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The Evolution of Retail Success: From Secret Shopper To Contact Center

Introducing modern contact centers is quickly becoming a focal point for CX leaders in the retail ecosystem. Chris Walton and Anne Mezzenga, co-hosts of the  Omni Talk Retail Spotlight Series, sat down with Shannon Flanagan, Talkdesk’s VP of Global Industry Strategy for Retail & Consumer Goods and fellow Top 100 Retail Influencer, to discuss how Talkdesk is putting an end to bad customer service. 

Shannon and Chris first met when they both worked at Gap, Inc. Together, with Anne, they look back on the dissolution of secret shoppers, how to create a memorable customer experience, the expanding budget for contact center training and why real-time cloud-based solutions are now a bona fide weapon for brand differentiation. 

The secret’s out: Reminiscing about secret shopping

Chris and Shannon fondly recall the days of secret shoppers and the ability to experience their stores from the customer perspective. Chris points out that, at the time, a secret shop was the best way to understand how well retail teams were servicing the customer day-in and day-out. 

While this method had a real-time impact, Shannon admits that the reality in most stores today is you can’t even find a sales associate. The shift to the phyigitial customer journey opens the conversation for teams to deliver a memorable experience online and offline.  

This era ushers in a new set of challenges for retail teams trying to understand their delivery of customer support. Regardless of physical or virtual location, Shannon has three main questions all teams should ask: 

  1. Are you creating experiences for your customer that makes it easy?
  2. Are you creating experiences for your customer that makes them happy?
  3. Would you want to shop your brand?

Learning to answer these questions will help teams plan for the future and fill the voids in their training and team communication strategies.

Balancing budgets: How to invest in agents and pivot into a successful customer experience

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be restricted by our quarterly reports or a daily balance sheet. Shannon reveals a Talkdesk research report  which found the number one driver of loyalty is first issue resolution. 

While it might not shock everyone, many retailers don’t set aside the same budget to train their contact center agents as physical retail store employees. But that’s a mistake. Today, contact agents can be the only touch point consumers have with your brand. If retailers don’t adjust, they’ll miss opportunities to grow brand loyalty in the phygital space.

Shannon highlights that “the contact center is now an amazing source of data” for both ends of the customer journey. 

In the past, KPIs tracked and measured an employee’s efficiency. Now, as Shannon points out, the primary opportunity is to see the contact center as a growth channel. In fact, virtual retail ecosystems now have a huge opportunity to drive pre-purchase through engagement that is lacking in a physical store.

Mental health check: Do you provide the tools for your contact center agents to thrive?

Who calls a contact center when they’re in a good mood? The reality is your agents are at the front lines of dealing with customer complaints and need mental health advocacy to build longevity.  

With more shoppers engaging on multiple platforms and communicating via more and more channels, giving agents the tools they need to meet their customers where they are is critical.

A contact center agent’s mental health toolbox 

Shannon is equally as passionate about the employee experience as she is about CX. A contact center agent’s mental health is essential. And teams must be led with empathy. 

Setting your agents up for success has a direct impact on your agents’ mental health and ability to deliver consistent, quality service to customers. This looks like a unified view of all things ‘customer’ in a single pane of glass, instead of toggling between 10 different screens. It also means providing agents access to real-time data and AI-powered analytics. 

By providing tools for an agent to do their job well and efficiently, contact centers preserve the mental health of their teams. 

Can Talkdesk help with everyone’s happiness?

Another key topic Chris and Shannon discuss is how to cultivate happiness to further promote brand loyalty. Chris said he believes “it’s our happiness as consumers that determines where we decide to shop over and over again.” To navigate this question with retail brands, Shannon has a simple question, “Are you easy to do business with?”

Shannon explains, “If I’m the customer, I don’t care what channel I’m shopping with you, I expect you to know me.” Knowing your customer, understanding their sentiment, and unifying data across all channels is now table-stakes.

Dial in for success: How a retail brand can start with Talkdesk 

Shannon points out that while retailers have spent the last several years outlining digital, cloud transformation roadmaps, many have overlooked the role of contact centers. 

But now there is a surge of retailers looking to step into the 21st century. 

Brands looking to leverage Talkdesk’s technology can adopt the tools and technical systems often in as little as 54 days. While some retailers may need to transition away from “farm grown” technology, the upstart is often simpler than many anticipate. 

With Talkdesk, Shannon explains retail agents experience a “unified view. [Almost like] a cockpit view of all things related to the customer.”  

Ultimately, by providing the right tools to agents, retailers can equip their customer service specialists to better serve customers, driving brand loyalty — now and in the future. 

For the full Omni Talk Retail interview with Shannon, check out the discussion on YouTube, Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. 

Learn more about how your team can use Talkdesk’s Retail Experience Cloud™ to unify the customer experience across digital and physical channels.

Top quotes: 

[15:38] Shannon Flanagan: “If you’re not driven by creating the conditions for your agents to lead with empathy and solve with empathy, then think about it from the labor shortage perspective and the emerging Gen Z workforce that are going to have very different expectations.”  [15:53]

[22:56] Shannon Flanagan: “When we’re talking about deploying capabilities, it’s still very much the old school mindset, Oh, we’ll deliver a little bit here, then a little bit here. And really, you can just leapfrog all the old stuff in the ways you operate and get people up and running and going super quick. Historically, onboarding agents took a long time. Now you can do it within hours.” [23:20]

[31:53] Shannon Flanagan: “When you think about AI in the context of taking that sentiment data, we can then help drive the next best actions and the recommendations to deliver a more tailored experience because we know who you are, and we’re meeting you where you are.” [32:10]