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Getting to grips with technology and customer experience

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

The BBC recently ran a series of programmes called “Inside The Supermarket”. It was a look at Sainsbury’s, a leading British grocery store. What interested us was an episode given to an experiment by Sainsbury’s in London. They created a special store at which shoppers were invited to download an app onto their phones. This enabled them to scan their purchases, pay online, and leave the store without visiting a till. The experiment was testing scan, pay and go technology to see if it makes grocery shopping quicker and more convenient.

Actually, there was a till in the store but it was hidden at the back. In fact, it was hoped that customers would ignore it. It was there simply as a backstop in case a customer with an app got into trouble.

So what happened? Well, a minority of customers, most of them young and tech savvy, liked the new technology. However, the majority of customers preferred the traditional way of shopping, and sought out the hidden till. It wasn’t hard to find – you simply had to look for the long queue.

In the words of Sainsbury’s Group Chief Digital Officer, Clodagh Moriarty, "We know our customers value their time and many want to shop as quickly as possible - technology is key to that.” Well, yes we can see that, but one customer who simply wanted a banana and who was interviewed as he exited the store empty-handed, thought the opposite. Technology can sometimes take longer than you think, especially cutting edge technology with which the customer may not be familiar and which may itself be cutting its own teeth.

Let’s step back a minute and think about how far we have moved in the last 40 years in using technology to improve customer experience. There was a time when we were greeted at a fuel station by a pump attendant who filled the tank and took our money. Forecourt self-service is now the norm and most of us wouldn’t dream of moving back to waiting to be served while an attendant deals with a splurge of custom.

The trouble is technology can take a bit of getting used to. It is our behaviours that need retraining. We used to call in at banks to get cash but now we enjoy the plethora of cash machines (and grumble about the demise of the High Street bank). We still call at shops to buy things but we also have embraced online shopping for its convenience. We just need a little bit of time to get used to new ways of doing things.

At the present, while Sainsbury's is testing its new scan, pay and go technology it has more customer service people walking the floor than in a traditional outlet. Sooner or later they won’t be necessary because we will know exactly how the new system works.

Ease of doing business is a key building block of great customer experience and it is suppliers and manufacturers who must lead the way. Customers can’t ask for what they don’t know. We are behoved to Sainsbury's, Amazon, Waymo and the like to show us what can be done and to take us through the learning curve so we know how to use it.


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