Today’s advances in Unified Communications (UC) can act as a major leap forward for retailers of all sizes operating into today’s omnichannel world. Customers are fickle beasts, with unpredictable communications preferences and triggers. UC is integral to enabling valuable, meaningful customer engagements, in whichever way they want to communicate and transact, delivering a better experience and converting more sales.
But advancing your adoption of UC shouldn’t just be for the benefit of your customers. While customers are the core focus of all retail organizations, IT and business professionals in this sector cannot ignore the broader impact that UC technology is having on work practices.
Customers can provide additional revenue, but it’s employees who ultimately increase productivity, streamline costs and promote your brand.
By bringing together communications into one platform with UC, retailers are better equipped to communicate with employees. That’s crucial to supporting team collaboration at the store-level or within distribution centers, but even more so when it comes to repairing the most dislocated relationship inside retail organizations: the one between store-level employees and the corporate ‘mothership’.
How many retail associates or store assistants ever go to the head office? How many truly have a sense of ownership and loyalty that goes beyond their store? In a retail network of 100+ sites, most orientation and training courses will be handled at the local level. HR departments face an uphill struggle ensuring that individual employees ‘buy in’ to the brand rather than see their employer as some distant, unrelated, faceless corporation. The fact that they try so hard highlights the potential rewards of educating and enthusing thousands of in-store brand ambassadors.
At a practical level, communications are far more fluid and nuanced than simply broadcasting lofty concepts like ‘mission statements,, ‘corporate goals’ and ‘brand values’. Ultimately, by facilitating teamwork via UC, staff can feel better connected to each other and to the core of the business.
It’s all made possible by a mobile communications device kept on the hip of each employee, wherever they are in the store. Immediately, any sense of isolation is removed. With the help of the right software, they not only have easy access to colleagues, product information and transaction processing, but a permanent lifeline to the all-knowing corporate body too.
This technology is increasingly being put to work by retailers that want to push valuable knowledge to these critical employees, so that they can use it to help customers with their purchases. Examples might include the latest insights on how to support a certain product, information about new products coming down the line or details about a pending promotion that would provide the buyer with more value.
Retailers that embrace this approach find an unexpected benefit: employees pushing back with questions, contributing insights, establishing new templates for success and creating their own dynamic networks of internal contacts for greater productivity.
I’m sure, like me, every shopper can recall an occasion in a retail store, talking with an assistant, being given some vague, incomplete, ‘rumored’ information about when the next shipment of X product is due in or what the next version of Y product might look like. Those days are numbered with concrete information being easily obtainable from whomever you ask.
With the right UC infrastructure and applications in place, all that data can easily be captured and developed into reusable content. The corporate retailer can then catalog this into a collaboration space that helps employees learn and continually evolves to represent the pinnacle of latest knowledge.
For all the bleeding-edge technology that exists across the retail spectrum, the inescapable reality is that people still like dealing with trustworthy, knowledgeable people. The kind of experienced, hands-on people who operate in an in-store environment, walking the aisles helping customers with their purchases. UC technology empowers them, and makes them happier, more loyal employees.
A cynic could argue that a happier employee isn’t as compelling as increased revenue or reduced costs. But this ignores the inconvenient truth that employees, and their unique facility to deliver genuine human-to-human value — to be a dependable, trusted source of knowledgeable advice and great service — is the only bulwark against customers who are determined to buy on price alone.
That matters a great deal because retailers are rightly fearful of how customers increasingly abuse their store locations to view products and then buy them (at lower cost, with potentially a different retailer) online.
Using UC technology effectively makes retailers — and their online/offline retail environments — more attractive to customers, helping them develop a competitive edge that accelerates conversion.
Using UC is to consciously take the opportunity to deliver unique value to the customer. And by doing so, make your organization a place for employees to thrive.
As EVP of Sales And Marketing, Todd Carothers is responsible for CounterPath’s Product Management and Marketing organizations. He is focused on developing and executing the product, go-to-market and selling strategies of the company’s industry leading desktop and mobile softphones and end-to-end whole product solutions that drive Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC), Fixed Mobile Substitution (FMS) and Over the Top (OTT) services for enterprises, operators and channel partners across the world. Carothers holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from California State University, Chico with a minor in Computer Technology.