Meet the customer assistant of the future

The role of the customer assistant is changing dramatically. Gone are the days when they only needed a winning smile, excellent customer service and the ability to operate a low-tech till to satisfy customer needs.

Nowadays, with bricks and mortar stores embracing new technology in order to compete with online outlets, digital skills are becoming increasingly critical for the customer assistant. From in-store connectivity to iPads, loyalty apps and self-service tills, technology and the infrastructure to support it is vital for creating the right in-store experience to attract and retain customers. But to what extent is this being exploited, and how is the role of the customer assistant changing as a result?

Many retailers are already reaping the benefits that in-store technology offers, and particularly the opportunities that connectivity can bring. According to our recent research on in-store connectivity, typical customer behaviour on mobile devices in-store includes; checking prices (49 per cent), researching products (44 per cent) and looking at reviews (35 per cent). By providing customers the opportunity to access this information via their smartphone or iPad, they’re able to make an informed purchase decision, with the added convenience of buying there and then.

Connectivity also enables social media engagement, bringing further positive benefits to retailers. Enabling and encouraging customers to check in, share and seek the opinions of others online can certainly pay off – giving people the social proof and validation they need to make a purchase as well as building invaluable advocacy for the business. Additionally, in-store connectivity opens up a wealth of other opportunities to engage customers in new ways and enhance their experience – from serving video advertising pre-WiFi login to enriching the in-store experience with mobile services, such as loyalty apps.

"Retail skills need to advance beyond friendly customer service."

In order to best exploit these new technologies however, retail skills need to advance beyond friendly customer service. Consumers are now bringing all manner of technologies into the retail space, customer assistants will at least need to be familiar with using the same devices including smartphones, iPads and ‘phablets.’ With consumers now eager to connect at every opportunity, assistants will need the know-how to show customers how they can use the WiFi services available, as well as the ability to manage any connectivity issues that may arise. If a customer is using your app while in-store, are your assistants familiar with the functionality?

As well as managing the opportunities, customer assistants must also manage the threats that technology can sometimes bring to traditional retail. For example, while shoppers still loathe to let go of the tactile shopping experience high street stores offer, they are often simply ‘showrooming’ trying goods in-store and then buying cheaper online. If assistants are prepared to spot and manage this phenomenon, they can intervene at this point, saving the sale by offering price matching or in-store discounts.

In the future, connectivity will become increasingly central to the in-store experience, as retailers learn how they can exploit the opportunities it brings. Online retailers know everything about their customers however High Street retailers traditionally know nothing. Loyalty programmes will advance and customer assistants will be expected to manage more complex, cloud-based CRM systems. Beyond the point of sale (POS), even less ‘techy’ areas of the retail space such as fitting rooms could see a technological revamp, with interactive mirrors and augmented reality allowing consumers to ‘selfie’ their way through the shopping experience.

"Digital skills will soon be a prerequisite for any customer assistant position."

It’s clear that as retailers continue to embrace technology to get closer to customers and enrich the in-store experience, the role of the assistant is rapidly evolving. With customers increasingly demanding support with self-service technology and expecting a more connected experience, digital skills will soon be a prerequisite for any customer assistant position and the traditional role will likely be no more.

Download our Wireless Nation Retail Perspective report for more insight.