Dan Smith of Retail Assist believes that, in a retail world built on technical environments that are multi-faceted, multi-channel and increasingly complex, a Store Systems Help Desk remains one of the most valuable parts of the retail operation, despite trends of a reducing store estate for some retailers.
Even with the growing number of web ‘pure-play’ businesses and more retailers exploiting multiple channels – some even achieving the goal of omni-channel distribution where a consistent pan-channel experience is provided and the customer is able to ‘shop the brand’ rather than ‘shop the channel’ – bricks & mortars stores remain the dominant distribution channel for the majority of the UK’s retailers.
It would be a mistake to take the corporate ‘eye off the ball’ when it comes to Help Desk services to support front-line staff using store systems. With today’s empowered shopping culture, shoppers are even less willing than in the past to tolerate issues at point-of-sale or long queues. In fact, over a third of customers say that if they were met by a queue upon entering a store, they would make a quick exit, according to Displaysense, 2011. We live in a world that is so much in the thrall of technology that we assume everything should work,all the time and, with technological expansion leading to further instore reliance on new payment methods via mobile devices, the range of requests from store staff for help is set to become larger than ever.
The commercial pressures fuelling the drive towards longer trading hours and the need to be constantly fully-functional create a resource challenge that some retailers fail to address. Not surprisingly, they struggle to balance support staff availability with trading flow and budget constraints, and can face issues when attempting to work internationally.
Extended opening hours help to avoid a ‘9-6’ Help Desk leaving store staff stranded with a till malfunction or a late evening cashing-up problem, with many retailers supplementing in-house teams with outsourced resources that work 24/7. These outsourced team members have specialist skills, spanning multiple systems and environments. Because of their shared service model they can be very cost-effective and, with the addition of language specialists, are able to converse with a wider audience. Certainly, for operations such as Out-of-Hours support, to cope with seasonal peaks such as sale time or Christmas, even 24 hour trading, a third-party Help Desk supplier is invariably the most practical and viable option.
There’s no doubt that a good Help Desk is a critical contributor to store performance. As such, in today’s retail world, it is a valuable area worthy of sensible investment, appropriate resourcing and regular measurement. Well-run Help Desks will make money through greater up-time on tills, preventing loss of revenue and also proactively saving money through analysis of where costs are being incurred. Their knowledge of the performance of other suppliers, for comms, till maintenance and POS software and ability to co-ordinate these suppliers also ensures that the retailer is getting the service they deserve from all parties.
Improved systems availability, increased user productivity, reduced overall service cost and greater accountability for problem resolution are all benefits to be expected of a well-resourced Help Desk function sitting at the heart of the business. User satisfaction, indicated by a level of staff comfort, reduced call volumes and the elimination of recurring problems, all prove that a Help Desk is contributing towards operational efficiency, and toward the organisation as a whole as valuable knowledge is transferred to store staff.
Whilst the new omni-channel shopper may complete his or her purchases through non- face-to-face contact, such as via the internet or smartphones, it would be wise not to underestimate the importance of the store as a product showcase and research space. Store staff need to be able to quickly check details and availability at a fixed point-of-sale or service desk, or by using handheld devices or internet-enabled devices throughout the store. Where the contrary scenario takes place, where shoppers do their research online but make their purchases instore, that point-of- service must run faultlessly.
Dan Smith is Chief Executive Officer - Managed Services at retail-only solutions and service provider, Retail Assist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.