Taking a unified approach to comms

Taking a unified approach to comms

Mike Bielinski
Mike Bielinski

Mike Bielinski, CEO at Vodat International, argues that with growing expectation upon retailers to deliver a seamless cross channel experience, businesses must deliver a unified approach to communications and payments to enhance their offering.

It’s fast becoming accepted that customers want to interact across most if not all of a retailer’s channels. Likewise, customers want to be recognised, understood and rewarded across all these channels. Cross channel retailing is about seamlessly linking all of a retailer’s sales channels so they present the same face to the customer and provide a consistent experience.

According to a recent survey by Deloitte, consumers are demonstrating new shopping patterns linked to social, mobile and online tools. While one third of shoppers are purchasing more online compared with a year ago, the web has become an integral part of the in-store shopping experience as well, with 75% of consumers indicating that they look online for store, price or product information before or during their in-store shopping.


Changing behaviour

Consumers often begin their shopping experience via PCs and smartphones but invariably make their purchases through a store or a contact centre. Many shoppers are even likely to look up products in store via their smartphones. This shows how e-merchandising and m-commerce are becoming a must have tool for multi channel retailers.

The introduction of unified communication (UC) and unified payment solutions are key to helping multi channel retailers transform their processes and customer experiences into a homogeneous cross channel experience. 

So why is UC important and how do they fit into the cross channel experience? UC breaks down traditional communication barriers so that people using different communication types, different media and different devices can communicate to anyone, anywhere and at anytime.

The technology explosion has left many retailers operating disparate systems, which has resulted in many businesses failing to understand their customers’ wants and needs. Previously, customers may have spoken to a retailer over the phone and then visited the store. Now, customers engage with retailers via the internet, email, smartphones, through social networking channels as well as voice, but if these channels aren’t connected businesses can’t give customers the service they desire.


Taken for granted

The ability to communicate with your customers is often taken for granted. However, how many retailers can answer the question, how many calls to the stores, in particular, and head office do they miss on a daily basis?

The answer is very few can, unless they have a call centre handling all of their incoming calls. Missing those customer calls is likely to damage your brand. It could result in missed sales, turning a complaint into a happy customer, offering customers a different product or just delighting a customer with a great service experience.

In the UC environment these important customer interactions, however and wherever they are initiated, are all handled whether it be by voice, voicemail, email or web chat. Adopting a UC strategy means that businesses are able to meet all of the above scenarios and more. Furthermore, all calls are captured and answered, automatically distributed or recorded by the system.

A typically good UC solution will provide information on all of the interactions between the customer and the enterprise which will enable the business to perform better. Organisations will know that if they are missing a lot of calls at the first source that they may need to consider improving their staffing levels or look to change the back office support so calls can be answered at crucial times of the day.

Calls can be automatically distributed when staff are unable to answer in store or when the system instructs. The staff receiving the call elsewhere will be alerted to where that call is coming from and answer the call accordingly. For example: “Hello, XX store, Oxford, how can I help you?” And a customer can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.


Sharing knowledge

UC approach will also bring together information held within systems and improve how staff share knowledge. There are an increasing number of ways to interact with customers now whether it’s through the internet, email, smart phones and social networking channels.

E-merchandising presents a new way to increase revenues at the shopping basket. Here customers have the ability to communicate with staff via web chat or a call me button in response to special offers prompted by a number of factors. These could include: a customer’s previous purchases; the customer’s buying profile; or loyalty identity. All these can help to enhance the customer experience and increase the value of the shopping basket. This represents a significant opportunity for the online retailer to differentiate from the competition that is only a click away.

The emergence of mobile marketing has taken businesses directly to their customers’ pockets, whether it’s for digital tickets, vouchers and coupons. Here retailers have the opportunity to personalise material and make the information interactive. This is providing instant channels of communication and, on average, retailers are seeing a typical response rate of 25%. UC can deal with all of these issues to make for a better customer experience.

In essence, what a UC solution does for the multi channel retailer is turn the whole of the enterprise into a single call centre, making it easier for the retailer and its customers to communicate with each other as well as ensuring much improved communications within the retail enterprise. That means better customer service and better staff productivity.


Making payments secure

Alongside offering customers a truly cross channel experience, businesses are faced with the issue of managing their payments in this environment securely and efficiently. Retailers should be able to offer their customers a great cross channel experience.

However, store and online payments have proved difficult to cross reference, and until now it has been common to have entirely different systems and separate payment service providers. Now PCI brings its own restrictions and challenges to cross referencing.

It is also difficult, if not impossible, to purchase goods in one channel and redeem or refund in another. This can lead to customers getting frustrated and abandoning the shopping basket at that crucial point, which ultimately means lost sales.

However, there is an alternative; retailers can look to introduce a unified payment system into the business. This provides a single payment service for all channels and allows both online and in-store transactions to be cross referenced securely.


Making it easier

Importantly, this will allow retailers to purchase in one channel and redeem or refund in another. All this makes it easier for customers to make separate payment visits online and it provides a complete audit across channel and greater security. This way of ‘tokenising’ the transaction is entirely in line with PCI compliance.

With the volume and source of interactions between retailers and customers set to explode in the coming years, retailers need to look at introducing the right technology to support these real challenges. If they don’t they can bank on the fact that their competition will. UC and unified payment solutions will be key to the success of running the multi channel operations.

UC is essential to your ability to handle customers regardless of which channel they choose to shop with you via. This will help give customers a consistently good experience. Unified payments will give customers more flexibility and businesses more control on how payments are made, secured and audited across channels.

Together these will play an essential role in transforming a multi channel retail business into a true cross channel service for all customers.

Vodat International is a fast growing supplier of telecom solutions and private, managed networks to the UK retail market. http://www.vodat-int.com/

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