How innovation can support customer service in retail

How innovation can support customer service in retail

Innovation and excellent customer service increasingly go hand in hand. Nowhere is that more evidently so than in the retail sector, where fierce competition in the face of inflationary pressures has made customer experience a key differentiator for brands.

One of the brands that has been at the forefront of these changes is Carrefour, a top 10 global retailer in revenue terms. In our latest video interview, we heard from Carole Brion, Customer Services Director at Carrefour, and Alexandre Jacques, Retail and e-commerce Sales Director for Konecta, about their thoughts on the topic and what the future may hold. 

The main mission of Carrefour's customer service department is to enhance the overall experience through exceptional interactions. To do this, the team uses in-house platforms and partner contact centers to meet customer expectations and handle peak periods. Overall, the supermarket group’s customer services division handles around seven million inquiries per year.

To achieve those aims, Alexandre explains, Konecta supports the Carrefour team in a number of ways: “My role is to satisfy expectations in our operational and commercial relationship. I help them innovate and find solutions that meet their challenges. If we don't innovate in our business, we can't remain a market leader, we can't deliver operational excellence to our customers. And, so, we're going to stay at the edge of technological innovation and use these technologies to serve our agents and customers. Ultimately, we provide better service and a better experience.”

Delivering innovation in customer service 

Innovation is a broad term – its definition depends on the context it is employed, and even then, it can mean different things. Innovation depends on a number of variables, such as customer accounts, business sectors, maturity, and challenges. However, above all else, innovation has to serve customers' needs, argues Alexandre. 

“For many customers in today's economic environment, this means achieving better economic performance while improving customer satisfaction. So, we're always working on the dual challenge of serving customers better at the lowest cost,” he says. “We have a very good metric in the customer service industry, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which reflects customer satisfaction with a brand and how likely they are to recommend it. This indicator depends on many other underlying factors, like accessibility, response adequacy, processes, etc. 

“What we're trying to equip our agents with today is an 'augmented' environment that will enable them to respond better across all channels in a seamless way, to have better access to information, and, above all, to provide value where it's needed. Simple requests can be answered in an automated, or partially automated, with technologies so that the advisor can concentrate on the real added value.”

For a brand like Carrefour, customers want their experience to be effortless, with a personalized, committed customer relationship and quick, useful responses. Carrefour has also recently developed improvements in accessibility, particularly for e-commerce, with a single phone number that enables customers to be recognized directly. This ensures that the customer services department matches the right level of expertise to the case in question, with a call-through rate of less than 30 seconds.

Web 3 and customer relations

Technology is advancing at an incredibly fast pace – with developments like Web 3 and the metaverse presenting big opportunities for enhancing customer experience. Carrefour was among the first brands to invest in these areas, making it an important part of its innovation strategy.

“Carrefour's ambition is to be the world leader in digital retail” elaborates Carole. “This is based on a data-centric, digital-first approach. It's a transformation program we've been engaged in since 2018, based on four key axes: the acceleration of e-commerce, the digitalization of financial services, the ramp-up of data and retail media activities, and also the digital transformation of traditional retail operations. 

“We used the metaverse for a recruitment campaign. It was the starting point for attracting tomorrow's talent, particularly data scientists and data analysts. In fact, our ambition is to recruit 3,000 data experts by 2026. In another metaverse project, we recently ran a product information campaign with Procter & Gamble to promote their products.”

Innovation with impact

Innovation is all well and good, but it must have an impact – specifically, in this case, to help customers with their needs. Creating synergies between departments is one example of how this can be done. Alexandre says: “We don't innovate for its own sake. We innovate to help our customers, the companies, but also our customers' customers, with whom we interact every day. So, we're going to focus on the challenges faced by brands to improve efficiency, enhance productivity, streamline customer journeys, improve their experience, and save them time in their lifecycle with the brand to provide the best level of response.” 

So, for example, when a Carrefour customer contacts the Konecta team, the agent will ask them if they have a loyalty card, which can be used to make savings on purchases at Carrefour. Then there's the Pass card, from Carrefour's financial services arm, with which customers can pay and save even more. The team first answers their question, pitches the loyalty card to them and an adjacent service that will deliver value, all in the shortest possible period of time. 

All of this should generate and strengthen brand loyalty. Carole outlines how Carrefour and Konecta do this by working collaboratively: “In our partnership with Konecta, we have a very strong operational presence with the teams to create these very synergies. It's important for us to measure support in the field and to be there for the teams. This involves quarterly visits and, as I speak, we have teams on site in Madagascar… We get people involved in our monthly ‘Bravo’ meetings, which showcase the collective and individual successes of our people… it reinforces the loyalty of Konecta people, who are ambassadors for our customers and for the Carrefour image.”

Why the human touch still matters

What, then, does the future hold for customer relations, with so much change already underway? The right balance between people and technology was the common thread between both of our experts.

There has been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and its ability to automate roles and functions performed by humans. “Innovation doesn't replace the human touch,” Carole says. “Over the last few years, with the succession of health, economic, and social crises, we've come to realize that our customers need us to take time with them and provide advice and support on a day-to-day basis… the human touch is not dead, that's for sure. But, using tomorrow's technologies to complete the customer experience will absolutely be important too.”

For Alexandre it is a question of ensuring people on both sides of the equation have access to the right technologies. “The customer has to have access to the same emerging technologies as we do. We're reinforcing our agents' level of expertise, so we can put the right agent in front of the right customer, and always serve them better,” he concludes.

Watch the full interview to find out more.

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