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Technology

by Jerome Laredo from point-of-sale software provider, Lightspeed

Look into the future of customer engagement and what do you see? Restaurants peopled by holographic staff, customers paying by implanted RFID or 3-D printing making home delivery redundant?  If we’re going to be engaging with customers electronically – even those who visit our retail stores and restaurants – will customer service change forever?

The future might seem like a ‘Brave New World’ style nightmare but reality, I think, will actually be improved customer experience.  One on one engagement with the customer is alive and well and it’s what’s going to separate the winners from the losers, this year, next year and next decade.

We’re seeing a democratisation of the high street with smaller businesses competing on an equal footing with giants, and technology actually bringing something authentically ‘human’ to consumers at last. When so many aspects of any business can be outsourced it’s the experience of interacting with the brand that will be the key differentiator – whether that’s before, during or after the purchase.

This is where some of the more successful brands are making trend-setting innovations to demonstrate who and what they are and why they’re worth your loyalty.

All consumers are now omni-channel customers and a business has to create an authentic experience across multiple mediums, simultaneously.  Gone are the days when a laugh and a joke shared between the seller and customer was enough to establish a rapport that could lead to brand loyalty. These days that character needs to be reproduced at every touch point.  Online, by phone, through Twitter, in person.

Anything the consumer experiences can be shouted about on a social media channel before the customer has even left the store or clicked away from the webpage.  Businesses are under greater scrutiny than ever and it’s forcing many of them to up their game.

Good customer service could be defined as enthusiastic problem solving.  If a brand representative seems to be able to predict a customer’s wishes and respond to them, take the time to care how the customer feels, be empathetic in their responses to requests, then they’re a customer service asset indeed.

So can technology make things easier? It looks as if, from everything we’re seeing that it can.  A client of ours is an elegant restaurant that uses cloud-based point of sale technology to manage their business and also to record their regular clients’ preferences.

Previously they used leather-bound books to store details of diners’ wine choices, favourite table and dietary requirements, for example, ensuring that each time the diner visited the service they’d receive would be impeccable.  So precious were these books that they were locked in a safe each night along with other highly valuable restaurant assets.  Now technology allows them to store more preferences and treat more customers like VIPs.

And it’s not only high-priced establishments that are using technology to improve their customer service.  The idea of the cafe, the local hardware store or the high street hairdresser benefiting from a high tech approach no longer seems such a stretch.  As prices for devices become manageable, the staff are naturally more tech-savvy and customers themselves get more used to sharing information, technology becomes a business necessity.

Ultimately, technology frees up the salesperson to interact with the customer.  Apple changed things for good when they removed cash-tills and queues in their Apple Stores worldwide.  The flow of the customers around the shop, the sales assistants’ ability to access more information – whether about stock availability or technical detail – all helped to set a new benchmark in retail.

At the end of the day, the customer wants to connect to a brand. In retail, in restaurants and cafés, in public services, whatever is on offer will fail at the outset if the customer feels like they’re just a number. Connecting with a human changes everything.

A Twitter exchange with a brand’s customer service team can sooth sore feelings, demonstrate the brand’s willingness to adapt for the good of the customer and ultimately reveal that the company is run by real people.  And it’s technology that’s enabled that.

So, technology is definitely not killing the authentic customer experience.  It’s breathing new life into the marketplace. Some businesses initially choose technology to help cut costs or manage complexity but the benefits to customer service pay back handsomely.

If your customers are using the technology to learn about your product, sharing their views through technology and feeding back through technology then it’s probably about time you embraced the tech yourself.