The Customer Comes First – But When?

Tom Redd

Warning: Proceed at your own risk. This blog contains old memories, high tech, and possibly whining.

When it comes to retailers using technology to put the customer first, my memory still cannot ditch some of the chaotic times. Like when IBM and NCR bolted real CRTs to the top of point-of-service (POS) terminals! That was exciting, and I was in the middle of it as a programmer. We even re-coded POS applications to show the customer receipt on the screen and receipt paper at the same time.

During these times we never really concentrated on the shopper or the customer – we focused on the processes. Now retail has changed so much that it has all flipped. We focus on the customer FIRST and the processes to serve that customer second.

The customer first – one attempt – SFA and CRM

Moving through my memory of rusting hardware and punch cards, I recall the big excitement and noise around the sales force automation (SFA) hype cycle. This was followed by the crazy customer relationship management (CRM) era. From what I recall, CRM was the system most likely not to be used by people. It was management’s answer to better serving the shopper or customer or prospect. But you needed to enter hoards of data – MANUALLY – and update the system all the time. The CRM solutions were NOT easy to link to back-office systems (well some were, if you loved Excel or Visicalc). So facts about the customer and reality never seemed to match.

Pizza time

After leaving the programming world, I was in a new role that had a super, new SFA app that we all used. This career change made my wife and kids happy because I was home more, and Dad always brought home pizza on Friday. The SFA app was supposed to help us link together as a team and address the needs of our customers and prospects. The app worked… after you spent half the day attempting the integration that did not work, and then worked into the late evening catching up. Pizza eating at the Redd house dwindled, and the kids were unhappy: back to Mom’s healthy food… yuck.

Jump to today!

Well, stopping my older brain sections and shifting to today is like re-installing Windows for the third time and still getting a blue screen.  But, quick, before it goes blue again, I will wrap up. Let’s talk TODAY!

Today, we are seeing the technology climbing into the back seat. Functionality, purpose, and value of solutions are taking its place in the driver’s seat (this has IoT very upset!). Today is about getting the customers what they want and need when they demand it. It’s about engaging with the customer across any communications platform. The customer of today is why we hear so much about digital and the digital economy – especially in retail.

We are now stepping way ahead of the SFA and CRM eras. They are long gone. We are moving into the new world of engagement. Tuning solutions and overall system functionality so that we can best engage with customers. To help businesses engage, transact, and get service in the most convenient ways. All while simplifying their technology landscape.

Today has brought a massive shift to the business world and in retail. The current generation of customers is always connected and so well-informed. Companies must step up and away from the old SFA and CRM space. They must engage their customers across all their channels in ways that are both relevant and consistent.

I miss the old retail and the chaos of change. I realize though that over the next seven to 10 years, the change will come even faster and across a broader space. I’m optimistic that the excitement will return. The key is – integrate, engage, and measure.

Oh, and take home pizza on Fridays – but none of that San Francisco pizza with broccoli on it! YUCK!

Are you feeling the pressure to respond to – and create – moments that matter to customers, anytime and anywhere? Learn more about creating those moments in Live Business: Live Customer Experiences for the Digital Economy.

Tom Redd

About Tom Redd

Tom Redd is the Global Vice President of Strategic Communications for SAP Retail. His specialties include business development, product management, marketing strategy, marketing management and CRM.