By Sagar Rajgopal, Chief Operating Officer
Retailers invest significant resources in their fourth-quarter plans and for good reason. U.S. shoppers spent more than $850 billion last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Industry analysts are expecting another strong Q4, tariffs and a shorter shopping season notwithstanding.
Of course, driving sales is only one piece of the puzzle. How you staff up and prepare for the flood of customer inquiries can affect sales and have lasting impacts on your brand, for good or for ill.
As customer service specialists, we know firsthand how critical it is to be ready for seasonal volume spikes whenever you face them in your business. We also know that no matter how good your forecasts are, you have to expect the unexpected.
As you finalize your plans for Q4, keep these three keys to success in mind:
1. Analyze the Customer Journey
For clients who rely on our contact centers for phone, email and chat support, a key component of our strategy throughout the year is to optimize the customer journey. The importance of that exercise cannot be overstated, especially ahead of seasonal spikes—whether that’s for the upcoming winter holidays, tax season or back-to-school.
It’s important to assess the customer journey in every channel, so you can spot and solve for friction points that could drive up call volume. You’ve no doubt gone through this exercise before, but it’s important to review your customer flows with seasonal promotions and marketing plans in mind. Will you be introducing anything new that could affect the customer experience or leave customers confused?
When you’re expecting customer contacts to increase, you also need to have a strategy in place to ensure that your best customers don’t get lost in the shuffle. That could be tenure differentiation in the interaction channel to help provide a customized experience for longer term customers who might have issues unrelated to the seasonal spike. For example, if your IVR is able, we suggest routing calls of VIP customers to more experienced agents.
We also recommend reviewing the top call drivers. This is important for two reasons: 1. To look for self-service opportunities, and 2. To focus training on the most common call types. (More on training below.) If tracking a package is the main reason for calling, why not include a package tracker on your website, in your mobile app or in the IVR? If login issues, such as being locked out of accounts, are driving customer outreach, refine your authentication or password reset options to make it easier for your customers to fix the problem on their own. Holiday prep is also a great time to revisit your online or in-app FAQs to ensure customers can find answers to their most common questions.
2. Be Nimble and Be Quick
Recruiting seasonal workers is a combination of art and science. On the one hand, you’re relying on data from previous years to forecast just how much help you’ll need. On the other, you have to be flexible enough to adjust when you blow you through your projections. You also need to provide meaningful employee engagement to reduce absenteeism and attrition.
We spend a lot of time building relationships with colleges and universities to recruit students for seasonal work. Students aren’t necessarily on the hunt for permanent work yet, so there’s typically less attrition than average. Another benefit to this strategy is that you’re also developing young talent for future permanent roles.
Training for seasonal staff should also be more targeted. Rather than focusing on every conceivable question an agent might receive, focus training on the most common call types. This allows you to shorten an agents’ time in training, which keeps costs down. And, this approach makes it easier to hire additional agents quickly.
Targeted agent training works best when deployed in tandem with IVR routing. More complex call types should be routed to the most experienced agents while simpler requests should be routed to newer agents.
3. Use Incentives and Technology to Drive Performance
There are high-tech and low-tech ways to boost performance. Combining the two delivers the best results.
One of the most important things you can do ahead of a seasonal spike is to identify potential leaders within your organization. It’s much more difficult to hire a team leader or a quality assurance analyst for three months. Promoting from within, is a great way to encourage employee development and helps ensure that performance is consistently strong.
To combat attrition, which can be a challenge if seasonal hires find permanent positions elsewhere, we recommend offering monetary incentives for agents to stay for the full project. Which incentives work best for your specific audience and geography can vary, but it’s important to test and learn.
On the technology front, we rely on our proprietary performance management app, inTouch, to help team leaders track performance in real time and respond immediately with agent coaching. Providing necessary coaching while the call is still fresh in an agent’s mind is key to driving optimal performance.
We’re also developing our artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to boost agent performance. There are couple of ways to approach it. One, which is already underway, is to program the AI to help guide agents through a call in real-time to ensure the quickest and most compliant resolution. Essentially, we’ve built process maps that correspond to the most common questions and our AI assistant will chime in to suggest the best course of action. Another tactic is to focus on the most common mistakes agents make. Newer agents are far more likely to make these mistakes than tenured agents, so deploying AI to help agents avoid common pitfalls is a practical way to use AI during peak seasons and any time of the year.
To find out more about how Ubiquity can support your customer service needs this holiday, contact us.
Sagar Rajgopal is the Chief Operating Officer at Ubiquity and one of its co-founders. In his role, he is responsible for managing worldwide operations, which includes workforce management, talent retention and employee development.