Follow industry headlines much? Retail, dubbed “a daily barometer for the nation’s economy,” is set to measure high again this holiday season, according to forecasts.
- Earlier this year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted 3.8% to 4.4% industry growth over 2017. Add to those healthy numbers, year-end unemployment projected to be a low 3.9%.
- In July, Kiplinger reported “Consumers Are Still Feeling Good”: “E-commerce will have yet another banner year, growing 15%, while in-store sales should do all right at 3.3%, their best showing since 2014.”
All good news, right?
For retailers, it comes with a qualified yes, however. That’s provided customer service operations are prepped for the upcoming holidays, with reinforcements at the ready.
And we’re not just talking seasonal temps here. Recruited en masse. Reciting customer responses by rote. Sandwiched in between the retail rush and crunch.
What consumers expect are articulate sales and customer service reps—online and in person—well-versed in the products and services being sold. Just like the consumers who are buying them. Intelligent contact agents who also complement IA-enabled self-service.
Is that too much to ask? We think not.
Call center operations are pressed to perform at year-end. Agree? So, let’s slip the laundry list of suggestions and scope out a few telling Q&As that can determine success, such as:
Can You Find Qualified Help?
The dark side of record employment is making businesses desperate to find good workers—for full-time jobs with benefits, let alone part-time, seasonal positions. Got a pipeline in place to ensure a steady flow of qualified applicants who: 1) understand retail; 2) know how to sell; and 3) are skilled in customer service?
Once hired, how fast can you educate them in your business and brand? After all, they represent your company. On the job, can they achieve the metrics that matter most for satisfaction and success? Best get them right—or customers could get righteous. Here’s a refresher on consumer preferences:
More online wish lists: NRF’s survey indicates that notes and wish lists might be transitioning to the digital stage. With online shopping playing an increasingly important role in just about every holiday, more consumers are looking to build their wish lists online rather than on paper.
Transparent return policies and reviews: Transparency is key. Not only do customers want transparent and generous return policies, but many of them will be taking into consideration customer reviews before they buy a product.
Personalized recommendations and purchase guides: Over half of the survey’s respondents (54%) used a retailer’s recommendations when making their lists last year and that same percentage started researching for their holiday gifts in October.
Convenience: This, as ever, is the name of the game, especially during the holidays. Making it easy for holiday shoppers to get their shopping done whenever they have time for it, whether that’s weeknights or weekends.
Multichannel experience: Omnichannel integration is among this year’s biggest trends in retail technology. According to IDC, omni experience engagement is the digital transformation strategic priority that will see the fastest growth between 2016 and 2021 — a 38.1% CAGR.
These initiatives will change shopping in several subtle ways. Shoppers may find it easier to buy something online and pick it up in the store. If a store doesn’t have the product they need, store clerks may be more likely to order it for them online and have it shipped directly to them. Or they may receive personalized shopping recommendations on their smartphones while shopping in a store.
Got Plans When Agents Say Sayonara?
Turned stomachs and turnover: Both are unsettling for any business. During the holidays — and the seasonal spikes that accompany them — absenteeism climbs among call center agents. And if the stress gets to be too much, agents just up and leave—especially in this flush economy.
So doesn’t it make sense to plan now for what you know will occur? Develop a 2018-19 strategy to deal with absenteeism and turnover for full-time and part-time workers. Included should be recognition on every shift, incentive programs and ongoing training, and team events, among other best practices. Remember, agents who feel appreciated give customers a reason to say thanks as well.
Prepared for High-Volume Holiday Returns?
Calculate this figure into your post-holiday operations: Small Business Trends reports customer returns hit 28% during the 2017 holiday season, citing work by Red Stag Fulfillment and retail returns specialist Optoro. Mega-sales mean a concurrent increase in those dreaded returns. With more online shopping, the give-back process can take the fun out of giving.
Fear not, the Red Stag/Optoro research suggests returns, done right, can build customer relationships for the long term. So, agents should be prepared—read that trained—to help customers looking for quick-turn resolutions for their returns that resonate.
In fact, why not look at that 28% return statistic as an opportunity to rebound the business? Articulate customer service and sales agents can do just that, offering responsive solutions—while maybe doing some upselling and cross-selling as well. That would make for happy holidays for customers and retailers alike.
Kim Houlne is CEO and President of Working Solutions