 37% saw workforce management as a way to reduce labor costs.

The research, however, found no clear pattern when analyzing the anticipated value from improving work-force quality. Forty-three percent of respondents felt that work-force quality improvements would result in increased opportunities for personal development and training; 42% said it would lead to more effective planning of work-force needs; and 36% believed improving work-force quality would result in better monitoring of employee progress, development and performance.

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