Catering to the needs and requirements of customers is the cornerstone of retaining customers in the retail industry, and keeping loyal customers is easier and more profitable than winning new ones. Lack of customer loyalty is often as a result of poor customer relations, which again makes it vital to have a clear view and understanding of the customer, in order to drive exceptional customer service and retain profitable business.
Retailers have access to a wealth of information regarding their customers, in a variety of disparate sources, which can help to drive improved understanding and customer service. However, unlocking the value of this data can be a challenging task. Harnessing the power of business intelligence and analytics tools will help retailers to gain insight from their information, but technology alone is not sufficient. Retailers need to develop a close understanding of their business and what they wish to achieve from data analysis. This, in combination with the right technology from the right partner, will assist with improving service levels and response times, ultimately improving customer satisfaction and as a result, retaining their loyalty.
Retailers have many repositories of customer information, from both structured and unstructured sources, and it is important that any analytics solution can pull in data from both in order to provide maximum value and insight. While customer information files, forms and other formal documents can be useful, there is often an abundance of vital information hidden within sources such as emails and call centre transcriptions. In addition, retailers have access to information from an incredible variety of other sources.
Order forms, the content of people's shopping baskets, enquiries, complaints, warranty information, customer reward programmes, surveys and feedback cards, competitions, and even retailers websites, can provide much fodder for deriving additional insight into customer behaviour and requirements. The challenge for retailers, however, lies not in collecting the necessary information, but in understanding which information will drive the most useful insight. Furthermore, while technologies such as Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics can assist with unlocking the value from this information, it is not feasible or particularly useful to indiscriminately analyse all data. For retailers, the difficulty often lies in understanding the business well enough to know which information should be analysed to derive value.
The reality is that technology solutions around big data analytics are not a 'silver bullet' solution. Simply implementing powerful technology without having a solid business case and a road map of what needs to be achieved will inevitably end in perceived failure. Technology partners can assist with deploying the right technology, but the onus is on the retailers themselves to understand not only what data is available to be collected, but also most importantly what data would be valuable in gaining greater insight into customers.
For example, it is valuable to know what people are buying, and what items they typically purchase together, to improve merchandising and stock levels, and also to ensure optimal store and aisle layout and product placement. This helps to provide a better experience for customers, which in turn improves profitability. Within the call centre environment, customer complaints can also become a selling opportunity if information is available to offer the customer an alternative solution. With the right information available, the call centre has the potential to become a positive experience for the customer, becoming a place where retailers can be proactive about responding, rather than reacting to problems. Rewards programmes too are another area that can be harnessed to drive enhanced customer service, through a variety of initiatives including more effective cross selling.
Understanding customer behaviour and their taste and purchasing patterns can assist retailers with delivering a more personal service and customer interaction. While the current buzz is all around harnessing social media data, the reality is that using the information you already have is easier and less expensive to achieve, and can deliver excellent results. Unlocking the power of existing information, before pursuing the information contained within the vast ether of social media, can help to provide real insights that can be actively used to improve the business and its profitability.
Customer information is critical, but the value of information that retailers have to collect is an area that is often overlooked. Technology itself acts as an enabler and can be fairly easily implemented by the right partner, but in order to gain returns using this technology, the first step always lies in understanding what information you have, what information you need, and what value you hope to derive from the analysis of this data.
David McWilliam is a Director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management.