Scaling up operations to meet seasonal retail peak is always a tricky task but especially so this year. When it comes to planning for Black Friday and the 2020 Festive Season, not only will retailers have to increase capacity to cope with greater online activity but also comply with social distancing regulations in-store as traffic volumes grow.
Ensuring people’s safety while securing much-needed sales growth will be a difficult balancing act, and not just for retail store owners. It’s going to be a major problem for retail contact centres too. In the online space in particular, increased sales will call for extra support personnel who are experienced and trained in understanding the end-to-end customer journey. Their role in using digital customer experience tools to support customers and avoid abandoned online shopping baskets will be vital.
The challenge for contact centre managers is how to acquire these additional heads. Because of the need for social distancing and staggered rotas, it won’t be possible to fit more people into existing retail contact centres. A different approach will be required.
In previous years, retailers often turned to third party ‘bricks and mortar’ service outsourcers to make up the numbers. For this Festive Season peak, however, even that could be tricky. Traditional outsourced contact centre operators are subject to the same social distancing regulations as retailers themselves, so rapidly scaling up numbers will be difficult.
The only realistic answer to this unprecedented customer service dilemma will be for retailers to hire homeworkers.
Work-from-home (or WFH) has become the new normal for customer service operators over the past few months with a massive 84% of contact centres mainly operating on a WFH basis according to industry research from ContactBabel/Channel Doctors in April 2020.
The switch from bricks and mortar to virtual has not, however, been without its issues. When 156 UK contact centre professionals were asked about their biggest homeworking challenges in an April/May/June 2020 poll, 23 per cent said Pastoral Care (i.e. isolation/mental health), 23 per cent Motivation/Productivity, 20 per cent Telephony/Technology Services, 11 per cent Staff Management, and 10 per cent Communication with Remote Workers.
Training, IT Security, and Recruitment challenges were also identified. Only 2 per cent of respondents thought that they Had Homeworking Nailed. Despite these challenges, over 50 per cent of UK contact centres said that they were now looking at homeworking as part of their longer term strategy.
So while homeworking is now a necessity it must be approached cautiously and managed effectively.
For many people, switching to WFH during lockdown simply meant leaving the office with a computer and a phone and setting up from home. Not so running a highly process-driven and team-oriented customer service operation. To achieve excellence in running a WFH customer service team calls for a very different mindset that starts with learning how to recruit the right homeworkers and extends to creating a virtual mindset across everything from training, planning, managing and reporting…… within a technology ecosystem that is secure, robust and flexible enough to scale up and down with your business needs.
The pressure to find a practical service solution for the Festive Season retail peak is greater than ever. Yet the skills required to effectively manage WFH teams can’t be learnt overnight. The skills, advice and people resources of a professional and experienced WFH customer service operator may just be what is required.