The fourth quarter of the calendar is key for all retailers and brands, with customer spending at its highest, and for some the last opportunity to reverse any poor trends experienced earlier in the season. It is the time that you are most stretched, where the fruits of your planning and preparation are realised or unfortunately fall short. And also when your front-line staff will be most tested. How do you ease this burden and ensure that each and every one of your customers is greeted with a warm welcome?
Plan, plan, and plan again
Numbers will have already been crunched, and forecasts made, but planning is only part of the equation. What if something changes? What if sales have been sluggish, and your marketing team introduces a killer incentive to kick your customers into action. Are your call centre and in-store staff aware? Are they ready to handle the influx of orders and related questions? Coordination is just as important as planning. Dialogue between departments needs to be open, with each understanding how their actions impact the rest of the business, and if they are geared up to handle. For all areas of your business we would recommend a joint taskforce, a peak-planning board, to ensure each is up-to-date and prepared for the road ahead.
Do you have your plan B thought out and ready to action? For your customer service teams this often means your ability to handle telephone, email, and social media volumes beyond your expectations. A roster of backup staff availability or even an overflow call-centre are essentials to quickly work through backlogs if your service levels start to slip.
Keep the communication lines open
Ensure your front-line staff are armed with the latest and accurate information. If there are delays in customer parcels, a batch of orders didn’t get processed, or your best-selling line just went out-of-stock – let your staff know. Customer questions can therefore be handled in a quick and efficient manner, alternative product recommendations made, or new delivery dates advised. At the same time, communications need to be two-way. Your call centre and store staff are likely to be the first to hear of any issues as they emerge. Ensuring a feedback loop is in place will help you identify any problems early, before they manifest into a big headache.
Empower your staff
It sounds simple, but make sure your staff are able and prepared to handle customer questions. With an influx of new seasonal workers, each must be trained and have the relevant tools at their disposal to succeed. Training programs and systems access will have been thought out well in advance. Ensure each is working as intended, and take corrective action now if in doubt. Empower your staff to make the right decisions – a breakdown in your service standards might merit a discount on the order, free or expedited shipping upgrade. Put the right tools in the hands of your staff to turn around a bad situation.
Store staff might not have the same levels of training or access to materials as your customer service teams, but they are still customer facing, and will be asked a whole range of questions. Ensure they are well informed and understand the processes to escalate any customer questions beyond their capabilities.
Actively engage your customers
Are customers facing a common set of problems? Have a large batch of orders been delayed or are waiting times on your telephone lines creeping up? Provide customers with the ability to self-serve with questions they may have – freeing up valuable resource at your busiest times. FAQ sections on websites are a great and often overlooked tool for customers to answer common questions such as where is my order, what time is my local store open until etc. Information needs to be up-to-date and easily accessible – make customers aware of such tools on your website, through email communications, and automated telephone centre messages. If there are disruptions to your service, then let customers know – this is particularly important over the ‘Cyber Weekend’ when the high volume of parcels in the system often means there will be delays.
Spread the risk
Despite still being in its relative infancy in Europe, the Cyber Weekend has quickly become one of, if not the, most important weekends in the retail calendar. But, such a huge volume of orders in such a short space of time will always increase the chances of disappointment – consider spreading the risk if you feel you don’t have the capacity to support. Already we are seeing retailers bucking the trend, creating hourly deals, Cyber Monday deals become week long offers, and even starting their sales early (also getting a head start on the competition). The same goes for last order dates before Christmas, start with a conservative cut-off time, you can always extend when you see your teams are advising it is safe to do so.
The peak season will no doubt be challenging, just as it always is, but make sure you and your staff are prepared to handle these opportunities to the best of their abilities. With a £5 billion Cyber Weekend ahead, make sure you are ready to reap the benefits.