This week Jill Puleri, VP & Global Retail Leader, Global Business Services for IBM, told a room of more than 1000 people, “Today’s customer wants to be served, not sold to.”

Her talk was in support of a new IBM retail report -- IBM surveyed 30,624 consumers in 13 countries and the findings were highlighted this week at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference in its 100th installment.

The report says, “The consumer is digital, the household is ‘virtual,’ consumers listen to their friends and families first, consumers want to be served, not sold to.” In addition, smarter consumers demand smarter retailers who are looking into multi-channel customer service. The report reads, “The shopping process has not only become more fragmented, it has also become more compressed.”

What IBM found was more evidence of a seachange in customer relationship management. According to Puleri, part of the reason retail has not caught on to a service-oriented approach is the very obvious product-focus.This product-focus will no longer sustain the company as customers continue to change their behavior.

Puleri gave a presentation at the 2011 NRF conference in a Super Session on day two before Dan Heath, author of “Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.”

In part one of this two-part CMSWire interview, Puleri answers questions regarding the role of IT in changing the face of customer relationship management.

Blake Landau: Let’s start by talking about the retail study. What was the most surprising finding from this week’s retail study published by IBM?

Jill Puleri: The biggest thing was in the technology area -- it increased thirty six percent year on year. But the biggest jump was because of mobile which went up 92% year over year.

BL: In the retail study you talk about how the retail experience is more compressed and fragmented than ever before. Can you talk about what that means from a retail perspective?

JP: Because of the technology -- and the consumer is time-starved -- they dip in and out of the process with technology all the time. They might become aware in one type of media-video hauling, online blogs and the store. When we researched we learned that more of the searches were becoming consumer generated. For example, Google searches, looking at product reviews from other consumers. They are dipping in and out. The key thing is once they arrive at the store-our findings stated she knows what she wants -- -and once she is there she wants to be served, not sold to.

BL: With regard to the fact that the consumer wants to be served not sold to, what are the implications of this for companies that are trying to maintain or achieve competitive advantage?

JP: In service, if you think about service a hundred years ago, it was courteous for sales associates to make sure you have the right products. Now it’s all about convenience. Now they want to make sure you have the right inventory like localized assortment. In addition to that, they want to make sure they check the position of inventory before the customer goes to the store. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than when they research an item and when they go to the store it’s not there. They also want courteous sales associates -- now we call service associates -- to help the smarter consumer. Locating a product, checking the customer out fast. The whole service aspect will take us back to where we were a hundred years ago.

BL: What are the implications of this change in consumer behavior from an IT perspective?

JP: If you think about how we describe how retailers respond to the smart consumer, they say the first thing you need to do is listen to the consumer. In our study we found that only 19% of all respondents were influenced by, and trusted the manufacturer. That meant that everybody else was influenced by family, friends and consumer generated content. It’s out of the retailers’ control. So the first thing to do is to listen to the noise on the wire. It’s difficult to get sentiment -- so we are saying use advanced analytics to crawl the web to gain insight.

The second thing is personalization is big. It’s good to be known. If I’m being advertised to, which channel makes sense. Listen to me, know me, empower me. That means if I want to use a mobile device, let me. Give me an app. That has a huge implication for IT. The consumer is expecting IT to figure this out. We all know it’s hard.

Stay tuned for the second half of the interview to be published shortly.