I have a beautiful commute through the scenic rolling hills of Pennsylvania each morning on my to the Jay Group headquarters. The ride is almost always stress-free but this morning my idyllic ride and Grande Pumpkin Spice Mochaccino Latte were rudely interrupted. This morning I stopped to take note that the trees aren’t just beginning to show hints of autumn color, they’re well on the way to peak beauty. It’s Q4. Game on.
I love autumn. The relaxing sunny days followed by cool evenings by a crackling fire, with football games and other family friendly activities dominating the social calendar.
But professionally, I’m anything but relaxed. I make my living in the ecommerce field and the next ten weeks will make or break my year. With so much at stake, now is the time to double or triple check your Q4 readiness and make any final tweaks to your Customer Service program to make sure your Contact Center is ready for the seasonal rush and prepared to make sure your customers are well supported.
Here at The Jay Group we’ve been busy for the past several months gearing up for peak and we’re happy to share a few tips so you can, make sure you’re prepared too.
1 – Have a staffing contingency plan
By now you’ve undoubtedly completed your recruiting, if you manage your customer service internally, or prepared your contact center vendor with forecasts so they can staff appropriately. But what if things go better than planned? Earlier this year, Internet Retailer reported global ecommerce sales are projected to increase 25% over 2014. Even if you think you’ve hired appropriately, have you stress tested your team? Maybe you should consider adding a few relief valves:
- Hire more agents than you think you’ll need to account for attrition, or higher than forecasted sales volume. At this most critical time of the year you can ill-afford to have customers waiting in queue or abandoned contacts.
- Maintain a database of warm leads so you can quickly ramp up your team if you can see a spike in contacts is imminent.
- Find a partner. Working with a co-sourced partner is a great hybrid approach that lets you maintain ultimate control of your customer relationship and client experiences while simultaneously reducing your cost, improving your execution, increasing your customer satisfaction as you adjust to meet changing business demands.
2 – Make sure you have all of your bases covered
Like the jolly man in the red suit, make your list and check it twice. Does your strategy include an omnichannel component? Are you covering all the key protocols?
- FAQs: The best contact is the one that doesn’t happen. For the first time since Forresterstarted tracking these metrics, their research shows that customers actually prefer to be able to find an answer independently (e.g. FAQs, customer forums or similar self-service portals) so they could return to their previous activity more quickly. Who da thunk it?
- Voice: Don’t underestimate this ubiquitous protocol. Yes we all had to learn to stop referring to ourselves as call centers in favor of contact center years ago, but statistically phone still represents a huge number of customer contacts. Make sure you use intelligent call routing techniques to ensure you match callers to the agents who are best able to answer their queries promptly and accurately. Bonus points if you can offer a callback option for the customer who’d prefer to avoid staying on hold during the wait.
- Email: How does your solution stack up? Stella Service’s Q2 benchmarks set the bar for email response of their top 25 online retailers at 4.2 hours, with LL Bean’s average response time of 42 minutes showing how promptly best-in-class companies are managing the channel. With a pool of shared agents, you can easily manage off-phone activity between calls or at off peak times.
- Chat: When right now really means right this instant make sure you have agents monitoring chat. Rising in adoption from 43% in 2012 to 58% in 2014, this channel represents an underserviced sector which Forrester reports is supported by only a third of contact centers.
- Social: If you service the millennial crowd then you already know that you need to make sure you’re covering the emerging social channels, too. Facebook and Twitter are a good start, but don’t overlook Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram, and Vine.
3- Review DR and escalation protocols
Having a backup plan is paramount to your success during peak activity periods Make certain you’ve reviewed yours to confirm it’s accurate, up-to-date and well understood by those who need to use it. Your plan might be as simple as a course correction allowing you to adapt to changing business needs, or it might be a full blown Disaster Recovery Plan. If you identify gaps in the plan, use the time you have now to prevent a catastrophe later.
Keys to look for in your plan:
- Prepare your infrastructure. Have redundant and backup systems, services and hardware at the ready.
- Co-location. Have the ability to operate from a secondary location just in case of inclement weather, or a power or internet outage affects your primary operation.
- Have well documented escalation protocols so key stakeholders know when to pull the panic button.
- Establish clear communication channels. Team members triaging an issue need to stay in touch and account managers need to keep clients informed.
4 – Practice makes perfect
Great customer experience begins with great agents. Equip them for success by ensuring their training is complete, they have excellent support to answer customers’ questions fully and quickly and they know what their objectives are so they can deliver against the known goals.
Your team will be confident and ready because:
- You’ve trained them for success – make sure they have the script, the active listening skills, the confidence to handle objections and the product knowledge to deliver first call resolution
- You’re providing real time support – access to online knowledge bases, providing consistent coaching and call scoring and optimized workforce planning to ensure sufficient staffing all contribute to an agent’s success.
- You’ve established and shared goals – Make certain you create and publish SMART Goals for your team, and track your progress to these goals often. Many contact centers see great results by adding a gamification element to their goal measurement. Small rewards and friendly competition can make work seem less like, well, work.
5 – Keep Calm and Carry On
Peak can be a stressful time so try your best to keep calm. Remember that everyone’s ability to perform at peak levels requires they renew their strength. It’s difficult to be sure, but try your best every day to:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a healthy diet
- Practice good workplace ergonomics
- Schedule breaks to decompress and get the blood pumping. (Yay endorphins!)
- Have fun!
Visit our services pages to learn more about the Jay Group’s Call Center capabilities.
Photo Credit: Ken Sturm/USFWS