Weathering the “Perfect Storm” In Retail

How to combat challenges brought by peak demand, now and in the future

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Weathering the “Perfect Storm” In Retail
Contact CentreLoyalty ManagementInsights

Published: November 11, 2022

Charlie Mitchell

Another frantic festive period is upon us, and no sector will be hit as hard as retail.

Indeed, many customers, stretched by the cost-of-living crisis, have deferred their spending until now, waiting for special, holiday deals.

Not only will this likely bring intensified peaks in contact volumes, but heightened customer vulnerability. As a result, retail customer service centres are preparing to face a slew of complex, emotive calls.

In addition, these problems will impact employees, many of whom are in the same boat.

There are other challenges as well, such as working with courier services, under increasing scrutiny from Ofcom. Royal Mail strikes in the UK this festive season may further exasperate the issue.

As such, queries such as: “Where’s my order?” or “What’s the status of my return?” may crank up the pressure on contact and customer service centres alongside the transport and distribution infrastructure.

“It’s all coming together as the perfect storm,” notes Nick Rowe, Customer Success Director at CallMiner. “And, in the world of social media, if something goes wrong, people are going to know about it.”

Don’t Give Up on Customer Service

Many will consider the golden age of customer service to be over, with staff shortages, long hold times, and significant complexity.

Yet, the statistics still underline the significance of good service experiences. Indeed, 90 percent of Americans factor in customer service when deciding whether to do business with a company.

Unfortunately, following the conventional, reactive approach – especially around festive periods – no longer cuts the mustard.

As many businesses will likely find out this festive season, it is not enough to draft in seasonal employees, get managers to hop on the phone, and stretch the hours of already overloaded agents. Organisations must pivot their approach.

Placing customer journeys under the microscope, and understanding expectations and needs is the ideal starting point. Yet, mapping them out is just the beginning. As Rowe states:

“Organisations must wrap context around those journeys to spot and prioritise improvement and automation opportunities.”

Indeed, automation is rising as the knight in shining armour, mechanising many more customer contacts, easing the strain on front line agents and improving contact centre effectiveness.

Yet, as Rowe alludes, context steers the knight to the battlefield, pinpointing where it adds value. Solutions such as conversation analytics delivers this context, orientating organisations (including retailers), supporting the future implications of today’s customer choices, and enabling better customer outcomes and experiences

Think: Discover, Remove, Improve

When alleviating the burden on the contact and customer service centres with automation, Wayne Butterfield, Global Lead for Augmented Intelligence at ISG, puts forward a simple three-step approach:

  1. Discover why customers are contacting you
  2. Remove transactional contacts by fixing upstream issues and implementing self-service
  3. Improve more complex contacts by automating repetitive processes agents follow

Conversation analytics is the thread that holds this three-step process together.

Solutions – such as CallMiner – accurately identify trends, patterns, and intent for every customer conversation across all channels.

As such, operations teams can discover their most prominent demand drivers and estimate the associated costs. The latter will help to create a compelling business case for automation.

Of course, brands could turn to disposition codes and IVR inputs instead, yet these are notoriously inaccurate, static, and susceptible to human error.

With an accurate list of top demand drivers, businesses should first look to identify the root cause. Again, analytics helps here, as Rowe states:

“Contact centres may use the technology to identify upstream problems – spotlight their associated costs – and support other departments in fixing these pressing issues.”

When this approach is impossible, it is time to focus on “removing” and “improving.”

Such a process starts by assessing the contact handling process for the prevalent demand driver. Analytics makes this easier while also surfacing best practices.

If the contact appears formulaic, businesses can consider AI fuelled conversation AI solutions to automate those contact reasons at scale. Alternatively, self-service portals, proactive messaging, and FAQ page updates may do the trick.

Yet, when the contact handling process requires more human ingenuity – which AI simply cannot replace – use the analysis to identify the repetitive processes that agents follow.

These may include form filling, launching applications, copying and pasting information, and much more. Consider how often agents perform such actions and use these insights to create an iron-clad business case for robotic process automation.

As a result, retail contact centres can safely reduce handling times, further combat rising demand, and deliver better customer experiences.

Last Minute Tips to Support Retail Contact Centres

The discover, remove, improve strategy is ideal for reducing strain on contact centres and supporting operations in smoothing future peaks in demand.

Yet, those looking for last-minute ideas to stem this year’s hefty festive flow of contact volumes may wish to consider the following quick tips:

  • Assess the performance of self-service applications and pinpoint when customers escalate. Use this information to add extra context and prevent a second contact.
  • Rethink proactive messaging strategies that may cause confusion and spur on contacts.
  • Review the knowledge base, and talk to agents to uncover gaps. Address these to offer agents more support and potential coaching opportunities, allowing them to speed up customer conversations.

Those that already use conversation analytics may also run a quality management initiative, isolating the best practices of high-performing agents.

By spreading these across the contact center population, perhaps through sharing call/screen recordings of excellent interactions, teams may encourage others to replicate these behaviours and improve quality of service.

In doing so, operations can reduce repeat contacts.

Again, this highlights the dexterity of a conversation analytics solution.

To learn how leveraging AI and other CX strategies can differentiate commerce leaders from the laggards, download CallMiner’s whitepaper on ‘Five Critical Trends That Omnichannel Retailers Must Understand’



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Brands mentioned in this article.


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