Thanksgiving is almost here, which means after all of our family time, giving thanks, eating great food and watching hours of football, it’s time to get serious about shopping. Black Friday (News - Alert) deals start as early as Thanksgiving night (although some sales have already begun) and Cyber Monday will raise huge levels of online traffic. To be honest, I’m pretty overwhelmed right now searching for potential deals…I can only imagine how call centers must feel during one of the busiest shopping times of the year.
Although Black Friday means a mad rush to retail stores everywhere, customers will also be tuning in to company call centers for a multitude of information, questions and concerns. I had the chance to talk with Matthew Storm (News - Alert), director, innovation and solutions at NICE, about the upcoming shopping holidays and how call centers should prepare.
Looking behind the scenes, one of the most important issues call centers will face this upcoming holiday season is scheduling their staff. At this point in the year, call centers have the biggest total staff on board as well as the most new staff joining their teams.
“Planning your workforce to when they arrive and when they take their breaks to when all of these people are handling these massive volumes of customer interactions has to be done with precision,” said Storm.
The second area is being able to work across different channels. Someone that might be handling phone calls in a call center may be working in other areas, such as retail store. The holidays require flexibility, so that if a company calls to move people around to areas in need, they can.
“Training and coaching is often abridged and rushed, however, customer expectations are still at an all-time high,” explained Storm. “Just because you have new staff and you have more people, and maybe more products and promotions, doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t be coaching.”
Even in the rush and large volumes of shoppers, Storm’s biggest piece of advice is to never neglect the customer experience. Avoid the “just get it done” mentality and aim to please, even during the busiest times.
“What we’ve seen over the course of the last five years, Cyber Monday (News - Alert) was originally created because of the accessibility to the Internet at work. So you had people waiting to do all of their shopping until they got to their desk where they had good, high-speed Internet,” explained Storm. “Honestly, I think it’s starting now and that flood of interactions that are happening on the Web only means for greater interactions at any moment. What you’ll see is that the customer service selling needs that consumers have are not bound by time anymore. It’s going to come from now until the gift is received.”
The best advice Storm can give is to leverage all the forecasts and schedules that you prepared for. Many organizations use their statistics from previous years to make sure they have the right amount of staffing at the right times, and sometimes that’s down to the 15-minute and 30-minute intervals throughout the day.
Since it is the busiest time to shop of the season, some shoppers may be a little more patient than usual. But not past a certain point. Even given the busiest shopping weekend of the year, customers, especially today’s always-connected, on-demand customers, are not willing to wait for someone that long on the phone.
Another thing to take away from the busy holiday season is being able to predict future interactions and avoid making mistakes in one interaction that could lead to more. When NICE sees organizations taking a little bit of extra time to prevent a repeat call, such as coaching customers on how to check statuses online and setting expectations correctly, they see the follow-up volume associated with repeat callers goes down dramatically.
“Training the employees and making sure they know all the things they can do to prevent that next call is also key to making sure that call volume that doesn’t spike because of some other issue that could happen in the future.”
So for call centers, take note of how you are approaching customer interactions, especially this weekend. For customers and consumers, happy shopping!
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