According to recent research, conducted by IMRG and Capgemini, consumers are forecast to spend £4.6 billion online over the two weeks commencing 3 and 10 December – cementing this as the most important period of the UK retail calendar. However, as more consumers flock to shop online, I am left wondering if retailers’ contact centres are equipped to cope with the added influx of calls?
I say this because for the majority of online shoppers the contact centre is fast becoming the only point of actual contact with a company beyond a virtual transaction. This means that how customers are treated over the telephone is becoming an essential part of a retailer’s brand portfolio and it is also how they can differentiate themselves from the competition. It also means that the technologies that sit behind a retail contact centre now play an important role in business success.
Retailers need to be cognizant that the calls that make their way to a contact centre, as a result of an ecommerce transaction or because a phone in a local store was not picked up, will more often than not be fairly complex in nature. This is mainly attributable to the fact that consumers will be calling to get help for an issue that they cannot resolve themselves though any digital channel.
The increasingly complex nature of the calls that reach the retail contact centre also makes the call handling technology, which directs the way they are routed through a company, vital. The right call handling solution will be able to intelligently direct calls toward right team of customer service representatives for a start. And during busy periods, such as Christmas, this can help contact centre teams to provide quick and easy resolutions to queries – relating to both online and real-world purchases.
Calls that are handled well can help retailers differentiate themselves from the competition. Equally, calls that are handled poorly could land in hot water as the a new generation of digitally savvy shoppers are more likely to head to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustration, in real-time, naming and shaming organisations that have provided poor customer service. With many retailers still battling the recession you cannot afford to make simple mistakes, which, in turn, may lose you customers.
So, what should retailers be doing to ensure their voice network is intelligent enough to excel under the extra pressure of Christmas?
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that intelligent call handling technology goes beyond the traditional call queuing software you encounter in the retail contact centre. While this type of software may help you to be able to answer and act upon 100% of inbound calls, it will not help you retain customers and customer satisfaction. This is because retailers need an inbound call handling technology that can direct calls virtually from anywhere and to anywhere, across any combination of fixed or mobile networks, while call routings can be changed online in real-time.
The right intelligent call handling systems will allow you to route calls to the right people within your contact centre so that issues can be resolved quickly and efficiently. For example if a customer is calling into a contact centre or local store to query whether the gift they just purchased will be delivered on time for Christmas, and no one within the relevant team is available to take the call. That call may then be transferred to another general contact centre team. The right call handling technology should in theory be able to alert the contact centre employee what department or store location the call is coming in from so that queries can be dealt with in the right manner. This is especially important when customers want a resolution to a complex transactional issue on the spot.
But before implementing a call handling system the first thing you have to do is consider how your network infrastructure is managed. The right solution will enable you to manage your inbound call infrastructure from a single central point, removing the burden of updating messages online and ensuring consistency. It will help you to reduce risk and circumvent failure points within the phone network. It will also help retailers cope with any disruptions to business as usual when contact centres may have to relocate – this can be a saving grace, especially during busy periods such as Christmas, when it is critical that no calls go unanswered.
For a retail business the right call handling technology will also allow it to control customer calls effectively by helping to manage call length and call volumes. By directing calls to the right teams it should also, in theory, help to minimise the possibility of call backs, complaints about poor customer service and can help your business achieve its sales targets, while ensuring return business beyond Christmas.
Above all, implementing the right technology can help retailers to empower contact centres employees to deliver a personalised service during one of the busiest periods of the year, and beyond. It can help your business offer specialist services, such as festive online shopping assistants, and gain the ability to resolve complex customer issues with greater efficiency – regardless of the season. The right system and staff will help ensure that the majority of customers leave a call feeling that they’ve been given excellent customer service and make them more likely to recommend your brand to a fellow shopper – an important consideration in an e-commerce driven world where your competition is just a click away.