How Retailers Can Run Internal Tech As Smoothly As Customer-facing Tech

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Paul Cash, MD at cloud services management firm, Fruition Partners UK, examines self-service support and wonders if internal IT consumers deserve the same standards of service as shoppers

Ever-increasing competition and pressure on margins mean that most retailers are looking to technology to offer them competitive advantage with customers, plus ways to manage costs.

Click and collect, multichannel shopping, next day delivery, improved in-store experience – the list of technology demands on retailers seems never-ending.

Managing all of these various demands can place a huge strain on IT support functions as they seek to give customers the experience they expect, provide staff on the frontline with the information and tools that they need, and deliver support for multichannel retailing and the back-office. IT Service Management (ITSM) is thus critical to business performance, and the support team is under pressure to ensure that it’s seen as an enabler rather than a roadblock.

click and collectWork/life balance

One profitable route to achieving this status as an ‘enabler’, is for retailers to realise that the same self-service concepts that they use to meet their customers’ demands can be translated into better IT service delivery internally. What staff experience when they are at home ordering from Amazon, paying their mobile bill or downloading films, they should be able to expect at work. In the store and back-office environments, IT support needs generally fall into one of three categories: wanting something fixed, wanting another kind of help or wanting something new.

A staff member is justified in asking: “If I can do this online via self-service in my personal life, why can’t I do this at work?” And yet, in far too many organisations, coming back into work often feels like re-entering the information dark ages. In the world of IT service management, email is still clinging on as the primary tool of communication between IT service providers and their customers (both internal and external), followed closely by costly and often-frustrating telephone support lines.

Online portals: the gateway to the future

The alternative is to enable much greater levels of self-service via online portals. The technology to do this is robust and there are some pioneering retailers who are already reaping the rewards. Staff can use the portal to find information, log and track requests, order equipment and receive support via online chatrooms or message boards. Users find they get a better service and IT support staff are freed up to focus on other issues. And there’s no need to stop this innovation at IT; the same portal can help employees to access other internal services such as HR, finance and facilities.

Case study – Travis Perkins

UK-wide retailer Travis Perkins Plc is a good example of this principle in operation. Operating 17 businesses across more than 1,900 sites throughout the UK and Ireland, Travis Perkins is a main supplier to the UK’s construction market, as well as a leading home improvement retailer; owning brands such as Wickes, Tool Station and Tile Giant. SolveIT, as Travis Perkins’ self-service solution is known, provides 24,000 users with the ability to both log IT incidents and enquire on progress whenever they want, with a clear view of when an incident will be resolved. They can also look up information to help them self-serve and fix issues for themselves, as well as order hardware and software.

Andy Garrett, head of IT Service Development at Travis Perkins commented on SolveIT: “People love the flexibility and transparency: they know when something will be fixed and it’s ended the need for numerous repeat calls asking for updates. This means that the service centre can concentrate on better service and anticipating problems before they happen.”

Seven magic words

For an organisation contemplating the self-service route, there are seven key words that will help in implementation:

Feasible – Bite off just the right amount to avoid spinning wheels and prolonged development, and to deliver results quickly.

Usable – Make the portal easy and efficient to use, applying the same standards that you would for a customer-facing retail self-service experience.

Mobile – Ensure the portal experience is consistent and seamless across all supported devices and locations.

Scalable – Manage content growth and change dynamically, and ideally a web developer should not be needed for maintenance.

Upgradable – Choose a platform which offers frequent, seamless and low-risk upgrades, and check that the provider listens proactively to your requests for change.

Credible – Follow best practices and documented standards in development and configuration, and ensure code and architecture are simple and well organized.

Loveable – Make the portal user interface graphically excellent, competing with ‘external’ web design so that every visitor says, “Wow!”

Technology has enabled the retail industry to change its business model to meet consumer demand. Maybe it’s now time to use technology to change the game in meeting internal customers’ demands for better, faster, slicker support and service? And, in doing so, save costs, improve staff satisfaction, and free up the IT team to focus on how technology can enable the business to meet the next level of market challenge.

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