Empowering consumers to take control of customer service over the peak period

shutterstock_42841429Mark Kirby, CEO of CartAssist tells us about customer service and how it is always under the spotlight when it comes to the peak Christmas period.

It is no secret. Call centres suffer extreme pressure from anxious consumers calling in to ask where, when and how their order will be delivered, and in many cases to complain about the service they have received.

However, the pressure felt by call centres immediately after Christmas can be even more intense. As soon as the clock strikes midnight on the 25th December, retailers will be hitting the January sales button and the appetite amongst shoppers for the next big bargain will commence. In the run up to Christmas last year, research from consumer watchdog, Which? found that 40% of consumers were planning to shop in the post-Christmas sales. This figure will inevitably climb for January 2016.

The problem here for call centres is that the influx of repetitive customer enquiries asking about: refunds, returns and even how to work the purchased product; can put considerable pressure on the customer service machine, to the point where the threat of collapse is very real. This is where control is needed to manage ongoing customer interactions and the brand relationship. Maintaining that control at customer contact instils a confidence amongst customers even during peak periods when traffic is high.

Get a handle on social media 

In recent years, the explosion of social media has driven and coincided with a dramatic change in the relationship between brand and consumer. No longer are brands sat firmly in the driver’s seat; customers now demand a high level of speed, convenience and transparency when it comes to service, with 70% expecting a response to social media comment in 15 minutes. Time is precious to everyone and retailers need to ensure a quick response to queries or risk narrowing the window of opportunity with the customer.

With 72% of customers expecting email enquiries to be replied to within three hours, social media is becoming a more popular platform to communicate with brands in real-time. According to a research report by the Institute of Customer Service, since January 2014, there has been an eight-fold increase in customer complaints made on social media.

The problem with using the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a customer service tool is that brands can now be publicly named and shamed – clearly visible to existing and potential new customers. Rather than sitting back and waiting for customer complaints to hit on social media, potentially risking brand reputation, it is imperative that the right customer service strategy and execution is in place to maintain strong customer relations and brand loyalty, particularly during peak season.

Listening to customers

With the 28th December recorded as the busiest shopping day last year, retailers should ensure their e-commerce offering is on point to meet the needs of all customers, from the bargain hunters to those returning Christmas gifts. Having the right information in the right place at the right time will be crucial in assisting the customer journey, minimising customer queries, as well as capitalising on the busiest shopping days. It is all about understanding what the customer wants.

Whilst 48% of consumers site call centres as their most frustrating customer service channel, some retailers are still addressing this issue by increasing the number of agents in their contact centre, thinking this is their only tool to respond to customers effectively. However, there is a limit to what organisations can deliver to customers through a contact centre channel, whilst remaining cost-effective and responsive.

Putting customers in the driving seat

Recognising the potential restrictions of call centres, entertainment technology brand, Goodmans, struggled to provide a consistent level of customer service when the majority of purchases occurred out of hours, either in the evenings or during the weekend; not ideal for peak volume. However, since implementing an intuitive digital self-service solution, Goodman’s customer base have access to 24/7 support, with 83% of queries being resolved first time round, whilst also reducing the strain on its traditional contact centre by 50%. Through the self-service engine’s intelligent knowledge base, Goodman’s has also benefited from a 55% expansion of ‘relevant answers’ and a 98% reduction of repetitive questions.

Digital self-service solutions are increasingly being used to empower customers to source information at a time and place that is convenient to them. Rather than waiting in long contact centre queues, or tediously searching through extensive FAQs or set-up guides, customers can receive relevant information they need on products in real-time without disrupting the user journey. For Goodmans, delivering rich content such as video and instructional PDFs, has considerably enhanced the level of online support and importantly the overall digital customer experience.

Don’t leave it till the last minute

If brands want to avoid unnecessary stress during peak-time, a good place to start is planning ahead. Rather than leaving everything to the last minute, retailers should be taking control of their relationship management strategy early to ensure the customer journey is well-supported even when traffic is high. Empowering the shopper to self-serve, not only improves the customer experience but reduces the strain and costs of traditional manned contact centre channels, ultimately keeping both brand and consumer merry over the post-Christmas sales.