Will Motorola’s multi-purpose device boost customer service?

When shopping for an electronic – or computing-related – product, few things are as frustrating as being unable to find an associate (or the right associate) to assist you.

For the retailer this can translate into lost business.

More than once, I recall being ready to purchase a big ticket electronic item, but changing my mind after failing to locate an associate who could answer my questions.

And this, it seems, is a a common shopper experience. Inadequate customer service heads the list of shopper grievances in North America.

According to a study from wireless products vendor Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Illinois nearly 40 percent of shoppers walked out of retail stores during the holiday season because either it was difficult to find associate assistance or the lines were too long.

Moreover, of those shoppers that left without purchasing, nearly 90 percent did not return to the same store to make the purchase.

A small caveat is in order here: such vendor studies are usually self-serving – which of course doesn’t negate the value of their results.

My view is this inability to find proper associate assistance is more a staffing – or a training – issue, than a technology-related one.

But any tech product or device that could help remedy this sorry state of affairs would be worth checking out.

Motorola Inc. says its new Motorola CA50 device, unveiled on Monday, does just that.

Sprawling retail stores would be able to use this compact device to radically improve customer service levels in 2008, the company says.

Demoed at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in Manhattan , the CA50 is being promoted as a “retail industry first.”

It’s a VoIP-enabled combo device that functions as a wireless bar-code scanner, cum cell phone, cum walkie talkie, cum hi-tech link to critical information.

The device includes IP telephony software from Basking Ridge, NJ–based communications products vendor Avaya Inc. that could be used to speed up and simplify the task of identifying and contacting the right associate.

Avaya says the device is ideal for environments – such as a big retail store – where associates require bar code scanning, along with voice communication capabilities.

Here’s how it works:

Say, a sales associate at a large electronics retailer needs to find a specialist from the Computers department to answer a customer’s questions about an HP Media Centre PC.

The associate could use the CA50 to scan the product’s bar code (on the box).

Avaya software identifies the product, pulls reach information for the Computer department sales and support team, and confirms which expert is currently available.  

“With a touch of a button, the sales associate can speak with the specialist to gather information and answer the customer’s question; even if that specialist is in another store or customer care centre,” an Avaya release says.

“In addition, staff members can use the new device to access the retailer’s database, using information on the screen to connect to a [Computer department] team member.” 

If the device functions as it should, it may help retailers gain back some of the customer confidence they seem to have lost during the holiday season.

According to the Motorola survey cited earlier, only 37 per cent of surveyed domestic holiday shoppers were satisfied with the availability of store associate help and only 41 per cent were satisfied with the length of time needed to check-out.

Surveyed holiday shoppers who were dissatisfied with their shopping experience also reported that they were most likely to walk out of department stores, electronics stores and clothing stores.

In today’s fiercely competitive retail environment, dissatisfied shoppers could spell disaster for a store.

“Retail systems that transform the customer experience are now necessities for retailers,” according to Mark Self, Motorola vice-president of retail solutions for the enterprise mobility business.
That’s certainly true.

What remains to be seen, though, is how successful the CA50 will be in helping retailers retain customers, and prevent lost traffic and revenues.

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