This post was originally published at TotalRetail.
Talk of automation in business has historically been linked with conversations of rising unemployment, and the great battle of humans vs. technology in the workplace. However, as retail leaders blend physical and digital channels, many are beginning to see automation as an asset instead of a foe. For example, digital merchandisers got into the field because they love fashion, trend spotting, and getting the most relevant products into the hands of consumers; they didn’t become merchandisers because they love writing and updating manual rules. Automation is an opportunity to improve the employee experience (and by extension, the customer experience).
Historically, we’ve linked automation to a great mythical battle of humans vs. technology, locked in a zero-sum struggle for control of the workplace. But for those who can see larger technical shifts (e.g., machine learning, mobile apps, cloud) as beneficial to their employees, there’s a major opportunity to empower retail teams to do their highest value work with the support of automation. This creates a ripple effect across the organization.
Here are a few specific ways that automation is making work better for digital merchandisers, allowing them to improve the customer experience (CX) while enjoying a far better employee experience (EX).
Goodbye to Manual Rules Curation
Automation can help employees aspire to a new way of working, one that allows them to focus on delivering their human talents and creative expertise. Those skills will always be necessary at the intersection of changing tastes, products and competitive pressures. Most merchandising teams handle those evolving tastes and needs by adding more and more rules. Ask anyone in e-commerce whether they prefer to innovate or to repetitively edit if-then rules (e.g., “If a consumer wants ‘ebony dress slacks,’ show them pants not gowns”). We all know what those survey results would look like: people hate the boring, repetitive stuff. Machines don’t.
Machine learning can free more of your merchandisers’ time to do the most valuable, most human work. When machine intelligence is woven within the apps and user interfaces that employees use every day, they spend more time smiling and less time frowning at work. For example, with machine learning, merchandisers can do things like optimize the shopping experience without having to rely on IT. This eliminates the need to maintain mountains of business rules, freeing the merchandiser to use their expertise and creativity to stay ahead of the competition. Plus, it allows them to respond more quickly to changing customer needs, which puts smiles on customers’ faces too.
No More Guessing About Customer Needs
One of the most important (and most difficult) questions to answer is: What do my customers want? Businesses often think that harnessing the “voice of the customer” is about sending customer feedback surveys. But customers already share millions of “mini-responses” with businesses all the time. Emails, phone calls, kiosks, search strings and website clicks provide a constant flood of digital signals about what customers want — if companies take the time to listen and act on what they hear.
Harnessing all of these signals and automatically applying insights to the customer experience makes it easier for retailers to delight customers, even as their preferences shift over time. Forrester found that 40 percent of businesses lack the ability to capture signals from customers. Capturing customer interactions is a critical part of hearing your customers’ voice so you don’t have to guess what they want (and they don’t have to fill out an annoying survey).
More Effective Employees, Happier Customers
In that same Forrester study, only 34 percent of respondents said they’re very good at capturing, measuring, evaluating, and taking action on customer intent, and less than 50 percent say they can do it in real time using search data. Automation can remove the boundaries between customer signals and the merchandisers who must interpret them.
By connecting employees’ experiences with customers’ experiences through the same platform or application, retailers can accomplish two goals at once: personalize customers’ digital experiences and teach merchandisers how to reflect that ideal experience in the decisions they make about boosting products, choosing assortments, and speaking with the voice of the customer.
Automation Can Be the Fairy Godmother, Not the Grim Reaper
Explore how automation can be viewed as an asset instead of a threat. For digital merchandisers and other e-commerce roles, automation is a chance to improve the employee experience and, by extension, the experience of your customers. Customer experience plus employee experience adds up to a total experience that builds brand equity, and the digital behemoths cannot defend against that — they’re too big and too slow.