By Ian Steyn, Innervation
Many retailers are still grappling with what has been dubbed “the era of the customer experience”. Companies have to find ways to serve their customers more efficiently, whilst offering an increasing number of diverse Value-Added Services (prepaid airtime, lottery, loyalty and coupons to name but a few). Customers want – and more importantly, expect – to buy prepaid airtime and lottery tickets and swipe and redeem loyalty cards and coupons, at the same point of sale (POS) as their goods and groceries.
As a retailer, you want to ultimately gain, and importantly maintain, a competitive advantage by acquiring new services that can be deployed in a way that requires the least amount of effort.
Needless to say, enhancing a point of sale (POS) system to support a host of integrated value added services can prove to be a challenge. Integration requires POS processes, user interfaces, receipt layouts, user training, reconciliation, clearing and management information, amongst others, to be considered. The larger the retailer and the more channels supported, the larger the challenge.
If approached in the right way, however, it can ensure strategic agility, supporting the rapid and cost effective deployment of enhancements and new services. Integrating with a single platform that allows a retailer to add new services as and when they become available, without needing to make any new changes to the POS, is perhaps the only way to do so efficiently – reducing both cost and timescales by more than 80% when compared to more traditional approaches.
The best option for most retailers today is to integrate with a platform that will ensure the required agility by supporting new generation interfaces (such as SOAP). This will:
- decouple the channel from VAS providers;
- support the aggregation of multiple VAS providers in a category;
- support interfaces to enterprise applications such as finance and CRM;
- support effective business process management; and
- limit or even remove the need to enhance channel applications to deploy new services.
The lack of such a platform approach is often the reason for an incomplete value added services deployment in terms of the basket of services – both the completeness thereof and the cost efficiency. The latter must always be measured over the full life cycle of a service or strategy execution.
The value of a platform approach is that it adds what could be described as a “translation layer” between the POS and any number of value-added services. On one side of this layer, a retailer running any of the popular POS systems can plug in without much difficulty. On the other side, VAS providers can do the same. Every channel can connect with any VAS on the platform, and vice versa. It gives retailers the power to switch between channel applications and VAS providers easily if they have to.
This can greatly reduce the life cycle costs associated with value added services. Removing the need to retrain cashiers every time is just one of the savings.
Adopting a platform approach enables retailers to implement many different customer contact channels, while maintaining a consistent customer experience across all of them. For example, if a company has a kiosk system, a website and a mobile app in addition to the physical tills, their customers need to feel that they’re connecting with the same organisation in a consistent way every time. The ability to do that seamlessly and consistently through a platform that has already been implemented is very valuable.
In short, being able to add new services easily also means being able to change easily – and that’s a very important capability in an environment that is very dynamic from a functional, regulatory and compliance perspective.
With the basics in place, retailers can start getting creative with services that will increase their competitive edge. We’re already seeing retailers combining value added services, with loyalty rewards being issued as prepaid airtime and a single customer view being maintained across all channels and services provided. Once the costs of innovation are lowered, the retailer has gained a competitive advantage and met customer requirements.