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When policies and technology don’t mix

Published On: September 11, 2013

Policies or procedures are seen as an important business methodology to ensure there’s a defined workflow for staff to efficiently manage tasks. The question that businesses might want to ask though is, how the policies will affect their staff, customers and IT systems.

For example many businesses have polices around dealing with customer questions or complaints, this helps to ensure that the message is consistent across the store network. There’s no point in mixed messages as customers may pick up on this and question the company’s professionalism. This of course may result in negative feedback. Particularly important are policies around returns and exchanges. Efficient policies and staff training can provide customers with a level of service they’ll be happy to share or alternately condemn with immense force.

It’s predominantly in the area of IT systems that policies pose potential issues if not holistically considered or tested. For example customers standing at a POS counter are far less patient then at any time during their shopping experience. Let’s say an operator makes a mistake, such as charging a customer twice for an item, this may require senior staff to resolve it or require the customer to visit another counter to wait in line where it may become their responsibility to explain the situation. The problem is that the policy might have suited the business but maybe not the customer who has been potentially placed in a frustrating position or worse may be made late for another engagement.

Fundamentally IT systems are put into place to simplify processes, speed customers through the lanes and provide controls around fraud (internally and externally). The intended goal is to provide better customers service, limit operator overheads and enable insights to the operations and sales. The only issue is that in retail there is no perfect sales environment. Staff and customers assume that IT systems are in place to handle each and every circumstance that will arise. For them a particular issue is not unique and shouldn’t pose an issue, but we all know that this is not reality.

Policies often fail simply because the IT systems are based only on logic and don’t understand or cater for all the intangibles that can present themselves on the retail floor. This is often the root issue if policies are created outside of technical considerations and implemented without appropriate diligence. For example does you system provide:

  • Full audit of each transaction including operator, time and date stamps
  • Scaled controls around overrides
  • Flexible exchange or returns workflows
  • Configurable pop up screens that are trigger based
  • A reason code structure
  • Instant alerts to management that are triggered on configured events
  • Tasks management with escalations
  • Reporting tools that highlight exceptions and trends
  • Instant feedback mechanism for staff and customers

There’s no perfect system that anticipates events or provides the most appropriate response, so the next best option is to empower staff to assist the customer while being made accountable for their actions. For example if every keystroke can be audited then the business should be able to anticipate trends and respond accordingly.

For each policy it’s worth asking the question of why is it being put into place and who will be affected and how. Working with frontline staff will expose holes very quickly. Some businesses use professional shoppers to trip up staff and systems. If staff are confident they have workarounds that are known to be audited they will probably feel more empowered than simply feel monitored.  We don’t want to open up our systems to fraud and we know that not every customer is honest, but as a general rule hopefully the goal is to have our staff and customers walk away from an experience believing that service was placed above controls or policies.

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