Black Friday is set to put even more pressure on retail brands to deliver on the customer experience, as an estimated and record-breaking £1 billion will be spent on deals in the UK. A customer service expert has cautioned those customers taking part in the sales frenzy to ensure that the contact centre workforce is fully prepared ahead of what is expected to be the busiest shopping event of the year.
Mark King, SVP Europe & Africa at customer engagement technology company Aspect Software, suggests that the contact centre will ultimately determine whether or not retailers break their sales records and maintain customer satisfaction. He commented: "Consumers today only really live from one customer experience to the next, and in a high-pressure situation like Black Friday, even the smallest slips in service can affect a brand long-term."
He said: "For many reasons – including the widespread reports of crowds and physical trouble at stores in 2014 – I predict a lot of people will be shunning 'bricks' in favour of 'clicks' this year, avoiding the shops and grabbing their bargains online. ASDA has already announced that it will not be doing Black Friday at all this year over 'shopper fatigue'. The contact centre itself is going to come under a lot of strain, but customer service leaders need to play it more shrewd than filling it with extra bodies; over-provisioning will just squeeze already tight profit margins. Optimising the workforce in this environment by being smart with resources like skill sets and available data and intelligence will pay dividends when trying to capture more long-term customer loyalty.
"The modern omni-channel contact centre is multi-skilled, and handling more customer interactions through more channels than ever before, and as such is quickly becoming the engine room of digitally-driven retailers. Ensuring that your contact centre is using the optimal number of staff – who are engaged with what they're doing, have the right skills, and are all working at the right time – will not only ensure that overheads and operational costs are kept to a minimum, but also deliver service level improvements as customers appreciate greater access to the contact centre," King added.
King suggests that there are some practical workforce planning tips any contact centre can incorporate ahead of Black Friday, all the way through to the January sales period, with minimal investment in time and money:
- Leverage real-time data: This is particularly crucial during times of capacity fluctuation as common queries identified by analytics tools can be re-directed to self-service channels, such as mobile apps and online FAQ. This, in turn, benefits the contact centre by diverting voice calls towards other, less costly channels, helping to improve customer satisfaction.
- Don't be tempted to create a false economy: It's very easy to scrimp on training for agents during busy periods, but if they're not trained to standard as subject matter experts, the quality of service is at risk. Today's consumer is a vocal one, with more tools at their fingertips than ever to call out bad service to large audiences.
- Engage your agents: Disengaged agents immediately pose a risk to service quality, and monotony is the enemy. Take advantage of strategies such as skills blending: offering agents the flexibility to switch between handling interactions across different channels, or involve them in the creation of contact centre processes to harbour personal development.
- Consider seasonal shrinkage: Ensure that you account for 'shrinkage' for best practice forecasting – that is, any time that is not being spent handling customer interactions, for example toilet breaks, holidays and training, by: using recurring and non-recurring events to create precision; preparing for frequent changes to staffing (sickness, weather-affected lateness etc.) by streamlining schedule-change processes and finally, considering overstaffing and understaffing impacts independently (for example if your business objective is customer satisfaction, then you may favour overstaffing above understaffing – conversely, profitability may lend support to understaffing).