In the retail and consumer goods contact center environment, enhancing customer satisfaction while maintaining costs during peak periods is like achieving business nirvana.
Spike management has been a Goliath of a problem for contact centers, especially in the retail and consumer industry. Some spikes are predictable, like the seasonal spikes during the holiday season. Holiday seasons see spikes due to consumer indulgence and intensive marketing efforts (planned promotions, discounts and advertisements). Predictable spikes also include ‘event spikes’ like the ones during a product launch or even during a campaign.
There are some spikes which are elusive and unpredictable. The spike brought about by the pandemic has completely and instantaneously changed consumer behavior, forcing retail and consumer goods organizations to reimagine delivery models.
The 10 commandments for ‘spike management’ are:
1. Analyze and see the future
Create an effective interval wise and channel wise predictive forecasting mechanism by using artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytical tools. Historical data for analytics, inputs of expected outliers and constant evaluation of forecasted versus actual bring in accuracy. Efficient analytics and forecasting can also convert some seemingly unpredictable spikes to predictable spikes, thereby giving the organization enough head start to hire, train and align required talent, and scale up the infrastructure.
2. Plan and communicate within the organization
Integrated planning and communication are often the most important and understated arrows in an organization’s quiver. The interplay of various departmental activities such as marketing campaigns going viral and/or a high in demand product going out of stock will create spikes.
Lack of information sharing with the customer experience team can lead to mismanagement and drop in customer experience. Create a cross-functional control tower to ensure that all efforts are focused on a common goal, which is to avoid working in silos.
3. Prepare for the unseen
A professional outsourcing strategic partner not only brings domain and functional knowledge but can also offer a scalable infrastructure and the ability to galvanize resources in a short time to manage overflows. To ensure risk mitigation and hedging against spikes, outsource to a strategic partner that has a global delivery network and an effective business continuity plan (BCP).
4. Schedule the workforce efficiently
- Build a traffic management process that involves creating a set of work schedules that best matches the workforce to the forecasted workload taking into account available staff, work and staffing rules and agent preferences.
- Build in a shrinkage percentage in the staffing model for vacation time, medical situations and personal exigencies.
- During the surge period, optimize leaves by reviewing and rescheduling to ensure maximization of the floor production time.
- Efficient workforce management by leveraging experienced professionals and best-in-class tools such as IEX.
- For seasonal spikes ensure an available quality pool of temporary agents through strategic tie ups with partners providing the same.
5. All hands-on deck
Encourage the supervisor, trainer and subject matter experts to take calls during the spikes. This not only provides for additional representatives to handle calls but also ensures management’s grass root level connects with the consumers.
6. Work is fun and games
Spikes put massive pressure on the management bandwidth, infrastructure and of course on the agents too. It is important that the agents are taken care of, in order to maintain high quality even during this high-pressure situation.
Engage and motivate the agents and other employees by using gamification techniques and platforms that help solve problems in a way that are fun. For example, create a leader board and reward an agent with a trophy for every first call resolution with 50 points at the end of the month.
7. Sharpen the skills – cross skill and up skill
It is important that the talent is trained accurately to prevent loss of customer, brand and revenue. Ensure the talent is effectively trained on the new products especially prior to a campaign to address the inquiries on the new launches. Managers must study the feedback from customers regularly to ensure efficient training programs. An efficiently trained agent greatly reduces the average handle time (AHT) as well as increases first connect resolutions which are the most fundamental ways to reduce wait times efficiently.
Cross train select agents across queues to create a pool of trained talent that is capable of handling calls under various queues and can be utilized in the peak queues. Cross trained resources across channels like voice, chat and emails can be used to manage channel spikes.
Create an efficient training module even for temporary agents that includes the basics such as most common call types and processes.
8. Match the customer query and agent
An inbound queue flooded with hundreds of queries is bound to overwhelm an agent. Leverage platforms that categorize as well as bucket queries, and have the ability to triage (prioritize and redirect based on decided attributes). This ensures appropriation of queries to agents based on factors such as agent skillset, language, priority, type, and other case filters. Resolution of repetitive queries can be addressed through a notification on the website or company application thereby reducing queries.
9. Create 360 view of the customer
Retail and consumer goods consumers are buying through multiple channels both online and offline. They are also contacting through multiple mediums such as email, text, chat, and social media. Facilitate agents to concentrate on conversations and not on workflows through next-gen case management platforms that ensure all information about the client including historical interactions is easily available on one dashboard. This helps reduce AHT, increase first call resolution and thus reduce spikes.
10. Move from high touch to zero touch
Create an omni-channel sophisticated digital contact center which ensures customer satisfaction by transitioning from just phones and emails to machine learning and AI based robots. Robots have gotten more sophisticated and human like through artificial intelligence and machine learning which makes the customer comfortable in conversing with ‘virtual assistants’ while making spike management easier with fewer touch points.
Virtual assistants, if coupled with technologies providing immersive experience of augmented reality and virtual reality, improve customer experience and make it easier for customers to address their queries through self-help and gain immediate resolutions without creating spikes.
Strategic outsourcing partners can help retail and CPG organizations manage spikes without compromising on quality or costs, thus enabling them to enjoy high brand loyalty, maximize profits and enhance revenues through satisfied customers.