Customer service in times of uncertainty

Martin Taylor, deputy CEO & co-founder of Content Guru, explains how today’s retailers can prepare for Black Friday.

2020 has no doubt been a tumultuous year for the retail industry – with nationwide lockdowns forcing retailers to close their bricks-and-mortar stores and make the switch to online-only operations. Things are beginning to improve: the Office for National Statistics reveals that the volume of retail sales rose by 1.5% between August and September, as many households turned their attention to spending on DIY and household goods.

This said, with Black Friday fast approaching and Covid-19 continuing to make its mark in the shape of the second national lockdown, it is vitally important that retailers continue to optimise both offline and online operations. For those organisations already successfully combining the two areas with omnichannel customer engagement, navigating the unpredictability of Black Friday and the Christmas shopping period should be smoother sailing.

With this in mind, here are my top three key areas retail sector organisations should focus on to do exactly this:

1. Deliver to shoppers’ preferred channels

Everyone has their own preferences across both ‘traditional’ and digital platforms. It is important for organisations to understand their audience’s channel preferences, and then utilise that knowledge to engage with people through the best communication channel for them.

For example, many consumers now are turning to social media as a channel to communicate with providers – especially to publicly complain – for fear that traditional means like email and telephone will result in a delayed response. Best practice then dictates that retailers should stick to these choices and proactively provide customers with updates at this predictably chaotic time, thereby avoiding the risk of alienating consumers with spam-like attempts to reach them across every available channel.

2. More bang for your buck: the bargain of one cloud-based omnichannel solution

The way technology is applied in customer experience environments has been disrupted by solutions from cloud-based service providers. Businesses are making a strategic move away from traditional on-premise infrastructure in favour of versatile ‘as-a-service’ options, which broaden the functionality and flexibility available while reducing the need for big ticket CapEx investment. Retailers must be mindful of trying to build an omnichannel solution from disparate service providers, which can present integration challenges and introduce multiple points of potential failure into the wider communications platform. Providers who can offer a single coherent architecture are often better placed to meet the strategic and operational needs of the contact centre.

3. Servicing spikes in demand 

Even for contact centres that are used to dealing with high volumes, handling spikes in demand can prove difficult across an omnichannel environment. And with Black Friday on the horizon, and shoppers taking to the online versions of their favourite stores, contact centres working with cloud infrastructure are ideally placed to ensure strong service levels even when demand inevitably jumps.

Screen-pops bring up data and information regarding past interactions directly to agents, reducing frustration as callers don’t have to repeat information they have already provided. With intelligent automation, contact centres can route enquiries to the most appropriate available agent or chatbot, who are also equipped with the right information to engage with the contact. This ensures that shoppers are able to get the answers they need quickly and efficiently, without agents becoming overwhelmed by contact levels.

Keeping retail afloat

Although clearly Black Friday and, indeed, Christmas are going to be very different this year, one thing that won’t change is consumer demand for bargains and gifts. It is therefore vital for retailers to align their ‘as-a-service’ omnichannel offerings, as customer experience is now the key differentiator, particularly with options narrowed to online-only. As the year thus far has been so turbulent for retailers, successfully navigating its final couple of months could be the make-or-break for many businesses, so now is the time to get it right.

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