Has customer service become a luxury item?

New research has revealed a surge in consumer self-confidence and willingness to share personal information in return for concierge-level service in-store. Gavin Mee, area vice president for enterprise, UKI at Salesforce, discusses the findings and the opportunity for forward-thinking retailers

Today’s online retail market is positively bursting at the seams and, with the internet displaying its own ‘must-have’ range of product information and price comparison sites, consumers nowadays are better informed and more empowered than ever before. And it’s not just online: customers are enjoying supremacy on the High Street too where their expectations for quality service are sky-high.

According to new consumer research from Salesforce UK*, delivering ‘insight’ and ‘boundless levels of customer care’ can no longer be the exclusive preserve (and the USP) of super high-end and luxury brands. The everyday High Street shopper wants to feel special too. More than one in three men and more than one in five women, for example, would like the shops they enter to know exactly who they are when they walk in because of location-based technologies such as iBeacons. What’s more, nearly one-third now expect the shops they visit to know what prior online research they’ve done on the retailers’ websites – including their wish lists, any abandoned carts, and their related social media activity – so they can receive better service. In addition, 39 per cent of High Street shoppers would even be willing to share data around their personal preferences with a retailer to receive faster and more convenient service in-store.

These figures show that the concept of shopping is going through a transformation – consumers now seek a unique, tailor-made service that retailers can only truly achieve by blending the online and in-store experience. The Chapar, a personal styling service for men, is a shining example of a retail brand that is using technology, and specifically Sales Cloud, to turn this trend into competitive advantage. Customers sign up online, receive a consultation and are sent a ‘trunk’ of clothes that match their preferences. They keep what they like and return, free of charge, what they don’t. Each time an order is made, preferences are fine-tuned and the offer becomes more personalised and sophisticated. And it seems the business model is a perfect fit for consumers: the company has seen its ‘trunk’ retention rate increase by 25 per cent since it was founded in 2012, and the customer base is doubling every three months.

And when in-store, consumers are looking for shop assistants to play a surprisingly important part. The vast majority of people (81 per cent) still rely on store associates for their opinion on a product before purchasing, and that may come as a surprise. The difference is, however, that they now expect an informed answer based on their past experiences both in-store and online. Despite the still very new idea that a shop assistant could pull up a shopping history or recent product searches on a tablet to help a customer make a purchase – this is now the expectation of almost a third of consumers.

But they need to smarten up their act. According to the research, only seven per cent of people have had a sales assistant offer a recommendation or deal based on their purchase history in-store or online research. And 47 per cent and more than a third of women, say they typically know more about the products on offer than the associate. What’s more, 38 per cent say they’re typically better informed on the deals, offers and promotions available. Retail outlets now need to prepare themselves to meet these expectations – and technology will play a big part. In fact, 43 per cent would be more likely to shop at a certain retailer based on the technology that the store associates use to assist customers.

So where do retailers go from here? Merging in-store and online interactions will help to build the foundations for a more joined up experience and a lasting relationship. By giving store assistants access to all the information they could possibly need at their fingertips – via CRM apps on mobile devices – they can build relationships with customers as soon as they walk in the door, connecting to their order history and personal preferences, and tracking all customer information and interactions in one place. What’s more, having this panoramic view of the customer will open up new and lucrative sales opportunities for retailers, and help them to banish bad habits: 19 per cent of consumers, for example, said they’ve had a Groupon or gift card expire while there’s still money on it, and 14 per cent have purchased an item in-store and then later received an offer from the same store for the same item via another channel. It is instances like these that undoubtedly put repeat sales at risk.

Technology – both in-store and online – has the power to transform retailers’ relationships with customers. Retailers today must take advantage of consumer appetite for tech-enabled in-store experiences and, at the same time, use the data they can glean from consumer enthusiasm for online shopping to merge the two worlds to build deeper, more personal customer connections.

*This survey was conducted online within the UK by Harris Poll on behalf of Salesforce from 31 October - 2 November 2015 among 1,025 adults ages 18 and older, among which 1,012 shop in stores.

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