Customer Service and the iPad Effect

Ann All
Slide Show

11 Best Practices for Online Chat Sales and Customer Service

Online chat is gaining attention as an effective customer service delivery method.

Earlier today I wrote about tablets' potential impact on mobile e-commerce, noting that Forrester Research analysts are among those who think tablets could drive a big increase in shopping from mobile devices. I cited a New York Times article that contained what I thought was an interesting point: In their focus on enabling consumers to make purchases via mobile devices, retailers are missing out on an opportunity to use tablets and other gear to improve in-store customer service.


In the article, Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says, "The opportunity to arm store associates with instantaneous information and richer payment acceptance capabilities may be the most compelling reason for retailers to invest in mobile." However, she adds, "Most companies view mobile as a channel that is primarily about completing sales through a mobile site."


A little over a month ago, I wrote about Home Depot's deployment of 30,000 First Phone multi-functional mobile devices that are proving more popular than self-service checkouts with consumers and also serve as inventory takers and walkie-talkies. Thus, employees are free to roam stores assisting folks when not using them to check customers out. I think this is exactly the kind of scenario Mulpuru was referring to in her interview with the Times.


Though I use them regularly, I've never been a big fan of self-service checkouts. And apparently I'm not alone, judging by some grocery chains' decisions to phase out self-service checkouts. According to Storefront Backtalk, Albertson's is pulling self-service checkouts from some of its stores and Kroger is considering it because customers don't find them as service-oriented as traditional checkout lanes.


I like the idea of dispatching employees armed with iPads or other devices to help customers wherever needed in stores, and to go ahead and complete their purchases for them if desired. It's potentially even more powerful if companies load the devices with process knowledge such as how to handle returns. Carphone Warehouse's award-winning deployment of business process management software is a great example of how this can work.


This is a far more customer-friendly experience than an idea tested by Staples a few years ago in which customers could connect with remote operators via kiosks with videoconferencing technology. After all, sometimes customers just want a real, live person to help them out and certain transactions require a human element.

Some companies already get this. In an earlier post on iPads and customer empowerment, I cited a story about Mercedes-Benz Financial, which created an application that lets dealerships begin the credit-application process while customers are standing near a vehicle.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 25, 2011 12:58 PM Dennis D. McDonald Dennis D. McDonald  says:

While I agree completely with the ideas presented here, this is also a double edged sword. We're not just giving floor-walking staff more information, we're fundamentally changing the processes that they and customers have learned to use. Customers may want more than just an easy checkout from any point in the store; some will also need consulting-type advice, and the employee will need to be ready to provide it in a convincing way.


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