The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for retailers.
From September to January, shops are a frenzy of Halloween, Cyber Week, Black Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year sales. And behind the scenes, contact centres are inundated with customer requests for stock updates, product information, deliveries and returns. So how can you ensure your contact centre is ready for this seasonal demand? Remember these four Ps and you’ll have a jolly good time.
When preparing for any busy period, whether it’s summer, school holidays or the festive season, it’s important to take a big step back and look at the big picture. Is your contact centre currently running as it should be? Are systems running smoothly and are staff sufficiently trained? If not, now is the time to address any issues you might be experiencing. Soon you’ll be far too busy to focus on these tasks and you don’t want to be having to deal with problems under pressure.
Consider operations from your customers’ perspective too. As Apple founder Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology”. Are you providing a clear and coherent customer journey? Any points of friction could lead to abandonment or additional support requests — both of which you want to avoid during periods of high seasonal demand. And are you serving enough channels? Offering too few channels, such as voice only, could limit your ability to scale operations and meet unexpected spikes.
Remember when you had to order pizzas over the phone? You’d call the store, tell them what you wanted, hang up, and then wait for the delivery to turn up at your door. Problem was, you never knew exactly when your order would arrive or whether it was on time or delayed. So if you wanted to check on your order, you’d have to call the pizzeria, who would then have to call the delivery driver to check on their whereabouts before calling you back.
Thankfully, apps and APIs have now revolutionised this process. Today you can order a pizza on your phone and know exactly where it is at all times. You can receive an alert as soon as it’s been made, when it’s left for delivery, and even if the driver gets stuck in traffic, allowing you to better plan your mealtime.
How is this relevant to preparing your contact centre for seasonal demand? Because one of the most common reasons customers get in touch with retailers is to check on the whereabouts of their orders. So finding ways to incorporate proactive alerts into your customer service could help you to reduce the number of calls and enquiries you receive. Consider sending proactive SMS alerts to customers when their orders have been processed, dispatched and delivered. Or let customers know in advance when you’re running low on a certain stock item and when you’re expecting the next shipment.
A whopping £82 billion was spent in the United Kingdom in December and November in 2019 . But the festive season isn’t just critical for sales, it’s also an important time for connecting and building relationships with your customers. So providing extra personalisation, empathy and convenience during these busy months can help increase customers’ loyalty to your brand.
Research by Salesforce shows 68% of customers expect to be shown empathy by customer service agents, but just 37% say they receive it . So consider how you can clearly demonstrate that you understand your customers’ wants and needs. It could be as simple as using data from your CRM to personalise your interactions, suggesting products they might like based on their previous purchases, or using more empathetic language in your scripts. A common faux pas in customer service, for example, is using the phrase “We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused” when dealing with a problem. That’s because it fails to acknowledge how the customer may be feeling and to take responsibility for the problem. Using more empathetic language in your scripts can increase trust in your brand.
Some of our retail customers, including a large flooring and carpet seller in the UK, have also now introduced video into their contact centres. This has enabled them to offer video consultations with sales representatives online. While flooring has traditionally been something that people have had to travel in-store to see and understand, video has enabled the company to demonstrate products to customers in their homes.
Holiday periods can be difficult to staff as more people take time off to visit family, travel, and look after children. Sick days also tend to increase during the winter flu season. So ensuring you have enough staff with the right skills to meet your forecasted demand is crucial.
Workforce management tools can help you create accurate forecasts and schedules that will ensure your operation is always efficiently and effectively staffed. Hybrid resourcing is also a great option for retailers. This is where shop floor staff are trained and redeployed into contact centres to help meet seasonal demand. There, they can use their expertise in product and customer care, as well as learn new digital service skills. Hybrid resourcing also opens up more flexible working options for staff.
Seasonal demand in 2021
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is hoping for a bumper Christmas this year. In its latest Retail Sales Monitor, CEO Helen Dickinson said advent calendar items were already flying off shelves and searches for Christmas items had ramped up online. So if you haven’t already, now is the time to start preparing your contact centre for the seasonal rush. Just remember your four Ps – Perspective, Proactivity, Personalisation and People!