Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Unexpected Customer Behaviour In The Bagging Area

This week saw the UK's forth largest supermarket, Morrisons, announce the return of staffed express checkouts.  As the first major retailer to make the u-turn, what now is the future strategy for self-service?  Are Morrisons responding to a change in customer shopping behaviour or did they, along with the rest of the retail market, get their strategy wrong in the first place?

The figures show that only one in three supermarket customers had used self-service; what makes this figure even bleaker is that queues at staffed checkouts have actually lengthened where self-service has been introduced.  For supermarkets, self-service checkouts have played a contributory factor in the loss of customers to smaller rivals who are seen to offer a better experience with personalised service at a lower cost. 

Lowering staff headcount to reduce operating costs is the headline benefit for most organisations who have introduced self-service checkouts.  Unfortunately when cost reduction is at the heart of your customer service strategy the outcome is fairly predictable.  Customer behaviour shouldn't have been unexpected - the impact on satisfaction levels when you introduce cost saving measures are, with the odd exception, going to be negative. 

It is unlikely though, that self-service will be removed from the customer service strategy of any retailer. And nor should it be. As someone who has implemented self-service into the retail sector, I believe that it has an even greater role to play in retail strategy in the future. Yet those organisations who implement it correctly will be the ones whose focus in on improving the customer experience through the use of technology. A by-product of this will be the cost saving through headcount reduction. 

One of the best examples of self-service is travel ticketing used on the London public transport network.  In order to migrate customers to self-service they introduced the Oyster travel card.  Within ten years of its introduction in 2003, Oyster was used in over 80% of all journeys.  So successful that self-service ticketing will allow London Underground to close all of its ticket offices by the end of 2015 - down from over 250 when Oyster was first introduced.  These are figures that supermarkets can only dream of.

The reason why self-service for London public transport has been so successful is that they used the introduction of Oyster to make self-service ticketing more convenient for their customers.  The strategy for implementation was built upon a simplified pricing policy, highly reliable infrastructure and incremental migration of more complex products as customer advocacy grew. 

For retailers, this lesson of simplifying the underlying customer experience, making self-service the convenient choice, ensuring the platform is reliable and only growing as reliability is proven and adoption grows, is one they can still use.  Simple measures that can overcome the failings of current technology or operating constraints need to be considered.  The complexity of the transaction needs to be reduced - if you need to train your staff to do a task don't expect your customers to be able to do the same task without training.  

For customers, the use of self-service check outs needs to be a preference – a choice that they make rather than something that is enforced on them by the retailer.  This preference may be subject to the context – a basket of shopping can drive significantly different behaviour than an over-flowing trolley of goods.  Putting the customer at the heart of the retailers self-service strategy will enable context to be considered, behaviours to be modelled and solutions to be designed to meet customer needs.  In an increasingly digitally enabled world, self-service will also be omni-channel; a richer experience in store and online that delivers convenience and benefit to customers that encourages the adoption of self-service and a migration away from staffed checkouts.

So whilst Morrisons may have seemingly made a u-turn, in reality they should just be revisiting their customer service strategy to make sure that when it comes to self-service, customer behaviour is not an unexpected item. 

Read my other posts
Just in Case - From early adoption to maturity
I have control - Can we truly own our identity
Tipping the balance - Getting the right balance between security and user experience
You don't know what you're doing Poor security practices are putting users at risk 
I didn't say you could touch me - Biometric authentication and identity
You don't need to tell me - Impacts of the EU General Data Protection Regulations
Coming together on being alone - The need for a clear government digital strategy
I'm not the person I used to be - Authentication for real world identities
Distributed Identity has no clothes - Will distributed ledger technology solve identity
Bring Your Own Downfall - Why we should embrace federated identity
Unblocking Digital Identity - Identity on the Blockchain as the next big thing
Tick to Agree - Doing the right thing with customer's data
The Kids Are All Right - Convenient authentication: the minimum standard for the younger generation
The ridiculous mouse - Why identity assurance must be a rewarding experience for users
Big Brother's Protection - How Big Brother can protect our privacy
I don't know who I am anymore - How to prove your identity online
Three Little Words - What it means for your business to be agile
Defining the Business Analyst - Better job descriptions for Business Analysis
Rip it up and start again - The successful Business Transformation
Too Big To Fail - Keeping the heart of your business alive
The upstarts at the startups - How startups are changing big business 
One Small Step - The practice of greatness
In pursuit of mediocrity - Why performance management systems drive mediocrity

About me

Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture.  Bryn has near 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom's leading brands and largest organisations.

Follow Bryn on Twitter: @No1_BA

Connect with Bryn on Linked In: Bryn Robinson-Morgan

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