Mary Portas Secret Shopper – lessons for the IT department

DanThe jury is currently out regarding the impact of the Mary Portas series ‘Secret Shopper’ upon the retail industry: is it the kick into action that underperforming businesses providing poor customer service need, or just another attack on retailers who have already been beaten into submission by being made to sell their wares at a near loss following the economic downturn?

What Portas does correctly highlight in her show is that if front-line retail staff are underperforming, this cannot be solely blamed upon their own lack of motivation – the company as a whole must shoulder some responsibility. This is the case for all areas of the retail business, including the IT team.

Whether the IT department is an outsourced function, or one that is taken care of in–house, it is vital that the individuals running it are capable of supporting the Sales Assistants who ultimately act as the public ‘face’ of the retailer. It’s important that IT support partners work on prevention rather than cure of incidents, however in a worst case scenario, the long queues that Portas so despises can be made severely worse by a retailer’s EPoS, or till system breaking down. In this eventuality, front-line staff are left to deal with a technical problem which they may not have the sufficient technical skills to resolve, particularly when dealing with the added pressure of dissatisfied customers. 

What is important in this situation, is not only that the Sales Assistants acknowledge the customers, apologise on behalf of their company and explain the situation (that should be a given, whether or not it is, I will leave to Portas to decide!) but also that they have instant access to a dedicated retail IT Help Desk working behind the scenes. With this support, front-line staff are much better equipped to provide the customer service that is so lacking in Portas’ opinion, rather than attempt to correct technical faults, which takes attention off the customer. In turn the Sales Assistants are able to return to serving the all important consumer, reduce any queues and get the tills ringing once more.

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