Tips for Optimizing Customer Service This Holiday Season

By Anna Convery, OpenSpan

With the kids back to school, retailers are counting down the days to the busy holiday shopping season. This means doing an overall assessment of your staffing needs, determining training plans and onboarding seasonal workers to handle the flurry of activity during this most profitable time of year. From the retail floor to the contact center, what is your strategy this year for offering your customer the highest level of service while maximizing the profitability of each customer interaction?

In the contact center, the year-round goals revolve around operational efficiency, revenue generation, managing risk and compliance and delivering a world-class customer experience. During the holidays, these overall goals remain constant and the challenge is to meet these goals with significantly more customer interactions. There is the added pressure to get seasonal employees trained quickly at a minimal cost. Additionally, competitive pressures for retailers grow fiercer each year, as stores fight to maximize the profitability of each transaction.

Here are a few tips to help ensure your contact center is ready to deliver the best possible customer service throughout the holiday rush, as well as the rest of the year:

One screen to rule them all
A number of companies rely on repeat seasonal customer service employees as their main staffing pool for the holidays. This is a convenient, less expensive means to fortify the frontline to your customers during the busy holiday call spikes to the contact center. These workers have worked for your organization in the past, require little training and understand the expectations of the job.

New seasonal agents are a different story. Training for contact center agents is costly and time-consuming. While classroom training remains the principal method to educate and ramp up agents, these new employees are not producing any value to the company while they are sitting in the classroom. Time away from the phone means less time interacting with customers, taking orders and making sales.

Forward-thinking retailers are taking a step back to analyze and understand why training takes so long for new employees. They are finding the crux of the problem is technology and the agent’s computer workspace. Over the years, many retailers have collected a hodgepodge of customer management, order and inventory systems. These systems may have been tweaked to work together, but they rarely are optimized to work well together. With so many different applications and systems to learn, the need for training is at a maximum.

Companies are reevaluating how agents access customer information, perform certain transactions and interact with the applications on their desktops. Are they providing fast and friendly service? Is the order information they are typing in accurate? If they have to enter data into more than one system, are they copying and pasting the correct information?

For example, let’s consider approaches from two different companies. Company A’s contact center agents are required to learn seven different systems during their new-hire training. Customer identification and security reside in one system, order history is in another, inventory data is housed in a completely separate system, and so on. Ramping up the agent so they are proficient in all of these disconnected systems requires time – quite a bit of it – to ensure they are handling calls correctly.

Company B, on the other hand, has created a customer 360 view, which taps into the different systems that contain customer information and presents this in a single window. In that one window, the agent is presented everything he or she needs to answer questions about the customer’s account and perform all relevant customer service transactions.

Training for agents at Company B takes a half-day. These agents then spend the other half of their training day observing a more seasoned agent. Training for Company A’s agents takes three full days, followed by an evaluation to ensure the agent has mastered all of the screens, fields and processes to navigate all seven applications.

Access to customer data is critical!
When it comes to preparations for the busiest retail time of the year, agility is key. Technology and big data initiatives today enable companies to have minute-by-minute pricing data, which means companies must be on top of their game to analyze, reconfigure and push pricing data to all channels to remain competitive. The holiday season is starting earlier and earlier every year and online shopping enables consumers to access virtually any product from the comfort of their home, so companies need to be ready early for pricing wars.

Within contact centers, it is critical for agents to have real-time data to provide accurate pricing and inventory availability information to the customer. Agents must be able to access the many systems driving their customer service operations without having to navigate back and forth from system to system.

A common practice among retailers today is to present “next best offer” guidance to the contact center agent. There is substantial opportunity to drive increased revenue leveraging cross-sell and upsell promotions within the contact center through real-time guidance at the agent desktop. This strategy involves collecting and analyzing purchase history and transaction data, and then providing agents with real-time offers to the customer during the interaction. This “next best offer” practice has proven successful in maximizing revenue per transaction.

Holiday worker incentives
Today’s seasonal employees are mostly made up of Millennials. It is important for retailers to understand this type of employee and their behaviors related to incentives. During holiday sales drives, contact centers often set sales quotas and upsell and cross-sell metrics for incentive pay.

“Gamification” – using gaming techniques in the workplace to achieve specific levels of performance – has become the en vogue concept to engage the millennial generation. Having real-time performance statistics and access to cross-sell and upsell metrics enables agents to see how well they are performing and what they need to do to meet or exceed their targets for performance bonuses.

In summary …
The holiday season is a hectic time for consumers and retailers. As you can see, there are steps that contact center managers can take to simplify and streamline operations in order to maintain a consistently high level of customer service with the added temporary holiday hires. As you are planning for the holiday rush, consider some of these tips and practices to bring these seasonal workers into the fold. Train them, provide them with the information and tools they need to effectively do their jobs and motivate them to go the extra mile for your customers.

Anna Convery is the executive VP of strategy for OpenSpan, a provider of desktop automation and desktop analytics solutions that improve performance, drive revenue and increase efficiencies in contact center, back office and retail storefront environments. An industry expert in customer service technologies and solutions for the enterprise, she previously held senior executive roles at NICE Systems Ltd., ClickFox, Inc. and Nexidia Inc., as well as global marketing and business development roles with IBM Corporation, Jacada Ltd. and Unibol Inc.

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