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With the countdown on to Black Friday and the golden quarter, preparation is well underway to ensure shelves and sites are stocked. Most retailers will have established their marketing plans for the period with an additional £446m expected to be spent on advertising during the final quarter. But Martin Brown, CCO at FM Outsource, asks how many retailers have considered whether their customer service team is ready?

Martin Brown, CCO at FM Outsource

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, this year’s Black Friday offers the ideal opportunity for Brits to make some welcomed savings on their Christmas shopping. But with an influx of spending, comes an increased number of customer service enquiries.

Whether it be return and refund requests or delivery challenges, the golden quarter tends to leave many retailers drowning in customer enquiries, often without sufficient support. In fact, according to our research, 41% of large businesses are uncertain if they could handle a sudden influx in contacts. Whilst 43% of businesses believe they are unable to quickly scale up their customer care team.

Black Friday deals can be a great opportunity for retailers to attract new customers but retaining them requires an effective customer service strategy. Depending on the industry, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Therefore, it’s important to get it right. By taking a strategic approach and effectively scaling up operations in time, customer relationships can be protected, even during the Black Friday frenzy.

Expand the headcount
The first step in combatting this is clear, increase the number of available customer service representatives. If the retailer has sufficient time and has considered their strategy well in advance, hiring temporary personnel in the months before would be ideal. Nonetheless, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Instead, engaging an outsourced customer care provider allows a team of highly trained agents to be quickly introduced. Within a matter of days, the partners can seamlessly integrate into the existing team, providing vital support throughout the period.

Additionally, seeking the guidance of a communications consultant can help retailers to enhance their customer service operations. As external experts, consultants offer an unbiased view of operations. They can identify strengths and weaknesses that may not be evident to the existing team, providing a fresh perspective on how to optimise processes.

A skilled consultant will also work closely with the retailer to understand its unique customer service challenges, whether that be just over the golden quarter or year-round. By having a greater understanding of the challenges facing it, the retailer can develop customised solutions that align with the brand, ensuring a more effective and personalised approach to customer service.

Streamline contact channels
Leveraging assistive technologies can also support retailers with customer service during busy periods. Employing technology effectively can reduce the time necessary for the team to reply to enquiries. We recommend transitioning a substantial portion of customer communications to web chat and social media to lessen the demand on telephone services. This not only reduces the wait time for customers, but also has financial advantages, as web chat is significantly cheaper to operate than a phone service.

Chat bots excel at addressing simple enquiries without needing a human operator, alleviating any bottlenecks. As long as immediate access to a human agent is available should the customer require it, chat bots can free up the team’s time to tackle more sophisticated customer queries.

Making the move to digital channels can be an easy experience for businesses and customers alike if it is done in a considered way. If the retailer wants customers to use the service, the importance of visibility should not be underestimated. If customers don’t see that web chat or social media are available, they will naturally turn to the already saturated phone service. Having it appear as an option as soon as the customer reaches the contact page is a simple way to increase the volume of enquiries being made through the channel.

Additionally, businesses should be advertising the quick response times that digital channels offer. If it is made clear on the website that the customer could get a response within a few minutes by a live chat, compared to 48 hours on email, it’s likely that the majority will choose the quickest option, regardless of channel type. It’s important that businesses are making these small changes as they could have a real impact on the pressure facing customer service teams over the peak period.

Final thoughts
Preparing for Black Friday and the golden quarter is an exciting prospect for many retailers. They have a chance to welcome new customers with enticing deals and maximise their end of year profits. However, without considering their customer service capabilities, they risk leaving a negative impression on customers. By acting now and developing a strategy that allows the customer service team to scale on demand, customer retention can be improved, and overall brand reputation can be protected.

Martin Brown, CCO at FM Outsource