Telco Retail Needs a New RoboCop

Image of mobile phone and Robocop

Retail is changing.

As the world moves to a seamless, channel agnostic future where automated fulfilment can happen in any time or place, the need for neighbourhood retail stores is diminishing. The old “Coca-Cola” distribution model will no longer apply when formulating retail coverage, as long as the telco has the right digital, retail, and supply chain tools in place to reach their customers.

The Changing Face of Retail

Most telcos I know are tweaking their store estates, keeping hold of their key city flagships, and looking more to a shared cost model for outlying areas (be it a dealer model or a more intimate franchise relationship).

The changing product landscape will necessitate a retail growth period. Retail won’t die away in the suburbs with the introduction of in-home relationships with 5G, the increased level of home automation and security, or the plethora of wearables to hit the consumer space. Telcos will still need physical stores to help expedite these products and provide the face-to-face physical service that is key in cultures around the world. There will come a time when the estate size grows again, trust me.

Enter RoboCop

So, to RoboCop! This 80’s classic movie, remade in 2014, is a dystopian vision of a technologically advanced future where automation, artificial intelligence, and robots all collaborate to create a “super” police android to help control crime. In essence, it’s a new role for the police. It’s a new purpose, with new skills, and new behaviours.

Now, given my monologue above regarding the state of telco retail – do retailers need their own (new) RoboCop? I think so.

Let’s unpack this.

During the mobility boom between 1995 and 2005, the retail mobile phone advisor was primarily concerned with sales. Remember the street fighting tactics of Phones4U in the U.K.? Or the pushy, suited sales people from Verizon who only wanted to sit you down and sell you a product – Wolf of Wall Street style?

Yeah, they died out.

During the mobile maturity era from 2005 to 2015, ignited by the iPhone launch, the “sales advisor” approach morphed into a new consultative sales approach. This new tactic was full of lifestyle questions, sales cycles that were designed to get you (nicely) what you really needed, all while simultaneously upselling you accessories.

Yeah, they are dying out too.

The Convergence Stage

Which tactic do we have now? Well, since 2015, the mobile market has been going through a “convergence” stage. Fixed and mobile are getting together with their cable cousins, transforming into connectivity powerhouses, while at the same time cutting cost bases and leveraging the synergies that big mergers and acquisitions bring (witness Vodafone and Liberty Global?).

The convergence has left us with a complexity of devices, plans, products, TV and mobile together, MiFi devices, smart accessories, IOT, home security, and more.

In addition to this overwhelming complexity, the relationship between telco stores and consumers is becoming increasingly complicated. Throw in the “two heads syndrome” of your average telco (sales and service), and it is no wonder these businesses have a hard time with retail success.

A New Approach

What does my new telco retail RoboCop look like? What do they need to do?

First, they need a flexibility of knowledge. Retailers and their staff must know their devices, products, prices, billing systems, and how their complex business works. It is useless having too many specialists in stores with the unpredictable nature of retail footfall, which can leave you exposed if “Genius X” is off work. It is vital for telco retailers to have a solid induction program, provide a clear career path for employees through diverse positions, and cross-skill your team members to match customer demand.

Second, they need people skills. Like how to run a queue system – recognise who is waiting, who is not in the program, who is in a hurry, or who is angry? Not easy. How do you give customers a pleasant in-store experience and build a rapport in order to hit those vital NPS targets?

By the way, if customer experience is not a part of your remuneration scheme for your staff, you might just have a problem.

Third, they need to be able to recognise a sales opportunity. Read between the lines of your customer, what are they here for? What else do they need? What do I know about their lifestyle? How can I entangle them further with our (admittedly complex) range of products and services? If staff is only equipped to handle service calls in retail, then you have one expensive call centre in the middle of a mall. Grasp the opportunity, build the relationship, and treat each service call as a sales opportunity.

Fourth, they need to be a teacher! But not only that – one of the best teachers you ever had! A cool teacher that treats you and your classmates like adults, one who even cracks a joke now and again. Someone who, in a few words, could make something so complicated suddenly make sense. We have to teach. The telco retailers that win and grasp this concept will dominate. The ones that don’t will lose and become the dumb pipe they’ve always dreaded.

Making It Happen

“Where am I going to find these people, who can do all this for the retail going rate we can afford?”, I hear you all cry!

The answer is simple. You hired them – you just haven’t trained them. You just haven’t documented a clear career path to move them from new inductee, to tech expert, to store manager, to area manager – and beyond. You haven’t written the content needed to inspire and upskill these amazing young Gen Z’ers. They are, after all, the digital natives who have more passion for your products than you will ever understand. Yet, you equip them with dull and uninspiring spaces that prohibit the WOW!

You also haven’t designed your stores to sell stories, not things.

You haven’t clearly mapped your customer journeys, worked out the painful pinch points in your store choreography, or trained staff to overcome them.

You haven’t invested in your systems to alleviate some of the horror hoops customers jump through to conduct business with you, or changed your business processes for the same outcome.

You haven’t, but we have.

And we have RoboCop. We have the recipe. We know how to successfully fuse a Gen Z human with a robotic superhero that will wed customers to your business for life.

Think about that.

Contact me when you’re ready to build your own squadron of tech retail RoboCops.

Offering insight and concrete solutions for telcos looking to take their business to the next level.

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