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Automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have been driving the narrative around the retail industry in recent years whereas the people element has been somewhat sidelined. It has certainly not been seen as a central plank of the future for the sector.

But we are seeing evidence of a growing realisation that it is people that are the real differentiators for retailers and that they are the most valuable component in generating loyalty among shoppers for retail businesses and brand owners.

This reappraisal of the value of people is taking place across entire organisations – from stores to call centres, and from senior management to those lower down the ranks. In the store environment their value is clear, according to recent research from Reflexis, which found 78% of people say good service drives loyalty and 87% find the ability of store associates to guide and advise them during the purchasing journey as important.

Gucci: Opening six call centres for its customers

This sort of evidence is driving change at companies including Gucci, which is opening six customer call centres that resemble the luxury brand’s shops. They involve hundreds of people handling calls and online queries. The objective is to create personal relationships with customers who are increasingly buying online, which replicates the personalised experience they would have enjoyed in-store before the emergence of the smart-phone. Gucci recognises the value of bringing people into the online mix as half of its revenues are derived online.

The value of the personal touch is also being recognised among even the most disruptive of businesses. The upstart bank Revolut is tearing up the old banking playbook but even it is now considering giving its customers the ability to call a number and speak to an actual person if they have a problem. The big complaint from its clients was the slow and impersonal way it has dealt with issues.

Such is the move towards focusing on the people perspective that work is being done on creating metrics for rating and valuing human capital. David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonald’s, says there needs to be a measure for the quality of the leadership and culture within a business. With the formation in the US of the ‘human capital management coalition’ he reckons the financial community will have developed a rating for businesses based on the quality of its leadership and culture.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

K3 Retail partners with businesses to provide connected technologies based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 so retailers can reach their goals now and in the future. In a size that best fits future plans wherever you need it – Cloud, Hybrid or On-premise. Our solutions drive more than 800 international retail brands from Charles Tyrwhitt and The White Company to Ryman and Sue Ryder, Hobbycraft, Wasabi and Ted Baker, K3 Retail is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and the UK’s leading Microsoft Dynamics retail partner.