Retail Therapy: Why technology is no substitute for customer service…

Image: Dreamstime 2014

It could just be me, but I’m beginning to notice an alarming retail trend.  Smartphones may have revolutionised communication, but I’m not so sure about the inexorable rise of the SMS notification when you’ve ordered something online.  On one hand, it’s hard to object to this type of customer interaction. Today’s tech-savvy shoppers are far more demanding.  It’s a rapid reassurance that what you’ve ordered has been acknowledged, and is on it’s way.  Deployed correctly, it can help to build trust in the brand and connect the dots between  internal operational systems and customer touchpoints.

Online grocer, Ocado have this down to a fine art – I know exactly when the monthly shop I’ve ordered will arrive, the colour of the delivery van and the name of the driver.   SMS has other uses too. Having my bank statement texted to me every week helps serves as a timely reminder to help me keep track of my spending.   So too, knowing well in advance that the Dover:Calais ferry has been delayed allows me to adjust travel plans accordingly.

So far, so good…  That is until it all goes awry.  I was sharply reminded of the pitfalls of technology when I unexpected received an SMS giving me notification that my ‘goods’ were going to be delivered on Monday.  Said goods were actually a champagne ‘thank you’ from a colleague and were of course, intended to be a surprise.  Well, surprise spoiled by SMS!  Hmmm… Within minutes another SMS saying the goods were definitely going to be arriving on Monday – this time from the logistics company despatching the order. Hmmm… Of course, they didn’t, much to the annoyance of my colleague who had paid a premium for a ‘named day delivery’.

Net result.  A new customer who is angry and disappointed.  A potential customer who waited in on delivery day while her champagne languished in a depot in Ashford!  And, a complete lack of trust in the company who supplied the goods.  And no follow up from the company, even when they realised something had gone wrong. This is the reason why machines will never rule the world!  Nevertheless I’m amazed by the number of times this keeps happening.  As sites like Etsy and make online commerce more accessible to small entrepreneurs and their client base, automatic notification systems are multiplying like topsy.  Logistics companies are particular culprits!

The inherent flaw is that if you are reliant on a third party to despatch and deliver your goods, you have no control over how and when these reach your customer.  So having customer-centric systems is a vital element to this particular type of supply chain. Getting it wrong can damage your brand, and seriously affect your bottom line – critical if you are a small retailer, just as important if you are a large one. Technology might facilitate e-commerce, but it’s human beings that make the world turn.





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