Mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse has rolled out 4,500 Sony Experia tablets to sales staff, providing access to performance data and freeing them from desktop terminals to engage with customers on the shop floor.

Deployed in September last year, the Android devices are used by staff at its 800 store across the UK and Northern Ireland, with the 6,500 employees sharing devices to access applications such as Microstrategy's mobile business intelligence tools.

“We want to give the consultant all of the tools they need on the tablet, rather than having to go back to a back-office terminal,” said Carphone Warehouse’s head of business intelligence, Paul Scullion.

“It is not just the sales process but also the Microstrategy BI so they can see their personal performance and their branch performance, and we also have the intranet site on the device so they can see all of the process guides on the tablet,” he told ComputerworldUK.

“It is really making the store as wireless as we can, and reducing the need to use the terminal at all.”

The tablets perform a variety of functions for employees in stores. One is to allow data to be entered into an in-house built ‘customer journey’ app, called ‘Pin Point’, into which a customer provides their requirements for the new phone contract.

“This includes the number of minutes they are likely to use, the data, preferences on operating system, handset manufacturer and network. The app recommends best match proposition from a vast range, with a couple of options either side - such as showing that by spending more money they will get more data and so forth,” said Scullion.

Having access to this information on a tablet means that staff can stay on the shop floor, looking at examples of products while having a conversation with the customer, which also helps to build trust, Scullion said.

“Customer don’t feel like they are being 'hard-sold' a particular proposition: they have gone through the process themselves with the tablet that is shared with the consultant. It is all about growing that trust in an industry that perhaps historically has been a bit bamboozling for a customer.”

The new sales method has had an immediate impact (“We are now seeing a consistent ramp up in terms of the number of journeys being processed through tablets,” Scullion explained) and there are plans to move more of the in-store transaction process onto the mobile devices in future.

“Our ultimate goal is to drive the transactions through the device as well. At the moment the close is still done on the till terminals, but we want to make that whole process in the tablet,” said Scullion.

Using data to motivate sales staff

Carphone Warehouse has been a customer of Microstrategy for three years, using its analytics tools to serve up information to branch managers via the web browser, as well as certain data to its head office.

The software platform sits on top of a Netezza data warehouse hosted in IBM’s cloud, with Informatica for ETL (extract, transform and load tool).

However, to a large extent, the retail BI tools have now been superseded by the more widely used mobile tools.

By offering staff access to performance data, the company believes it can help motivate them to reach performance targets, such as sales volumes, and compare against similar branches. It is also possible to compare stores on footfall, or show that show a store might be a particularly heavy on prepaid sales as opposed to contract, and allow the targets to be flexed based on that information.

“Providing good quality APIs can help you have an enthusiastic workforce. They will be able to see how they fit into the bigger picture of the branch’s performance,and the region’s performance, and a positive sales consultant is more active,” said Scullion.

It has also enabled the business to have one ‘version of the truth’ when providing information to staff, rather than company data being delivered in a variety of means such as via email or on shared drives.

“There is a big element of trust in the trickle down of information to colleagues,” he explained. “We have had communication issues in the past where information [sales, customer satisfaction or footfall for example] has either been inaccurate or shared poorly, so by improving that we have been able to improve the motivation of staff.

“There was very little single version of the truth, because you had multiple authors, and multiple mediums.

“By bringing everything together into a single application, you achieve that consistency by good governance and good metric management.”

A wider rollout of tablet devices across the firm’s European stores is now being considered, added Scullion.

Mobile security

With the deployment of thousands of mobile tablets, securing the devices was a major consideration for Carphone Warehouse.

“It gives us a challenge with security, because it will be in one person’s hand one minute, and then someone else’s the next. So we use Airwatch as the MDM [mobile device management] tool to provide the security layer,” said Scullion.

With multiple-users, there is the opportunity to segment what data and applications are available to employees depending on their role within the organisation.

“We use Active Directory for employees to login to AirWatch. There are some bespoke views available to certain colleagues, and we are looking to have much more of that in the future - with a personal suite of applications depending on who you are and what your role is. If you are a branch manager you might have access to different applications compared to a retail colleague,” Scullion explained.

The company is also looking to alternative access methods to password identification, with Microstrategy’s mobile biometric security tool, Usher, a potential solution.

Scullion said: “We are very protective of customer data and security, and how we access the tablet for example, if we could work with Usher that would be a next step.”