This year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Black Friday is likely to be very different. Obviously, the biggest change is that more than ever it will be an online event. While big box retailers such as Walmart in the US have said they will still be offering in-store promotions and discounts, they’ll also be pushing shoppers to buy online.

In the UK, data from IMRG suggests demand for online shopping increased by 40-50% during lockdown and will rise by another 30% during the festive season. Backing this up Amazon is taking on 7,000 permanent staff to meet rising demand, as well as 20,000 seasonal workers to help in the run-up to Christmas.

All of this means there’s likely to be a greater impact on contact centres during Black Friday. For example, the increase in online sales will mean an even greater spike in calls and emails about Black Friday deals which will require fast responses. And of course, contact centre resources will be more stretched than usual with many agents now working remotely.

Remember also that the pressure on the contact centre won’t stop at midnight on Black Friday when promotions end. As ever, the contact centre will stay busy dealing with delivery queries, product returns, product support calls and so on.

So, it’s essential that contact centres are ready for Black Friday – here are four important areas they should focus on for success:

1. Keep knowledge up to date

Agents, especially temporary ones, need access to the latest information to help them address customer queries over the phone and on digital channels. And, with many agents working remotely, they can’t simply lean over and ask the person sitting next to them. Ideally, companies should create a single, consistent, centralised knowledge base that supports agents across all channels.

This same knowledge can power customer-facing self-service solutions that make it easy for consumers to help themselves. Options such as web self-service, IVR, chatbots, automated emails and SMS all streamline the process. These all deflect more routine queries before they come into the contact centre and give customers faster answers, improving the customer experience. Research suggests 83% of consumers are happy to use web self-service and 54% are happy to access information via chatbots.

2. Embrace the cloud

Cloud technology can be invaluable to contact centres as they try to cope with the bigger than usual upswing in customer queries that we might see on Black Friday this year. For example, you can increase your capacity to match demand, whether it is planned or unplanned, all while only paying for what you use.

Cloud-based contact centre solutions are also ideally suited to supporting remote working, allowing you to bring on additional agents to ‘ramp up’ quickly in case of an upsurge in demand.

3. Ensure systems are fully joined-up

Often the information and processes within a contact centre can span multiple systems, adding to the time it takes for agents to respond to customer queries – and frustrating consumers who don’t want to have to wait unnecessarily.

Research from Contact Babel estimates that navigating multiple systems cost the UK contact centre industry £5.77bn every year in wasted agent time – and this is a particular concern during busy periods such as Black Friday and the holiday season.

A successful holiday season requires everyone within the organization and its partners to work together. Customers should be able to follow up a query in-store, over the phone or through digital channels, confident that whomever they are talking to they will have access to the right information to help them. And technologies such as skills-based routing can play an important role by automatically sending incoming calls and emails to the best person to answer them.

But it doesn’t end there. To ensure you are delivering a great customer experience your IT systems and applications should be fully integrated. For example, connecting your CRM systems with your contact centre makes it easier to see all the information about a customer when they call – and simpler and faster to update records so that they can be shared across the organisation.

4. Listen and learn

Nobody really knows quite what Black Friday and Christmas will look like this year, so contact centres will need to be flexible and agile. Companies will have to be able to respond quickly to what is happening while maintaining the highest levels of quality across all channels.

Analyse the interactions that consumers have with your brand on digital channels as well as monitoring calls using technologies such as call recording and real-time speech analytics (RTSA). This type of monitoring ensures quality and compliance standards are met, as agents receive live feedback and warnings if they are not explaining key points correctly. It also enables companies to monitor and take the emotional temperature of the interaction, potentially allowing action to be taken to calm heated situations down.

As well as supporting the customer experience on individual interactions, analysing this data gives more detailed insight that can be used to drive wider improvements. What is consumer sentiment like and where can you enhance it? Being able to respond to how things are changing is a powerful differentiator that can help you outperform your competitors.

Black Friday is obviously just the start of the Christmas shopping season and it’s difficult to predict all the challenges 2020 will bring for customer service teams. However, it will definitely be a vital time as retailers – many of whom will already have seen sales damaged by the impact of the pandemic – look to maximise revenues. Managing the pressure on the contact centre and delivering reassurance will therefore be crucial to a successful festive shopping season across the retail sector.

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