Every year organizations invest millions to deliver a high-quality customer experience (CX) during their seasonal periods.
There’s a reason for that: In 2017, holiday retail sales were estimated to account for $680.4 billion – as much as 30% of retailers’ annual sales. One-third of your year, captured within a six-week time frame.
January, June, and July are the times of year when the travel industry experiences an influx of business. If we look at the revenue of the world’s largest travel company, Priceline Group (parent to Booking.com, KAYAK, and rentalcars.com amongst others), we can see there are big spikes in Q1 and Q3 of both 2016 and 2017.
These are just two examples - but with a strong economy putting more money in your customers’ pockets, their propensity to buy, travel, or make other purchases during these peak periods is expected to grow.
Increasingly I’m hearing the question “Do we need to be thinking differently in order to do this better next year?”
Heightened pressure, heightened investment… mediocre results?
During these influxes in business, it’s not uncommon for organizations to more than double their staff to handle volumes, sometimes requiring 5,000+ extra agents to help cover the seasonal bump… at a cost of over $15 million... just in training!
But despite these extra agents and the enormous investment – the crushing truth is that usually there is still a massive amount of friction... and not just for the customer.
Time and time again, organizations are losing customers to the black hole of wait times and inefficient processes during their seasonal bumps.
We all know that today’s consumers often have an overwhelming choice, so even with the best forecasting and planning for your CX, change will inevitably happen. And when today’s customers are unhappy they are much quicker to act, with 50% of customers severing ties with a company immediately after a bad sales/marketing experience (Accenture).
Yet… is this how it has to be? It’s time to do this differently
Whether your peak volume period lasts a few weeks or several months, there is a multitude of ways you can smooth out the workload. And if you consider these changes in your planning for next year, you’ll undoubtedly be in much better shape to handle peak season.
The following are a few approaches that have worked successfully for many of my clients:
Review/revise your IVR
Human nature drives us to select the path of least resistance. If an interactive voice response (IVR) system is difficult to use, customers either hang up or zero out to an agent, raising inbound call volume and prolonging average handle time.
When IVR systems are programmed to communicate business hours, billing information, and even certain types of account information, CX can be significantly improved without sacrificing functionality. If a customer is calling for something as simple as paying their bill, they can avoid long hold times by selecting the “pay my bill” self-service option.
If you know the reason for the spike in call volumes - e.g., during the tax season - another proactive approach you can take is to add a message during the hold time that will most likely answer their question – such as that tax forms will be mailed on “xx” date.
Bottom line, take a look at your IVR flow, and how it is driving calls into different queues to optimize the user experience.
Are you using proactive notifications to head off problems like delivery delays, stock shortages, billing or flight delays? In a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research, 63% of U.S. consumers felt critical customer service issues could have been avoided if companies had contacted them earlier. Proactive outreach can improve customer satisfaction by anticipating needs specific to the customer, especially if companies can deliver outbound messages via their preferred channels. This is a key aspect of personalizing the experience that makes the customer feel valued, even though the notifications are automated.
Having inflexible channels driven by legacy systems and tools with scripting and code that must be locked down months in advance is a recipe for the same mediocre results - and a loss of customer loyalty. Cloud based application programming interfaces (APIs– basically software building blocks) are a great way to quickly add new features and channels as you need them. Combining cloud-based APIs with real-time data analysis will help your company make and implement strategic decisions at the moment of awareness. So if you are in the market for a major switch or IVR upgrade, consider a cloud-based solution without CAPEX (with pay as you go, based on demand).
Maybe it’s time for you to take a look at how flexible and proactive your customer care organization is so you can meet the unexpected demands of this year’s busy season.
I’ll be posting more insights into what I’m seeing work in our journey - but in the meantime, if you want to share your own experiences of delivering your CX over your peak season, feel free to comment!
About the Author:
Hi, I'm Annette Timmins, a customer interactions professional who writes about insights and strategies that drive customer value and loyalty. For over 20 years I’ve been collaborating with organizations to deliver global outsourced solutions that optimize their customer support operations and help build their brand. I am currently Vice President of Sales Strategy and Solutions at VXI Global Solutions. If you would like to contact me, please hit the link below and/or connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also follow me on Twitter @AnnetteTTweets.