So, as we approach the later stages of Black Friday 2015, it's worth pausing just for a moment to consider how well customer service levels have held up on a day that has potentially brought with it huge peaks in customer contact demand...
Figures from Black Friday 2014 suggest that there were 180 million visits to UK retail websites and that customers shelled out an estimated £810 million. Early indications suggest that interest and spending levels this year are at least in line with last year's figures, if not bigger.
Despite the large amount of profit that retailers are likely to make this year from Black Friday, the event also brings with it a huge amount of pressure as companies are forced to compete to provide the best offers, deals and promotions. But these aren’t the only pressures retailers face, they are also expected to be available to answer consumer queries, or worse, if something goes wrong – be it a website going down, a product not being in stock, issues with payments, or a faulty discount code....
So has your company coped this year? Did great forward planning mean that sufficient capacity was in place to deal with peaks in demand? Did your customers receive the same high levels of customer service that they do throughout the rest of the year? Or were sales lost, customer satisfaction levels lowered and loyalty decreased?
Whatever the results and impacts come close of play today, it's worth bearing in mind how outsourcing can be deployed to help in situations just like today...
1) Outsourcing increases flexibility
Sudden spikes in customer queries can make it difficult to ensure customers receive the right levels of service. Just how do you quickly flex your customer advisor levels up and down to match customer demand, whilst ensuring they are all well trained and knowledgeable? What if your office space does not allow for contact centre expansion, if you're working under headcount restrictions or you simply don't have the resource to recruit and train extra staff? Outsourcing some or all customer contact responsibilities is an effective way around these dilemmas.
Turning to an outsourced contact centre supplier is an easy way to scale customer contact operations up or down to react to changes in market conditions - be they expected or unexpected. Further flexibility comes from the fact that you can choose to outsource your entire customer contact operation or just certain elements of it.
2) Outsourcing can keep customer experiences on an even keel
Let's face it, the customer contact process is critical. A professional and personable service can go a long way towards building brand loyalty and helps to leave customers feeling positive about their overall interaction with a brand. When businesses are expecting (or possibly not expecting) to receive a high volume of customer enquiries, an outsourced contact centre provider can be engaged to ensure all customer enquiries continue to be handled effectively and that waiting times don't rise.
Before outsourcing however, organisations must be clear on exactly which elements of the customer contact process they want to outsource. for example, the decision could be to outsource transactional activity, or specific channel activity (e.g. email or web chat) where the skills required are more challenging to source quickly within their own operation.
3) Offering customers a multi-channel service
As we're all aware, the days of single channel customer contact are over. Customers increasingly expect a multi-channel service that offers a streamlined journey from one touch-point to another. It's no wonder then that many organisations have started to outsource their email, web chat and social media responses.
During peak times such as Black Friday, brands must be ready to handle and analyse customer interactions on social media in real time. A round the clock response to social media is critical to ensure that customers are not met with silence both during and out of normal office hours. The help of outsourcers can be called upon to ensure 24/7 social media support is in place if required.
4) Choosing the right outsourcer from the crowd
Despite its many benefits, the decision to outsource customer contact is not one that should be taken lightly - handing over something as important as customer service to a third party requires a large amount of trust. The right outsourcer needs to be a brand ambassador, offering customers a seamless brand experience. They also need to possess the right skills and experience to deal with customer enquiries in a compassionate but efficient manner.
Agility is a key requirement, the ability to respond quickly to your needs and rapidly deploy skilled resources at short notice. Allowing your outsourcer access to your CRM system can help here, and allow more rapid deployment.
5) Build a long term relationship
As is the case with any relationship, you get out what you put in. Organisations should invest time and energy into an outsource relationship to ensure there is a completely seamless and integrated customer experience. To strengthen the relationship, ensure it remains on-going by retaining a small proportion of work with the outsourcer outside of peak demand times - this will help guarantee that the knowledge of the brand and its products / services remains consistent.
Ultimately, selecting the right outsourcer, and building a long term relationship with them, can add tonnes of added-value to a business by challenging the status quo and championing customer service improvements based on deep insights and expertise.
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