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  • The Silver Lining: How the pandemic has inspired innovation throughout the contact centre industry

    960 640 Stuart O'Brien

    By Jil Maassen, Lead Strategy Consultant, Optimizely

    There has been significant pressure on the contact centre industry throughout the pandemic. Unprecedented demand has been met by a dwindling office based workforce, and it is unlikely we will see a fully populated calling floor for some time yet.

    However, these difficult circumstances have produced insights and examples of innovation which may not have surfaced otherwise. Businesses with a culture of experimentation have been able to approach this challenge with agility, and tried new tactics to handle the call centre deluge, even with a limited number of staff on site.

    As businesses return to a new type of normal, they can take these lessons learned and apply them to operations going forward, driving growth and customer satisfaction from the front line.

    From the phone line to the finish line

    For some time now, contact centres have been targeted at the senior level to not just maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, but to find ways to reduce the level of direct contact time going forward. A happy customer is unlikely to call in, so businesses want to keep the number of inbound callers to a minimum. During the pandemic, this became business critical, because there weren’t the same number of handlers available.

    Businesses needed to address customer concerns before they reached the phone line, by ensuring digital touchpoints are up to scratch. However, the past few months has taught us no amount of FAQ’s or canned responses are sufficient in the face of the unprecedented. So how were organisations able to stay ahead of customer needs, while coping with dwindling live support resources.

    The answer to addressing customer needs before they flood the call centre lies in a smart approach to data, and a culture of experimentation. Every step in the customer journey provides an enormous volume of valuable data. If used in the right way, this data can help businesses nip potential pain points in the bud before the deluge of calls arrives. To illustrate, let’s consider retailers who have had to adjust to serve a more digital customer base than they are accustomed to.

    Servicing a changing mindset

    Many contact centres are supporting retailers who are struggling to bring back the regular footfall expected at this time of year, as consumers still default to online purchases for luxury items. An often overlooked trend in online shopping is the changeability of the customer mindset throughout this process.

    With an entire storefront at their fingertips, people are often susceptible to quickly changing their mind on a confirmed purchase, even after delivery has been fulfilled. In fact, about five to 10 percent of in-store purchases are returned. But that rises to 15 to 40 percent for online purchases, according to Happy Returns. In online retail — returns are inevitable.

    Clothes e-tailers such as ASOS cater to this trend well, and streamlined customer support and return processes have been well tuned over time. However, for businesses new to high volume online retail and distribution, this has been a difficult adjustment.

    The silver lining

    Out of the doom and gloom though, we have seen examples of retailers thriving under these conditions. A huge percentage of the calls retailers with an ecommerce platform will receive each year are delivery related, so addressing these have been a priority. Customers expect to have a clear view of how long delivery will take, and how this can vary before and after check-out.

    When faced with delays due to a higher volume of online orders than usual, we have seen retailer bosses speaking directly with their front-line call centre staff, to gain a better understanding of how they can ease customer concerns in this area. From limiting the amount of visible stock available, to understanding where to best place notifications of shipping delays on the site — the contact centre staff know the customer mindset best.

    Another interesting outcome, is that retailers have found introducing a queueing system on web pages to manage traffic has actually driven sales. This is something that call centres have been using for years, and businesses are finding ways to replicate these tactics digitally. Scarcity is one of the oldest sales tactics in the book, and it is certainly doing the trick for retailers as they quickly try to adapt to a digital first operating landscape.

    Moving towards a brighter future

    The success stories in the next few years won’t just be determined by who was able to succeed during the current crisis, but who was able to take the lessons and adapt for long term success.

    Organisations with award-winning customer service records, such as Sky, have been unlocking the insights from call centre staff through digital experimentation for years. As businesses march out into new territory, staying close to customer expectations through the contact centre will be essential to stay on the right course. The pandemic won’t last forever, but the lessons learned should outlive the virus for years to come.


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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