Claudia Ferguson
Claudia Ferguson

Customer service: We still need humans

by Claudia Ferguson. In today’s world, while technology may run the backend, people need to dominate the front. Retailers need both the tech and the human element if they are to be successful.

by Claudia Ferguson. I for one love technology. I love the fact that I can order products and services online, that I can WhatsApp or message suppliers and get an immediate response or use a chatbot to get further information. But when I venture outside my technology induced bubble, I expect my interaction to be just as efficient. In fact, I expect more. I don’t just want efficient, I want friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.

In today’s world, while technology may run the backend, people need to dominate the front. Retailers need both the tech and the human element if they are to be successful and while many are focusing on the technology to enhance the shopping experience and predict behaviour, they are neglecting one of the most obvious elements – that of staff. None of the high-tech capabilities would be possible without people, they are the connective tissue and ironically, its staff that can make or break a business. In the world of ecommerce and fancy technology, it’s easy to lose sight of that.

Personal interaction is one of the most effective ways to encourage a shopper to become a customer. Customers – both new and existing – interact with your brand through your frontline employees, who need to embody your brand and the culture that shapes. Frontline in this case pertains to both in-store staff and social media and live chat teams. And the risk of not getting it right is significant. Customers are spoilt for choice and many will turn away after a few bad experiences, if not after the first! So how do you harness the power of employees to give you the edge?

1. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more

Good two-way communication can help to build a strong ‘contract’ between you and your staff in which they feel valued by the company – which in turns promotes better performance, employee retention and positive emotions towards work and the brand. Sounds simple enough, but good communication is not simply about passing information down. It is about sharing relevant information often, ensuring the information is understood and interpreted correctly, and listening to what people say. Two-way communication is based on respect and action. Good communication is also about consistency: people are more likely to listen if there is a regular flow of information that they trust. What’s more, the more you communicate, the more brand essence and expectations are likely to stick. Staff are your biggest brand ambassadors – make sure they have the relevant information to be just that.

2. Prioritise customer service training

You might provide training on how to pack and store stock, or how to use the payment system for example – but are you providing customer service training? Not just for the customer service team, but for all staff that interact with clients – from those in the frontline in retail stores, to those responding to social media and online queries. They should intrinsically understand the brand, how to deal with customers and the process that needs to be followed. Hold managers accountable for how they lead and no matter the role, provide performance indicators that staff train and work towards.

3. Treat your employees how you want them to treat your customers

The happier your employees, the better they perform. The more they realise how important they are and feel that they are an intricate part of the bigger picture, the more proactive and resourceful they are. If they are not happy, this translates to your customers. Just like you would with your customers, ask what they want, make it easy for them to communicate and share feedback, be open and provide opportunity for strong career development. This way you will effectively retain your employees because in the right culture, they will tell you exactly how to do it and in the right culture, they become your competitive edge.

There’s a saying that goes ‘the customer is always right’ – and while that may not necessarily always be true, delivering on a positive customer experience is mandatory. It’s survival. And in a war between brands, retailers and tightening belts, make sure you are using the right weapon – the human edge.


With over a decade of experience in the industry, Claudia Ferguson, has an impressive consulting career and her fair share of industry stories to tell. And she does exactly that – tell brand stories, backed by strategy and high-level consulting – all focused on impact. She believes in the power of the African continent, the value of insight and experience and the importance of relationships on the continent and beyond its borders. She thrives on challenge and as a Business Director at Orange Ink, her responsibilities include strategic business development for the agency and its client portfolio.


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