Customers Expect Smooth Sailing for Busiest Online Shopping Weekend of the Year: But Will They Get it?

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With less than 100 days to Christmas and the countdown to Black Friday (November 27th) and Cyber Monday, (November 30th) on, it’s clear that people expect customer service to be back to pre-coronavirus levels of efficiency in terms of resolving queries and issues. Recently, Limitless polled 400 respondents to gauge their thoughts on whether they expected ‘normal’ levels in efficiency in answering their queries, despite initial delays or issues caused by the pandemic.

The answers were clear: Almost 70% of respondents in the Limitless survey indicated that they are shopping online more now than before the pandemic. More than half of the 400 respondents surveyed felt that customer service should be back to normal efficiency and quality levels – compared to the 75% who were prepared to make allowances for brands earlier in the year.

The research also revealed specific customer issues and frustrations felt by respondents since March. Poor response times, either over the phone or on digital channels, was the top customer service frustration amongst respondents, with unavailability of stock rated nearly as highly. Delays to delivery was rated a top concern by 25% of respondents, followed by website downtime, and product return issues.

It seems as though goodwill is running out for retail in terms of customer service, and this may be cause for concern in a world where customer needs and purchase habits have undergone a seminal shift. Proliferation of smartphones and social media apps makes it easy for people to access and post information online. It means that brands are recognising that they will now need to fulfil heightened customer expectations by delivering bigger and better e-commerce offerings, and better customer service than ever before, or risk negative reviews.

The majority of people who have now had an online experience will never fully return to their old ways, especially those who have tried online shopping for the first time. We’re now at the very beginning of a step-change in the proportion of ecommerce use, meaning that brands now have a new set of expectations that need to be met and upheld, presented by a whole new group of e-commerce customers.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of how a change in circumstances can lead to a sudden surge in the ways customers want to engage.We are seeing a significant rise in customers wanting reassurance from organisations before they buy, leading to increased customer service demand. It’s essential that businesses respond in an agile and flexible way, without compromising quality of service to retain the trust of their customers. Brands need to prepare for a different kind of retail rush now more than ever.

Will WFH Call Centre Agents Cut it this Holiday Season?

With demand still high and allowances for disruption beginning to wear thin, there is concern as brands around the world struggle to diversify call centre channels and support their customer service teams remotely, especially when such busy shopping periods approach.
Prior to the impact of COVID-19, many customer service operation hubs were run from within customer service centers, but the crisis has seen a large shift to homeworking operations that are expected to be retained as a significant part of the operating model by most businesses.

However, the initial enthusiasm and successes companies achieved in moving their call centre agents to be able to work from home is over. At first, companies and employees came together to do what it took to enable huge numbers of agents to work from home. However, in many instances, the cracks are beginning to appear as having agents working from home full time is difficult to sustain.

Staff morale is falling and agent attrition is rising as companies do not have the systems, processes and support infrastructure in place to enable large volumes of people to work from home. Companies are also now having to review the security shortcuts they put in place to cope with what they had hoped may only be a temporary remote working situation.

So what will have to happen to make customer service work, especially peak season? Firstly, customer service operating models will have to evolve to combine the use of technologies that identify the customer, their context and needs, offering relevant support options based on the value, complexity, and risk of the particular customer. Using this model will help organisations to develop and utilise self-service options along with the use of contact centre to support customers around the clock in a way that is relevant, effective and at the right cost.

World over, enterprises are opening up to the possibilities of utilising gig as a strategic sourcing mode for customer service. Organisations like Unilever have the Open Talent Economy program, through which talent is sourced through global and local partners for all areas of business. Elsewhere, businesses like Microsoft have revealed that the gig model will be of strategic importance in sourcing customer service talent across all their markets.

The benefit of the gig model is in the fact that the work is not full-time (so burn out doesn’t occur) and because the platform works like a marketplace, it is gamified, so that people are always trying to deliver the very best service possible (just like eBay sellers do or successful Uber drivers do). Another benefit that we will begin to see is relevant in terms of the redundancies that have been an unavoidable consequence of Covid-19. Gig customer service is effective in this instance, taking the work to the people, wherever in the world they may be.

While the beginning of the pandemic may have marked a period of disruption, companies are now realising they have the opportunity to improve and get back to normal or even better levels of customer service success and engagement. The upcoming busy shopping season is a great chance for brands to show their ability to bounce back, and to provide a choice of seamless, satisfying customer service channels for users.

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