Episode 3: Staying Relevant with Retail Consumers While Lowering Costs

Episode 3 of Communications. Transformed.

On episode 3 of ‘Communications. Transformed.’, I discussed with my co-worker Randy Ksar, Social Media Manager at 8x8, two key areas where retailers continue to face challenges— creating an omnichannel experience with the use of communications technology and how to stay ahead of customer expectations. You can listen to the podcast below but first, let’s go over two main questions we discussed.

How Can Communications Technology Help Us Create an Omnichannel Experience?

Many retail organizations have expansive, yet disparate, digital interaction technologies, which sit within their eCommerce, IT, contact center or customer service groups. However, communications within each store are largely disconnected, providing little collective insight into the customer experience and taking extra effort to service and maintain.

Things to consider:

  • Can you achieve consistency through consolidation? A common system of engagement can unify business communications, in-store communications, contact center communications, meetings and collaboration, providing employees with the capabilities they need to deliver a more responsive, personalized experience across any channel.
  • How can you design your customer journey as a consistent, value-producing path? Instead of piecing together the dozens of interaction applications in order to build a rough sketch of the customer journey, a common platform can identify how customers are engaging with your brand across the contact centers and stores. When that platform connects into your CRM, it provides a layer of additional context that not only explains what a customer did but also why and what is likely to happen next.
  • Are you ready for Gen Z? Just as we’re getting over using “Millennial” as a theme/focus for everything from advertising to social research, here comes Gen Z with a categorically different perspective and behavior. To remain relevant to this emerging generation, retailers need to update their brand experience to be personalized, authentic, instantly accessible and consistent along the entire buyer journey. (See more on this topic in my post devoted to Gen Z here.)

How Can We Maintain the Speed and Agility Needed to Stay Ahead of Customer Expectations?

Both executives and investors expect fast results, meaning weeks or months rather than years. Likewise, customers expect you to adjust to meet their needs as newer technologies become more mainstream and the expectation of fulfillment goes from weeks to days to hours. Being able to manage your digital transformation while incorporating new interaction and eCommerce channels, opening new locations and providing customers with timely responses requires technology that can move at a digital pace, without requiring upgrades or hardware replacement.

Things to consider:

  • Are your current systems stifling growth? What we often see is retailers who deploy two phones lines per store (or some other very small number,) which limits customer conversations to just two at a time. During busy periods, this means customers can’t get through and requires additional service and configuration if and when you need to expand. Moving to a cloud-based platform provides the required agility and faster ramp-up time, whether adding a new location or additional staff.
  • How quickly can you adapt to change? Changing store messages, routing customers, and even announcing promotions is a painstaking process for an on-premise system. But cloud-based solutions can make these changes fast, without any local support, and across your entire footprint.

While even the most innovative retailers are finding it difficult to predict the next wave of consumer shopping preferences, they realize that when investing in technologies that provide flexibility and agility today, they need to ensure they also preserve the ability to maintain relevance later. The key is to understand which processes and systems are holding back potential business, so you can invest efforts into meaningful, frictionless experiences for your staff and your customers. Given the importance of communications, investing in a modern communication system should be high on every retailer’s to-do list.

Episode 3 – Communications. Transformed.

To learn more about how retailers can lower their communication costs listen and subscribe to the full podcast below, on Apple Podcasts, Google Music, Spotify or your favorite podcast player.

Fast-forward to these sections:

  • 2:30 What really drives cost savings for retailers?
  • 5:52 Macaroni Grill and Town Fair Tire discuss lowering their communications costs with cloud communications
  • 7:34 What do you need to look for in a cloud communications provider?

Links that we discussed in the podcast:

Below is an edited transcript of the podcast:

Russ:                         00:00             When you want to actually scale out to a different type of communication channel, you wanna maybe add some chat, it’s extremely expensive to do that in outdated technology or on-premise based technology, or you need professional services. But with cloud-based solutions, you can do that instantaneously, so it really saves a lot of time and energy to do that.

Announcer:                00:26             You’re listening to Communications. Transformed., a podcast from 8x8, where we interview the latest thought leaders and innovators who share their insights about the future of enterprise communications. Let’s get to the show.

Randy:                       00:41             Welcome to the communications transformed podcast, I’m your host, Randy Ksar. Today’s episode brings us back with 8x8’s Russ Chadinha, director of solutions marketing at 8x8, and our retail expert. He’s been researching the retail industry’s transformation and talks frequently with 8x8’s retail customers. In this episode, we dive headfirst into a few ways that retailers can lower their communication costs, and top tips for what to look for in a provider to make sure you gain the best service and products possible. Enjoy the podcast, and make sure to stay till the end to find out how you can join the Communications. Transformed. community for a chance to be featured on this podcast and network with other communication transformation experts. Russ welcome back.

Russ:                         01:26             Hey Randy, it’s great to be back, thanks for having me back.

Randy:                       01:30             Yeah, we’re glad to have you back, I think we had a lot of insight from the last podcast, where we talked about the challenges that retailers are facing when it comes to the communication technology that is really trying to make a difference within their business. And so today’s session, we’re gonna focus on one particular point that we talked about last week. And that is, how retailers can actually lower communication costs while improving their service. So that’s a big undertaking and Russ you have tons of insight from working with customers out there in the field. So let’s get to it.

                                                        So the first part is, where are retailers seeing opportunities to lower their communication costs? We understand that those are some very high-level conversations that people can have and everyone understands that. But what is the reality of these cost savings in these particular areas, no BS let’s talk about the real challenges and how to solve them. So tell us a little bit about that.

Russ:                         02:24             Man have you been talking to our customers?

Randy:                       02:26             I am all about customers, but yeah let’s go into those.

Russ:                         02:30             Yeah you’re hard on us today. So you’re absolutely right, so number one the question we always get is, yeah great, but what really drives cost savings, and it is true. We don’t even talk about the soft costs, we don’t have to talk about those at all. It’s this idea of eliminating the PSTN carrier, and their requirements, so that you can actually leverage the existing data networks and you can communicate with cloud-based services. So that is a very clear cost saving. The other one is, you get a one time cost of implementation when you replace a capital investment, but then you remove that annual maintenance and support cost of contracts. 20%+ typically, so that’s a significant cost saving. The other thing is that when you want to actually scale out to a different type of communication channel, you wanna maybe add some chat, it’s extremely expensive to do that in outdated technology or on-premise based technology, or you need professional services. But with cloud-based solutions, you can do that instantaneously, so it really saves a lot of time and energy to do that. And the other thing when we think about the cost savings, is what’s the opportunity cost? And so now I’m gonna reach into this area of soft costs just for a second, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I’m going to. Which is this idea of call quality. Now think about if you have a bad call, audio goes down, the experience is dead. And so we really need to ensure that the call quality in these types of providers is guaranteed. And then you can ensure that you’re not experiencing the extra costs associated with, or the opportunity costs associated with, just a bad customer experience.

Randy:                       04:18             Yeah and this could be employed, to employee communication, or could be employed to customer communication right, so that goes both ways.

Russ:                         04:25             That is such a great point, because you’re absolutely right. When we think about the employees and their ability to deliver the experience, if they’re frustrated they can’t get to the experts that they need. They can’t get the information they need, the tools are holding them back from an effective engagement with their customers. You’re absolutely right, it goes employees and customers both, great point.

Randy:                       04:46             Alright so now that we went over the cost savings and actually the reality of it, tell us a couple of examples of some customers that you’ve worked with.

Russ:                         04:54             I think what great about it is, retailers of all types can experience these kinds of cost savings. And the number is roughly the same regardless. And so we have two examples that I think are wonderful, Macaroni Grill as we all know, they’re a great restaurant chain, and then we got Town Fair Tire, which actually does a great job up in the northeast about exactly that, they’re a retail tire provider and installer. Both of these folks have moved to cloud-based solutions. I think it’s best if we have them, give us a little description of what they found.

Randy:                       05:30             Definitely yeah, so let’s listen to these clips, first one is from Macaroni Grill, just a short little snip from a previously recorded webinar. And then the second one is from another webinar, Town Fair Tire. And if you guys wanna listen to the full webinar, go to our website and listen to it. But this is just to share some more information around cost savings in relation to retailers and their communication costs. So listen in.

Macaroni Grill speaker:                 05:52             And so in a matter of three months, the investment paid for itself which is so rare in IT, and it was a nice treat. So that was a clear and huge win and some of the other wins mentioned already, that the internal productivity obviously telephones are a key way that we interact with our customers and our IVR changes occasionally. We have different promotions that we run in different ways we interact with our customers. We’ve been able to send our call center very quickly and do other innovations in that space that productivity that’s a little less tangible, but it’s been a huge improvement for us systems wise.

Town Fair Tire speaker:                 06:35             Being on the sales side of things, all I really cared about was that we were able to talk to our customer. And the nightmare I was dreaming was that on an internet-based system that the phone wouldn’t work or the voice would be not at a high quality. But what did with our IT team is a system on every single internet connection that we had at the store level. And here at the home office, to verify that we had enough bandwidth to run not only our systems but also to handle the 8x8 phone system. And we did not move forward unless we had enough bandwidth. We did actually have two stores that did not have enough and had to work on a different internet solution. But once we rolled everything out, the voice quality was outstanding, the salespeople in the store immediately recognized the difference from the phone system that we had, to the HD voice quality that we currently have.

Randy:                       07:34             So now that we’ve talked about the cost-saving solutions and how retailers can really prioritize on what they’re looking for. Now we need to talk about, there’s a lot of competition out there within the cloud communication space. Of course us included but, say someone had to do a scorecard and to take a look at what the different features were across all the different vendors. What are the things that people should take a look at when they’re looking for a cloud communication provider?

Russ:                         07:59             Yeah that’s a great question Randy, and the first thing as Macaroni Grill says, you just don’t want to let a hot oil splashing around on your phone gear, so, that’s number one, it’s a bad place for phone equipment. And that’s just a great point that he made. It’s one of those where you never really even think about it. But a couple of key areas: one is when they’re really looking at a service provider, do they own the intellectual property that allows for quick innovation to meet your evolving needs. So it’s not just about, can I pick up the phone and answer it today and I get a dial tone, but it’s somebody that actually can provide an intellectual property that will keep you at a competitive advantage going forward. And so you really wanna look at that. What kind of IP do they own that will enable you to stay innovative going forward?

                                                        That’s a fun one. The other one is, there’s a lot of providers out there today, and what they’re doing is piecing together different parts of the solution to create a package. And that’s fine, that’s perfectly okay. But if you look underneath, sometimes it makes it very difficult, cause you got a number of integration points, you got a number of potential security risks points when you’re doing that. And then it’s difficult to get the data from each of those touch points, so it’s hard to get that a holistic look at your communication interactions. So you wanna look for an integrated cloud platform that provides the right level of reliability and quality. And let’s talk about that for a second.

Randy:                       07:59             Yeah, we’re gonna talk about reliability, what are the things that people should look at?

Russ:                         09:35             Yeah, it’s standard data center reliability capabilities, you’re looking for four nines as a minimum. And then ask them what they’re really clocking in at and so to ensure that, are they actually getting to the four nines, or in many cases, they’re providers that are doing much better than that, they’re just conservative in their estimates. So that’s the first thing. The other thing that you’re gonna see is all around call quality, and people say I got great call quality, easy for me to say, I have great call quality. Many people are gonna say that. What happens is you wanna ask, A) how do they measure, B) how do they deliver it, and C) will they guarantee it? You really wanna look for those three pieces of it. So how do they deliver that call quality, how do they ensure it, and then another thing to think about is, how do they measure it? Can they give you analytics and insight to it, can they do it in real time, can they do it on a per-call basis? And what kind of insight can they give you there. So you wanna really look for that kinda capability. You wanna look for the idea of redundancy. How are they ensuring that if you have a bad weather situation, a particular site might go down. And I was in Harvey in Houston, that flood was amazing, the destruction that it did. People of Houston are so amazing to just power through that. But okay the site goes down. Now what do I do, how do…

Randy:                       11:02             Yeah that’s a reality these days, you have to have that.

Russ:                         11:05             So the ability to shift those calls to another location that’s up instantaneously, how is that disaster recovery managed, how do they reroute those calls to ensure then that the call quality guarantee stays in place? So those are key things that you really wanna be looking at on the product side. But it doesn’t stop there, I think great opportunities to start looking at, how is their service delivery? Can they get it up running quickly with little to no disruption to my stores? And that is a super important part of it-

Randy:                       11:35             How are those retailers or any business, you wanna make sure that that vendor can come in and have minimal downtime if at all, and make sure that you’re up and running. So the business just keeps running it’s not gonna stop.

Russ:                         11:47             That’s it. And so you close those doors, you close the dollar flow. And that doesn’t work.

Randy:                       11:52             Let’s take a quick break and learn more about 8x8.

Speaker 7:                 11:56             8x8’s communication solutions help businesses transform their customer and employee experience. With one system of engagement, for cloud voice, video, collaboration, and contact center, and one system of intelligence on cloud communications platform, businesses can now communicate faster and smarter to exceed the speed of customer expectations. For additional information, visit www.8x8.com or follow 8x8 on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.

Randy:                       12:33             Now let’s get back to the show.

Russ:                         12:35             And that’s another great point when we think about the dependency on support, so if they’ve cobbled together a number of different applications from different providers, how does the support model work. And so you really what you wanna ensure is that you don’t have dependencies on third party support, due to that IP ownership. You wanna ensure that the provider has fully enabled enterprise support centers. And what we mean by that is that if you have locations globally, you may have an international presence, you wanna move with the sun, and you wanna make sure that the provider can handle that.

                                                        And the last thing that, when we think about deployment is, and this is something that I hear from IT leaders all the time, is centralized management, so that you can sit in a headquarter location and deploy new sites. All that you really do is you pull the phone out of the box, you test it, you make sure it’s got the right firmware, and you ship it to the location, and that’s it, and you’re done. And so the stability to centrally manage that, centrally deploy that, saves a massive amount of time, but provides a great experience it really accelerates time-to-value.

Randy:                       13:36             Yeah the onboarding is definitely a key when you’re trying to get you up installed and in different locations. Alright so great points, love the tips here, especially in relation to what IT leaders need to take a look at from this perspective in terms of lowering costs around cloud communications. So to kind of wrap up everything that we’ve talked about, what are some of the key takeaways?

Russ:                         13:57             Yeah, Randy, I think there’s three here that, when you think about your costs, you’re gonna lower your costs with not just a lower phone bill, but look at your IT time and expense as well. So savings across those areas. The second point I’m gonna make is that integrated communications on a single cloud platform will lower risk while increasing the reliability and the quality of the service. And then the final thing to look at is, look for a provider that will guarantee the call quality and reliability, and ensure that you have them explained how they actually do it.

Randy:                       14:32             Yeah that explains part is really key. The details, gotta get the details. Alright well cool, this is great information. We hope that our fellow listening audience has enjoyed Russ’s insights. If you are wanting to talk more with an 8x8 expert such as Russ, definitely hit us up on Twitter @8x8. And we’ll direct you to the right person. So thanks Russ for all the insights that you provided today.

Russ:                         14:54             Okay thanks Randy, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

Randy:                       14:57             As well, and we’ll talk to you guys soon. Thanks again, as always if you are listening to this podcast, make sure to subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast listening device or application. And always write us a review, let us know how we’re doing. We wanna hear from you, the listening audience, what are the topics that you wanna listen to. So thanks again, this is the Communications. Transformed. podcast.

Thank you for staying till the very end of the podcast. We wanna invite you to the Communications. Transformed. Linkedin group. Where you can network with other communications transformation experts, guests on the show, and myself. In addition, if you wanna be featured on the podcast, share your story on how communications have transformed your business. Join today at bit.ly/8x8podcast.

Announcer:                15:42             You’ve been listening to Communications. Transformed. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

Russ Chadinha

Russ Chadinha

Russ brings 20+ years of learning and experience to his Director of Solutions Marketing role at 8x8.  Leveraging experience that includes leadership roles in product management, product marketing, eCommerce and sales, he brings an innovative and creative approach to providing industry-specific solutions.  Read More>

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