After a difficult pandemic year, wireless customers appear more than ready and willing to return to stores. Clearly, 2021 has picked up where 2019 left off, with many consumers exhibiting a preference for hands-on, in-store sales experiences. The desire to touch and closely evaluate devices in person remains un-phased as consumers flock to stores to purchase new phones and related devices. In-person contact has remained a steadfast driver of customer satisfaction and will continue to be vital.
The growing richness of features and services in today’s devices means that customers often walk into stores with relatively low levels of awareness about how to harness the full potential of their purchased services. As a result, more guidance and education on devices and service offerings are in order. In-store sales representatives have become invaluable resources to mobile device owners, making the relationship between consumers and in-store employees increasingly important.
It is in this context that the role of in-store employees should be understood. Data from two segments of the 2021 J.D. Power U.S. Wireless Purchase Experience — both the network operators (MNOs) and the brands that ride atop them (MVNOs) — have shown an improvement in the performance of these critical frontline ambassadors.
When metrics become objectives
Some wireless retailers have performed better than others when delivering optimal in-store experiences. In examining the factors that have contributed to positive in-store outcomes, how certain metrics are used is as important as what is tracked. Research, and recent trade-press headlines, have highlighted the importance of ensuring that metrics do not become objectives.
The industry should take care to avoid actions — or set up incentives — that result in artificially avoiding less-than-ideal reviews. It is an excellent way to drive customers into competitors’ waiting arms that use customer feedback, even negative feedback, to improve their in-store operations.
Effective measurement strategies should inform and guide management and employees toward delivering the experiences that customers appreciate. All too often, however, metrics are used to hold employees accountable to conflicting objectives, such as driving sales at the expense of addressing customer satisfaction issues.
This can lead to employees “gaming” the process of collecting feedback and degrade the performance and morale of in-store ambassadors. It can negatively affect long-term customer satisfaction with wireless service providers over the lifecycle of the relationship.
In-store experiences in the context of omni-channel engagement
Beyond investing in new devices or subscribing to new services, engagements between customers and in-store representatives are often driven by the complexity and sophistication associated with today’s offerings. When faced with new issues such as the latest 5G networking technologies, discussing unusual charges on bills, or utilizing innovative accessories, people frequently start by researching their options online and then placing phone calls to customer representatives. It is after these initial engagements end in frustration that many consumers make a trip to a physical store.
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It is essential to understand the customer journey across online and over-the-phone customer touch points before arriving at the store. Customers tend to crave face-to-face experiences when digital channels have left them wanting. This raises the stakes for populating retail facilities with highly competent, professional, and empathetic in-store staff. J.D. Power research has consistently found that store representatives’ expertise, friendliness, and empathy are of paramount importance — even more consequential than the state and appearance of the facility itself.
As retail traffic surges in the aftermath of a pandemic year, and the rollout of new devices and services continue through the summer and into the fall, wireless carriers would be well served to carefully revisit their in-store customer experiences. Those who fail to recalibrate their employee and customer engagement policies may find themselves falling behind in customer satisfaction due to short-sighted metrics.
Ian Greenblatt leads J.D. Power’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Intelligence. With in-depth industry expertise, Ian drives market strategy across the rapidly converging landscape, which encompasses the entire communication sector. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul University College of Law. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GreenblattTMT.
Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.