Here’s a sad (but true) story: The dog days of summer are almost at an end. As customers and clientele begin to re-emerge from their sun-soaked vacations, and step firmly back into reality and back-to-school or back-to-work shopping, contact centers in the retail industry and beyond will no doubt see a sharp influx in customer inquiries, emails, messages, and phone calls.
Their volume will rise on every channel, and callers will be expecting exquisite and timely customer service regardless of the demands of the busy season. And, too, the numbers don’t lie: Last year, Black Friday yielded over $6 billion online, with Cyber Monday surpassing that number at $7.8 billion. (To say that customers are active during these shopping days is a gross understatement.) As we mentioned in a recent article, “calls to businesses rose more than 375% over the past two holiday seasons.”
Now, this sharp spike in call volume doesn’t only rear its head during September. Only a stone’s throw away on the calendar are the two busiest shopping days of the year, ones that sometimes instill fear in the hearts of customer service staff, but bring in a magnificent amount of profit for brands in the space: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Now more than any other time of the year, contact centers will need to prepare for these shopping days both in-store and online, and manage the influx of customer interactions with grace, tact, helpfulness, and aplomb.
As long as contact center managers think ahead and lay the foundations to mitigate the increase in customer activity across contact channels, the task of preparing a contact center for busy seasons is not nearly as daunting as one would expect. Here are three simple ways to get started on a strategic plan to win the hearts and future business of customers, even during the busiest times of the year.
As any contact center manager will tell you, even in these increasingly automated times, people are key to strong customer service. So, it makes sense then that providing them with solid training and pairing new hires with experienced support staff, and increasing staff size during busy seasons, will certainly help and not hurt the contact center during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And too, many call centers strategically hire additional temporary staff to deal with call spikes and an influx of customer inquiries. For more on staffing strategies for contact centers, have a look at this useful article by Callzilla’s Neal Topf: “4 Things to Consider When Staffing for Peak Season.”
The other way to prepare your staff? Make sure they have the professional and peer support they need, and a training program which includes how to manage the stresses of working in a customer service space – mentally-taxing work to be sure. After all, an increase in customer calls means an influx in the probability of angry callers, which can weigh heavily upon a contact center agent, especially after repeated incidents, and can be considered a workplace hazard. A focus on uplifting employees by offering them the support they need or having procedures in place to escalate abusive customers to more senior staff, will raise productivity and morale, lower attrition, and keep contact center offerings strong.
Give Your Customers a Choice with Call-Backs
Another way to manage an increase in angry callers is to have technology in place that offers them choice and agency: Call-backs. One of the major complaints from customers phoning into contact centers is being kept on hold for an unpredictable amount of time so, in eliminating hold time and offering customers the option to receive a call-back from the next available agent, or to schedule a call-back for a time that is most convenient for them in future, you’re giving the customer choice, which should lessen the irritability that being put on hold often warrants. You’re also giving your customer service agents a much-deserved leg up in the customer interaction. So, it’s a no-brainer: Consider replacing hold time with a call-back: It’s a win-win for all involved. (Read more about how call-backs work here.)
Offer Multiple Channels
Communications technology has certainly evolved above and beyond the telephone. Whether chatbot, SMS, FaceTime, Skype, or other means of contact, customers today have a multitude of options at their fingertips, and literally in the palm of their hand. So, it makes sense then that contact centers should embrace the fact that consumers want and expect choice when it comes to reaching out to brands for support. Some prefer self-service or a handy FAQ page, while others prefer speaking with a human being – each customer has a different preference, but all expect the end result to be a quick and efficient resolution of their issue. With this diversity of consumer in mind, employing self-service options for customer interactions will keep both customers and agents buoyed, especially during your busiest seasons.
These are only the beginning of your journey towards preparing a contact center for busy seasons. Indeed, there are even more ways to get your contact or call center crisis-ready. If you haven’t put this free field guide in your shopping basket just yet, you can do so now: “How to Prepare your Call Center for Cyber Monday and Black Friday.”