Technology Yes, but not at the expense of the customer experience

JT, the largest telecoms provider in Jersey, recently introduced a new queue management system to its retail store. Customers entering the store are directed to a large kiosk that asks them several questions about their enquiry before printing a ticket with a place in the queue. Eventually, their ticket is called and the customer is directed to an advisor who deals with their question or issue. My feelings towards the system are mixed. I firmly believe that change should be data driven and this aspect of the system I love. However, this should not be at the expense of the customer's experience. The system is awkwardly placed and frustrates a customer's expectations about how a retail shop is supposed to work.

Jersey Telecom's New Queueing System

Before I begin discussing the system it makes sense that I should outline some obersations I made during my brief time in the store. The system does not appear to process customers on a first come, first serve basis. In JT's system, all tickets are generated equal. A popular local Facebook group that allows individuals to share experiences with Bad and Good businesses seems to support this conclusion. One poster comments, "We went in earlier and 5 people that come in after us got served first! Only went to pay a bill too stuiped idea (sic)".

Comments on Jersey Telecom's Facebook Page

This leads me to presume that staff are broken into different specialities (and based upon the layout of the store sales and support roles are prehaps the most obvious). This setup is designed to channel customers to someone who is best suited to resolving their particular query. This departmentalised approached with advisors having a specialised focus shares many similiaries with the traditional call centre model that most customers are likely to be familiar with. We have been exposed to similar systems for years through the "Press 1 for x department" that we have all faced when calling a company's customer service. However, JT's retail implementation appears to catch customers offgaurd. When a customer enters a store their is a certain processes they expect to happen. Generally, the expect to be able to either browse products or appoach a representative of the company and medaling with these expectations is a dangerous game. For me, the retail enviroment plays a different role to a call centre. Yes, it allows sales and support for a company's products but customers use stores because of their human element. Unfortunately, this expection is somewhat upset by the new model and perhaps partly responsible for explaining customers hostility to the new system.

"We went in earlier and 5 people that come in after us got served first! Only went to pay a bill too stuiped idea (sic)"

So why would JT introduce a system that is so uncomfortable for its customers? The obviously lays in the potential data that they can collect. Information driven change allows businesses to me more efficient and more profitiable and JT is looking to seize this opportunity. They are able to learn exactly why each individual is in the store: is it a billing problem? a technical fault? a potential new customer exploring their options? Previously, expecially during peak hours with queues of customers waiting, an instore advisor would not have time to make a note or log of every question they answered. Yes, some problems such as billing problems would likely be logged in some way if they access a customers account but the x amount of customers that popped in to ask when the new Nokia was released or how much the a Samsung Galaxy was would not have previously registered resulting in incomplete, and therefore useless, datasets. The new system allows even relatively minor queries to be recorded for later analysis of what customers actually want and what they are using the store for.

The system also facilitates a measure of footfall allowing managers to better schedule their staff and better scheduling has obvious cost benefits. An understanding of traffic and enquiries may potentially highlight the need of staff with particular skillsets at certain times during the day. Above, I highlighted that JT appear to have advisors with specialist roles. My time at Domino's taught me the importance of "aces in their places". That is to say, place team members in a role that utilises their strengths when they are most need. It makes sense that an individual who is persuavsive would be better in a sales role whereas an individual who is empathetic may be better suited to resolving customers concerns.

JT's Queue System - Screen with who is next

However, I am becoming more convinced that such an attitude is outdated. For me, when a customer makes contact with an advisor, regardless of it being instore or one the phone, they are making contact with the company not the individual. They expect the company (through the individual) to resolve their concern or answer their question. Specialised employees are limited in the ways they can help a customer. An advisor who can update your contact details, tell you about the latests phones that you updated to next month when your contract expires and arrange your broadband installation for you is what a customer wants. Sky are currently trialing the same approach with their one-stop shop. Yes - it has taken considerable investment in training, in terms of time and financial costs, but it is want customer wants and more commonly what they expect.

The system, in theory, makes perfect sense. The kiosk likely assigns a particular enquiry to the advisor most appropiately trained to handly the enquiry. Again in theory, it should make the customer's entire experience easier and more convenient and the outcome more satisfying. However, it doesn't quite feel that way. I love technology, I think it has incredible and unrealised potential to make our lives easier but I am also astutely aware that it needs to be appropriately implemented. No doubt JT are aware of the current teething issues I genuinely feel there are opportunities to make the expereince of using the kiosk queueing system. Above I discussed the human element of a retail store. Augmenting the kiosk with a team member in a concierge type role who greets customers and enters their query to the system for them. Further developing this idea, the concierge would use a tablet which is a less daunting and unfamiliar piece of technology. The fundamental issue with the experience is the imposition of technology that many customers appear to believe unnecessary. Importantly, customers shouldn't have to understand the reasoning behind a new system or technology because it should not be invasive to their experience.

What are your thoughts on this new system? Can you see it being implemented on a wider scale without being detrimental to the customer experience?

Technology offers a lot of potential to help business grow and access a wealth of information. However, any implementation should be mindful not to disillusion customers. JT, a telco company, recently introduced a new queueing system in their store that had a few teething problems.

2013/11/13

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and insights about this article. You can get in touch with me through any of the options on the Contact Page.