Moving CRM from Behind the Scenes to the Sales Floor

January 2, 2014 – For the longest time, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions have been kept hidden from the sales floor, residing somewhere in the back or at a brand’s headquarters. This is exactly where it shouldn’t be because the sales floor is where customer relationships are formed and strengthened over time (which is what a CRM is meant to help with). Customer experience solutions (such as CRM) as well as sales associates play a powerful role in influencing what customers actually buy. Certainly store location, prices and selection are important but most brands also optimize for these factors so these don’t play as strong of a role in the battle for the customer’s heart and mind (and dollar).

The best sales people long ago recognized the importance of forming good customer relationships and even maintain black books on their best customers. But the question for a retailer is: How can we institutionalize this practice and make it a central pillar of success? If sales associates are well empowered, they are known to not only create loyal customers but increase customer spend by three- to four-fold which can have a significant impact to the bottom line.

However, a few challenges remain that need to be overcome before retail brands can fully take advantage of the capabilities of customer experience solutions:

Access to Relevant Data – Today, a good amount of relevant customer data sits at the back of the store where talented analysts are able to tie the data from multiple channels together, turning it into useful information by analyzing it and teasing insights out of it. Typically, this information is not readily available or easily accessible by sales associates. In addition, there is often high turnover among sales associates so utilizing the insights from the analysis to form deeper customer relationships is harder to maintain.

Customers are ‘Omni-Channel’ – Retailers are constantly striving to reach their customers through all of the channels their customers frequent, whether it’s social, the mobile phone, the website or in a retail location. The challenge is that when a customer walks into a store, a sales associate needs to be aware of not just what the customer browsed or bought when they were in the store in the past, but what they browsed or purchased on the online storefront, which products they liked on Facebook, and how they interacted with their brand on Twitter.

So, what is a retail brand supposed to do? Here are a few suggestions to overcome the challenges:

Take Back the Power – Leading retailers are now opting for solutions that can take all the power from the analysts in the back office and can place it in the hands of sales associates through portable devices such as tablets or in-store POSs. For example, Nicole Miller, a fashion designer whose modern designs can be purchased from boutiques and over 1,200 specialty and department stores, ties online and in-store transactions together, giving its sales associates relevant info at its POSs. Now, when a customer wants to purchase complementary accessories to match a dress purchased online, the sales associate is able to pull up the relevant online transaction, view the customer profile and receive cross-sell and upsell information tailored specifically to that customer.

Utilize Technology and Make it a Fabric of Customer Engagement – A leading best practice is to tie different technologies together to create a better user experience regardless of the channel. For example, if a customer self-identifies through a Foursquare “check-in”, the retail CRM solution should be able to immediately alert the right sales associate so they can help them. Furthermore, the sales associate should also be alerted via an in-store tablet or the POS when a premium customer is in the store so they can make the customer’s experience special while shopping.

Weave Analytics into the Experience – Analytics should be used to provide customers with appropriate recommendations about complementary products and also provide instant coupons that can be redeemed for additional purchases to those customers who are most likely to buy. Analytics can also alert sales associates via the POS to capture relevant customer info, if missing, such as the month of birth so a retail brand can send a special birthday offer to incent the customer to visit the store again.

Win Associates Over – Successful brands give store associates the relevant productivity tools that help them boost their ability to engage with the right customers, manage tasks, and, in general, get a lot more done. To ensure sales associates’ success, give them tools so they know which relationships are most important and support them to nurture these relationships over time so their customers continue to buy again.

In conclusion, an engaging and relevant customer experience delivered by sales associates is within the grasp of retailers of all types and sizes, not just the ones with large budgets and a team of analysts. Today’s rapidly changing technology, including the availability of mobile devices such as tablets and the availability of cloud computing, make the suggestions described above easier and cost effective to put into practice.

Krishna Mehra is the Co-founder and CTO at Capillary Technologies, Inc.