The BRC passionately believes that successful retailing in the future will rely on technology and human interaction working together in harmony. But while it’s clear that technology is already having an impact on the retail workforce — with the arrival of digitisation, AI and automation — the BRC has concerns that the long-term effects, challenges and opportunities facing the industry, are largely unknown.
Planning for tomorrow
It’s time to discuss, share ideas and collaborate for the best outcomes, says the trade body. Last year’s BRC Retail 2020 conference focused on the recruitment challenges facing the industry, and this year another special event is planned consider the impact of technology on the workforce. BRC Retail 2020 is a one-day conference (10th May) that will delve into key issues including:
- How technology is disrupting traditional employment models while at the same time presenting opportunities to work in new ways.
- How jobs are likely to be reshaped across the industry.
- Who is at risk of being left behind in ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution’
- What retailers can do to lessen the impact on society.
- The importance of the human touch running alongside automation
BRC Retail 2020 agenda
Expert speakers and panel discussions will tackle these issues head on.
Joanna Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service is speaking, looking at the enhancements already seen in AI and robotics. She says: “We will always need the human to help deliver a truly great customer experience and relationship, rather than simply a series of customer ‘services’. That is why we will always need human customer service — people who have all the skills of problem-solving, decision-making and empathy. While technology helps enhance an experience, whether behind the scenes or directly, it is people that deliver customer service, itself.”
Joanna believes that “the right use of technology means organisations can free up their people, away from low-level transactional customer services, and enable them to focus more on value-added customer service – helping customers resolve the more complex issues”. Government apprenticeship standards should include “transferrable skills” that include customer service training, suggests Joanna.
Retailer viewpoint on the future of retail jobs
Peter Collyer, People Experience Director at ASOS, will be sharing ‘the ASOS story’ giving the perspective from a leading online retailer.
A major focus for the company in recent years has been aligning the people experience with the customer he explains in this short interview.
Peter Collyer Q&A
In what ways do you think retail job roles will change in the next decade?
We believe ‘the experience’ will become even more important to customers, be it in store or online. Customers will seek this out and want to feel the service they receive is both personal and genuine. So, training and communications will play an even greater role in being able to achieve this. The capabilities of employees to be able to identify customers and tailor their approach according to their needs, will truly set them apart from their competitors. Additionally, technology will eliminate more of the repetitive and high-volume tasks which today are completed by people.
With the advancement of technologies in the workplace, what should government and retailers be doing to ensure we have the right skills in place?
Ensuring that a proactive and inclusive partnership is formed is key here – recognising the value of technology and trying to predict what skills and capabilities need to shift is their/our responsibility. We/they cannot slow the pace of change so we need to learn faster than the rate of change (which really can be a challenge) in order to serve our sector well. We need to ensure that those making the decisions, reflect and mirror the demographic of those who will be on the receiving end of these decisions. This gets right back to our education system in how we prepare our young people for the world of work.
What is the key risk of not aligning your people and customer experience?
As our employees ARE our customers, this is a non-negotiable for us at ASOS. One of our differentiators is the experience we create, therefore it’s even more important that we constantly review this and work towards enhancing it at every opportunity. There is no better PR than when it comes directly from our own people and a failure to do so would result in a fragmented offering and mixed message – far removed from the “authentic self” we strive to be each day.
Are you interested in the future of the retail workforce? Would you like to hear more from industry experts like this? Sign up for the event today.
Retail Connections is pleased to be a media partner of this latest event in the BRC Retail 2020 series, and we look forward to seeing many familiar and new retail industry faces in London on 10 May.