How retailers can cut IT costs and improve end-user support

Peter Walker, CEO of Cyntergy, a UK-based, 24/7 service desk for the retail and hospitality markets, outlines the advantages of outsourcing IT support in the retail sector.

Peter Walker, CEO of Cyntergy, a UK-based, 24/7 service desk for the retail and hospitality markets, outlines the advantages of outsourcing IT support in the retail sector.

Assumptions: You are a retailer or a software vendor providing retail software. You have an internal first level IT support department, keeping the tills and networks operational for your retail operations or your retail clients.

How many people do you have? Nine people perhaps, costing, what, around £200,000 all up? Not that many? How about five people costing around £100,000, but not perhaps operational at weekends or covering all the hours that stores are open. Over and above that is the cost of the support environment, which includes office space, call logging systems, reporting software and telephony.

No one wants to risk the support given to the front line - the operators are only too quick to point the finger at IT if a till can't take money or staff are too busy with IT issues to focus on customers (and rightly so). But, if there could be an opportunity to cut costs, improve quality and consistency of IT support and thereby keep investment going into programmes that enhance customer experience and business efficiencies, would it not be worth considering the pros and cons?

Consider outsourcing your support because:

• It costs less then you are currently paying your internal dedicated staff.

• The economies of scale allow an outsourced service desk to provide a more comprehensive service, in terms of hours of support, skills, consistent manning, and languages.

• You have a resource and a cost model which can be scaled up or scaled down, according to the needs of the business.

• You can have an objective reporting process that has no other remit, or bias, other than to help solve your IT problems, however they may have been caused and whoever is at fault.

Is it risk free?

No, of course it is not. There is, as with most business change, no gain without pain. There is a cultural shock to a business where existing support people know store managers well and have developed a mental library of instant fixes. (Incidentally, do you have those recorded anywhere?) All these have to be relearned by an outsource provider during the transition of skills from in-house to external. There is the possible negative impact of losing staff, even if the current economic climate has led everyone to feel vulnerable.

So is it all worth it?

Almost without exception the answer is, yes. The pain is short-term and the positives outweigh the negatives. You can immediately benefit from the outsourcer's investment in sophisticated call logging and reporting software as well as state-of-the-art telephone systems. Apart from cost savings, you can learn more about the recurring faults in your store systems. The new analysts quickly build the same level of relationship as the previous support team and you have the potential to extend hours of service to, say, 6am until 11pm, seven days a week, providing essential coverage on Saturdays - now the busiest day of the week for support calls.

So how can a service provider offer improved support for less cost? Back to the economies of scale. Your service desk is not running at full capacity all the time - it has its peak demands and low demands. In an outsourced service desk, they will be providing services for several clients similar to your company, so they can operate a shared service, hence better utilised staff and the lower cost. And no, that does not mean a loss of personalised service to your end users. Each call (or e-mail) that goes into a service desk is identified by client, so providing a seamless service to the business.

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