Scaling up customer service operations in preparation for peak

Customer service

Mary Urquhart, Senior Contact Centre Manager at PFS highlights why it is key for brands to scale up their operations and prioritise customer service.

As the shift to online shopping continues to accelerate, retailers across all sectors are facing increased pressure to keep up with the rising demands of customer service. In fact, research by Zendesk, reveals that following a peak in May, customer service requests remain well above pre-crisis levels. The way customers are reaching out to brands is also changing. With many phone lines inundated, customers are turning to WhatsApp and other alternative channels to get in touch. Since last April, globally, WhatsApp use has increased by 148% since late February – the highest of any channel for customer service. This highlights the growing need for brands to adapt their customer service offering to keep up with the expectations of today’s consumer.

With UK eCommerce expected to continue growing by as much as £5.3bn in 2020, never has there been a greater need for brands to take a strategic approach to online customer care. Whilst throughout the pandemic, many online brands have been forced to keep up with the customer service demands associated with peak-like order volumes, ‘actual’ peak season is just around the corner. This will come as a true test for a number of online retailers, who, despite scaling up fulfilment operations, may not have considered the need for additional customer service support.

Customer service – a strategic priority

With preparations about to start for peak season trading, online brands must treat customer service as a strategic priority. A positive, personalised customer experience can make the difference between an abandoned cart and a lifelong customer. Those who are underprepared risk customer dissatisfaction – damaging their reputation and their bottom line.

As sales continue to migrate online, brands will need to replicate the personalised and tangible experience that would be present at the in-store experience. For example, when entering a store, customers can expect to receive assistance and recommendations from staff when choosing products, something that can be sorely missed from the digital realm.

To support these types of queries, as well as the usual ‘where is my order?’, brands must have a robust customer care system in place, using either an in-house or outsourced operation. By doing so, brands can nurture the customer relationship to drive repeat sales and customer loyalty.

Variety will be key

Consumers are getting used to being able to purchase goods from a variety of different channels and will expect to be able to reach out to brands via a range of platforms as a result. 

Since lockdown began, there has been a surge in brands turning to mobile and social platforms in order to reach their customers. In May, Facebook was named as the latest channel to launch its very own shopping feature, whilst TikTok has been utilised by the likes of Amazon to drive beauty product sales. Brands using eCommerce and mCommerce platforms must ensure ultimate customer experience through a streamlined approach – offering phone, email, live chat, social listening as well as chatbot support.

Thanks to the wide reach of online shopping, it is also likely that your brand’s customer base will go beyond that of just the UK. In these cases, being able to offer customer care across international locations and providing multilingual agents will be crucial to providing seamless and personalised support.

Making the most of customer intelligence

Whilst language and platform preferences are important, ultimately the experience a brand can provide to a customer is only as good as that brands’ customer insight and order intelligence. By integrating your website and order management system, agents are able to leverage real-time order information. This means brands can respond quickly to customer queries, letting them know instantly exactly where their product is within the delivery chain.

Having access to customer insights can also enable brands to provide a much more efficient and personalised experience for customers. By having easy access to notes and contact history features, agents are equipped with detailed customer information, including any previous contact, enabling effective responses and negating repetition.

Technologies such as Voice of the Customer (VOC) tracking and reporting, used to gather positive or negative customer feedback related to a brands products or services can also be extremely useful. Helping quality and product teams to better understand the customer, their wants and needs, in order to drive brand loyalty.

Saving time with customer self-service

Although a variety of contact avenues is essential to keep up with today’s customer, it is important to ensure that customers can find the answers they need without having to leave your website.

Customer self-service allows brands to provide online support to their customers through a range of tools including online discussion forums and FAQ documents. The reality is, customers want their questions answered quickly, and often without having to necessarily interact with a representative from the brand. In fact, according to a report from Gartner, surveyed service leaders report that as much as 40% of today’s live volume could be resolved in self-service channels.

By ensuring online self-service tools are available, brands can ensure they are providing customers access to answers quickly, whilst saving themselves time to focus on more complex requests and customer service issues.

Scaling up effectively

For many brands, rising contact volumes during peak periods can prove challenging. For some, it may be a lack of personnel, for others a lack of technology, or even the contact centre infrastructure. Often, an outsourced operation will prove to be a simpler and more cost-effective option. By outsourcing your customer care function through a trusted provider that can act as an extension of your brand, online retailers can harness the scalability needed to meet volume fluctuations throughout the year. Having a flexible partner that can be scaled-up or scaled-back depending on activity means that brands can be agile and ready to respond when needed.

Growth in 2020 is going to be a challenge for those who were not prepared for changes in demand and unable to scale within their existing models. Now is the time to act and prepare for unforeseen demand fluctuations, ahead of peak and Brexit. This year is a tough year for retailers but is equally filled with opportunity.

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Mary Urquhart

Since joining the PFS team in 2016, Mary’s extensive customer service expertise has driven positive results across the organisation. Mary guides our clients to successful solutions through consultation on best practices and optimisation strategies that ensure customer service that reflects positively on each brand.