As we move into the busiest part of the year for many contact centres, keeping staff morale high is even more crucial for delivering fast, efficient service. At the same time, contact centres are taking on extra staff to cope with demand, all of whom need to be motivated and trained to be ambassadors for your brand.
Together, these factors add to the pressure on contact centre operations. How can you ensure that you get the best from all your staff? Based on our experience working with contact centres across the retail, financial services, travel and public sector we’ve isolated five areas to focus on:
1. Give them the tools to do the job
One of the biggest complaints from agents is that they don’t have fast access to the information they need to answer customer queries or have to navigate through a myriad of different systems to find what they are looking for. This makes their job more complex, interactions more time consuming, and decreases customer satisfaction. In many contact centres basic information is still stored offline in physical folders, rather than being available on their PCs. Make sure that knowledge is centralised, easy to update and that it is simple and straightforward for agents to access it.
2. Match the skills to the channel
Every person is different, so ensure that you play to their strengths. Some agents are typers, more at home with the written word, while others are talkers, happy on the phone but less confident with answering emails or chat sessions. While modern contact centres require multi-skilled, multichannel agents, make sure you recruit and train people with the right traits to deliver high levels of service.
3. Provide variety
There are many different types of interactions dealt with within a contact centre. For example, a department might be responsible for issuing paperwork to customers around insurance policy changes or VAT certificates to corporate buyers. Rather than simply assigning this role as a full time task for someone, inject variety into their day by mixing tasks. We know of one Holiday Company that focused staff on customer complaints in the morning and then more positive communications in the afternoon in order to keep motivation high.
4. Train, train and train
Particularly for new staff, there is a balance to be struck between providing sufficient training and getting people working productively as soon as is feasible. Again, a central knowledgebase can help reduce training time, as agents don’t need to memorise specific information or processes, but can quickly access them from their PC. Analysis of the questions that they are posing on the system can also allow supervisors to identify gaps in their training that can be filled with refresher sessions.
5. Make it fun!
At peak times of year, the pressure is very much on, and contact centre agents are at the coalface of customer contact. Build team spirit through competitions, decorate the office, hold themed – or even better – food-related events and reward star performers to create a buzz around the contact centre. This will increase motivation, attendance and build a reputation as a great place to work – which all feeds into increased staff retention and easier recruitment.
What tips do you have for increasing motivation at peak periods? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.
If recent media rumours are to be believed, Amazon is planning to open its first bricks and mortar outlet, located in the heart of New York City, close to the Empire State Building and world famous department store Macy’s. The opening is said to be scheduled ahead of this year’s holiday shopping season.
The move, if true, looks like a big change in direction for an ecommerce giant which until now has totally focused on the online channel. However, there may be some strong underlying reasons that explain why Amazon appears to be going against the grain and dipping a toe into physical retail. Here are three key ones:
1. Flagship location
Opening a store across the street from the Empire State Building, which boasts 4 million visitors a year will serve as a giant advertisement for Amazon’s online operation. It would be a flagship store where consumers could try out its own products, such as Kindle e-readers and Fire phones, in a similar vein to the outlets opened in major cities by the likes of Apple.
2. Click and Collect
Many experts believe one of the real drivers for the store would be to serve as a central hub for delivering online orders. There is a huge, growing demand for click and collect services. For example, in the UK it is something that 35% of Britons like to use. Obviously at present Amazon doesn’t have the physical stores that many of its rivals possess, making click and collect difficult. Similarly, the store could be a convenient way of supporting product returns for customers in the New York area.
3. Same day delivery
A third reason could be that Amazon wants to develop the site as a distribution centre to allow same day deliveries to local addresses. This seems increasingly credible in the light of Amazon’s move into selling ‘need-it-now’ items such as groceries and household goods which need to be delivered on the day. Essentially the building will act as a giant warehouse, with a shop on the front.
Amazon isn’t alone amongst pure-play online operations that have looked at expanding to have a physical presence. eBay did something similar a few years ago with its London pop up store. Given the importance of multichannel, including the High Street, to retail, it makes sense for ecommerce specialists to focus on building their capabilities in the physical world.
The challenges of extending the Amazon brand to a physical environment
However, Amazon will certainly face some new challenges if it wants to succeed in bricks and mortar retail. Here are three of the main ones:
1) Differences in customer service across channels
Amazon’s online customer experience is consistently rated highly by analysts and consumers. However, it is based on an automated, self-service model. A physical store has a different dynamic which involves face to face service. This requires people, all of whom have to be trained, motivated and monitored. Amazon will therefore need to work hard to extend its enviable reputation for online customer service to a physical environment.
2) Extending its USPs to the real world
Having made its name by pioneering ecommerce features such as online profiles, wish lists and reviews, Amazon will need to find ways to make it easy for shoppers to access and build on these elements in physical stores.
3) Delivering the range of products
Amazon is known for selling millions of products through the web – and, for many, is the de facto start point for online shopping. Given it offers 230 million items for sale in the US alone, it clearly can’t sell all of these in store. The company will therefore need to find a way to narrow down its focus and product catalogue. Does it, for example, look at high ticket items that people want to try before they buy or those that people want to receive quickly?
Whether the speculation about Amazon’s New York store is true or not it demonstrates the importance of multichannel to the retail world. Consumers value convenience and quality above all, meaning that, if they want to succeed, retailers need to make sure they can deliver the right experience seamlessly across the physical and online world.
The first secure ecommerce transaction took place 20 years ago when a lucky shopper paid $12.48 plus shipping to buy Sting’s album, Ten Summoner’s Tales, from NetMarket. From these small beginnings online sales have grown to hit £93 billion in the UK last year, according to IMRG, and are expected to top £100 billion in 2014.
How we shop today is radically different to 1994, changing the retail sector completely and reshaping the competitive landscape. ‘New entrants’, such as Amazon, have grown to become billion dollar corporations, while many long-established high street names have disappeared.
Aside from the benefits to consumers in terms of greater choice and lower prices, ecommerce has driven 3 major changes that have impacted business, particularly retail.
1. Customers demand more
The balance of power between companies and their customers has shifted. The combination of greater competition and the advent of social media means that consumers can easily switch supplier, as well as share their experiences on social media. This doesn’t just apply to retail – customers are demanding more from every organisation they deal with, from utilities and banks to government departments. No matter what sector you are in, you are judged by the same standards as the best performing organisations, so you need to ensure you are benchmarking against them and improving to provide what customers want.
2. The customer experience is paramount
Twenty years ago, the experience received by customers was patchy. Some high street shops were renowned for poor and unhelpful service, but as consumers had little choice, little was done to improve the experience. Indeed, the term customer experience was little known back in 1994. Its importance has developed in parallel with ecommerce, across every channel and sector.
Now, in today’s multichannel world, shoppers expect the same, consistently high, levels of service in-store as online, or over the phone. At the same time, the recent recession has focused retailers on better understanding their customers and delivering what they want, no matter how they make contact. The technology and tools are available to empower staff with the right information to provide this, helping to retain customers and build brand loyalty.
3. Integration is vital
At many points over the last two decades experts have predicted the end of the high street, with all retail sales moving to online channels. This has obviously not happened, and with the growth of click and collect services and flagship stores, physical shops have never been more vital. However, what is crucial is that all these channels are integrated to meet customer needs. Shoppers might browse the web on their mobile, place an order through their PC and then pick the item up in a shop or return an ecommerce purchase in-store. Consumers want the ability to switch channels dependent on their circumstances and needs, meaning that retailers need to integrate their operations to ensure a seamless, cross-channel experience that is centred on the customer.
Expect to see equally radical change in retail over the next 20 years, as new channels, and distribution mechanisms, build on the foundations of ecommerce. However, what won’t change is the need to focus on the customer – delivering the right experience across the multichannel journey. Organisations in all sectors therefore need to put in place the framework to manage every channel holistically, underpinned with consistent information based on customer needs. By doing this, they will be able to build lasting relationships that increase loyalty and revenues, now and in the future.
Organisations can find it difficult to deliver a consistently good customer experience across every channel and every interaction. Customer expectations are constantly rising, and the growth in enquiries, often through unstructured digital channels, increases the pressure on businesses to perform, time after time.
A good starting point for meeting these needs is to break the customer experience down into separate components. As customer service expert Micah Solomon points out, essentially it is both an art and a science, so your approach has to embrace both smiles (the emotional, personal side) and systems (providing consistent, scalable service).
Achieving this balance requires companies to focus on four key areas:
1 Benchmark both smiles and systems
Traditionally companies have benchmarked their customer experience against competitors. This seems logical, as these are your immediate rivals when it comes to winning and retaining customers. However, it is worth looking beyond your industry to capture best practice and ideas from sectors that are good at smiles (such as hospitality) and systems (manufacturing companies). That way you get to improve both your processes and the softer side of your customer experience by looking at experts in each area.
2 Build the right team
Few people possess the exact mix of smiles and systems when it comes to how they think and operate. So make sure you build a balanced team that includes both types of person, putting them in the best roles for their skills. Recognise their strengths and ensure you incorporate all of their ideas in improving the customer experience.
3 Make it scalable
Smaller organisations, such as local shops, often score highly for customer experience as they have the time to deliver a personalised, friendly service to consumers. Scaling this in larger companies is more difficult, but it comes down to a combination of training and empowering your staff. Look at the success of the Games Makers at the London 2012 Olympic Games – thousands of volunteers, but all with a single focus on ensuring that spectators had a wonderful experience.
4 Measure the right metrics
Traditional contact centre metrics focused on productivity, such as measuring average call length or the number of interactions agents completed in a shift. While these are necessary to meet targets and deliver efficiency, it is vital to look at other metrics that focus on customer satisfaction (such as Net Promoter Score) in addition. Balance smiles and system metrics. Ensure staff understand what they will be measured on, and put in place the right systems to record everything involved in the customer interaction.
5 Use technology as a platform
Obviously the systems side of customer experience requires technology to ensure that interactions reach the right agent, and that they are armed with the right information to solve a customer’s query. However technology can also help on the smiles side as well. By automating processes and enabling customers to find information themselves (such as through web self-service systems), agents can focus on more complex interactions which require more time. Technology such as linguistics can also analyse incoming digital communications to understand their tone, helping prioritise and giving vital information that can be used to provide a personalised, empathetic customer experience.
Customer experience is now central to business success. Companies therefore need to ensure they embrace both smiles and systems if they are to deliver the experience that customers really want.