Surviving Peak – How to Shift Customer Contact Channel Volume
Save costs, and improve your customer experience, by moving conversations to new channels.
February 5th, 2018
A successful customer service peak relies on efficiency. We’re going to talk about how to make your peak season easier by moving contacts to faster, cheaper channels like web chat and social media platforms (which, spoiler, customers actually prefer). We’ll discuss how to pick which channels are best for your customers, and share tips from our experience with multiple large online retailers over peak.
Surviving peak boils down to two main objectives: reducing the number of inbound messages you get, and making sure your team is resourced properly. Moving conversations to new channels will help you meet both goals.
Why should you move to new customer service channels?
Customers prefer them
If your customer service (CS) is still mostly over telephony and email, the answer to this question really is as simple as “it’s what your customers want”. We know, there’s a lot of articles out there that say customers still prefer to send an email or make a phone call. But there’s a glaring flaw to their approach: they ignore the availability of each channel.
If a customer looks first for web chat and doesn’t find it, but still wants live assistance, they’ll call. That gets recorded as a preference for telephony, even though it wasn’t actually the customer’s first choice.
We made a client’s web chat available 24/7 and saw a move towards chat. This change was fuelled entirely by customers. We didn’t advertise chat’s availability, the client hadn’t directed customers towards it in any of their order status notifications, and they didn’t change the availability of their email address or social media profiles.
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’re offering the channels your customers want just because they’re using them.
Easier first contact resolutions (FCR’s)
Achieving more first contact resolutions keeps customers from returning to your contact queue – they don’t need to message you again if you’ve already answered their question.
Moving contacts from email to web chat will naturally increase the number of queries solved in one interaction, particularly after the advent of GDPR (the EU data protection law due to take effect in May 2018). Customers that don’t initially provide all the information an advisor needs can be asked for it in-chat, and then continue on to a solution. Via email, this would add an extra contact on a customer’s journey to a resolution.
You can cut customer service costs
Our final point in this section is going to be your CFO’s favourite – you can cut the cost of your CS operation.
Telephony ties advisors into long conversations, during which they can only handle one query. Social media messages can be fired off quickly, and web chat enables operators to talk to multiple customers at once. If an advisor that was handling telephony can now take four simultaneous chats, you’ve just quartered the cost of your CS operation.
Shifting channels helps you survive customer service peak season
This is one of the main reasons we’ve encouraged clients to change their contact channel mix in the past. Peak becomes a lot easier to manage when you’re able to take more volume with fewer advisors.
Reduce contact volume
The number of inbound contacts your customers send naturally increases with sales over peak, but handling them inefficiently creates a chain reaction of ballooning contact volume. Usually, contact centres plan for this volume spike by recruiting and training new colleagues to help over the Christmas period. But that just adds to the team’s costs, and doesn’t address the operational inefficiencies that make this problem worse.
Prevent this cycle from starting by moving conversations to channels with greater availability and shorter response times. Enabling teams to handle a greater number of queries more efficiently doesn’t just help your bottom line – your customers will thank you for it too.
Smarter resource forecasting
Getting your resourcing right is the foundation of an effective customer service operation. Fast response times rely on people being there to answer a message as soon it comes in. And that means forecasting by the hour.
Daniel Foster, our Head of Customer Care said:
After one of our clients joined us they realised they’d previously left their web chat unmanned for 6 hours on a Sunday. They’d made sure they had the number of people working the number of hours they thought they needed, but they hadn’t looked at when those hours were worked.
To make hourly resource forecasting work you need to also forecast trade activity, and work out the influence of factors like promotions and season. Then you need to work out how many advisors you need to comfortably handle those contacts.
Our team of analysts worked with each of our clients to create a model for the number of messages we were likely to receive for them. We generally followed this process:
1) Take daily, weekly, and year-on-year variances of orders and customer contacts
2) Create a split of when we can expect to receive these contacts during the day (based on historical data)
3) Compare any promotional activity with previous events with similar criteria (like day, month, and discount percentage)
4) This comes together to create an expected weekly order volume, which we then use to work out how many contacts we can expect.
The resulting formula means we know within a couple of percentage points how many people are going to contact us. This means almost no missed chats, and speedy social media coverage.
Work on your omnichannel customer service strategy
What is omnichannel customer service? It’s a strategy that lets customers have a seamless conversation with you over multiple channels. They can message you via Twitter, send an email, and then start a web chat, and this will all be presented to an advisor as one conversation.
Getting this right depends on the communication platform your team uses. We use Gnatta for this reason; it pulls all messages from a customer into one conversation, giving advisors a complete view of their history with a brand.
Which channels should you migrate to?
Our recommendation is that you move as many conversations to web chat and social media channels as you can. This isn't just based on cost. No matter the age demographic of our clients' customers, they always gravitate to web chat and social media when given the option.
Thirty percent of customers cite telephone IVR/not being able to connect to a live operator as the most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience. Customers naturally gravitate towards web chat because it solves both problems (as long as they don’t enter a queue).
This need for a fast response is also the drive behind the rise in social media CS requests. Customers expect brands to protect their reputation on public channels, and so migrate to them when they can’t connect to web chat.
Customers prefer the fastest channel available to them, every time. We’ve seen this with every one of our clients, from national logistics firms to online fashion retailers.
You can see this in action in the graph below. Even when one of our teams were only able to take 66% of all chat requests, it was still the most popular channel. When customers for this client can’t connect to chat, they’re immediately shown an email contact form. Although there is a spike in email usage, the second most popular channel is still social media. Why? Customers knew they’d get a faster response.
How to move conversations to new channels
Make the channel available
This sounds like stating the obvious, but what we mean is that the channels you want conversations to be routed to need to be the best option for your customers at all times.
Take our example of web chat above. If you’ve had a different experience with it, look at how available it really was. Our CEO, Sally Chandler, said:
If customers go to chat and it always shows as unavailable, they stop looking for it. When it becomes available they know it’s immediate and gives them answers. With more availability in the moment you see an immediate shift to chat and away from email. It’s a learned behaviour; ‘there’s no point in trying live chat’. So, when they realise it is there, you see a shift back.
If your site presented them with a ‘sorry we’re busy at the moment’ button, or they got stuck in a long queue waiting to connect to an operator, customers will have learned to not bother trying to use chat.
You can avoid leaving customers waiting in a queue to connect, or being unable to connect altogether, with the right communication software. This is another reason we use Gnatta - we can use its queue system to move operators between webchat and social media teams as soon as we see we’re about to hit web chat capacity.
This is why to-the hour forecasting is so important. By making sure advisors are always available on the channel you want customers to move to, you can create a preference for that channel.
Advertise response times
One of Daniel’s tips for moving conversations to new channels is:
Rather than letting customers take their best guess at which channel will get them an answer fastest, tell them. If they can expect an email response within 24 hours, but they'll get a reply on Facebook within one hour, that's where they'll contact you.
We've seen this in action with a few of our clients. When they introduced new social CS accounts, they advertised that customers would get faster responses on them. Email volume plummeted as people moved to social media contacts.
The obvious caveat here is that you need to make sure your preferred channel has the fastest response time. Telling a customer they’ll get a response within 1 hour on Twitter, or within 48 hours on email, is only valuable if you can meet that expectation.
Update your customer communications
Direct your customers to your preferred channel in all the notifications you send out. People will take the path of least resistance, so if a link to support is placed in front of them when they have a question, they’ll use that rather than navigating to another channel.
If a customer receives a delivery dispatch email that says their parcel is going to be delivered a day later than they were expecting, and they see a link to start a web chat or send a Facebook message in that same email, they’ll click that link (if they can’t directly reply to the email).
Over-service your customers
This is what everything we’ve been talking about boils down to. Provide the best customer service over the channel you’re pushing, and customers will stay there.
If you’d prefer to receive contacts over social media, make sure your response time is fastest there, and empower your advisors to offer more goodwill gestures (like a discount code or a delivery cost refund).
Moving contacts to channels with greater availability, shorter response times, and a better capacity for first contact resolutions will make your next peak a lot easier to manage. You can cut the number of contacts you receive by avoiding the vicious message-chasing message cycle and providing full, in-depth answers to every query.
Prioritise cheaper channels like web chat by signalling to customers they’ll get faster service there, and enable advisors to give goodwill gestures that will keep customers coming back to chat whenever they have a question.
We have years of experience helping businesses update their customer service strategies. We're technology driven, creating efficiency with operations that push the boundaries of what teams can achieve. Learn more about how, or chat to us today about how you could optimise your customer service operation.