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This holiday season is going to be a rough ride. Are retail contact centers ready?

Sharath Keshavanarayana
November 30, 2020

In 2013, Target suffered a data breach resulting in 70 million compromised accounts. Call volume surged 10x.

In 2016, IKEA recalled 17.3 million dressers when a 2-year old was injured in an accident involving the dresser. Contact centers were on high alert responding to thousands of inquiries a day.

In 2019, Rent the Runway suffered an operations breakdown with $20M+ in reparations. Customer calls were at 3-hour wait times.

And now in 2020. 

With lockdowns being imposed globally, we’re moving into a holiday season unlike any other. In the face of the pandemic, online shopping has exploded and it seems like it's Cyber Monday every day. And with that comes a whole new set of challenges that you might not have anticipated.

Why are call surges particularly challenging this holiday season?

Data from Adobe Analytics showed that the first eight months of 2020 generated $497 billion in online sales, of which 130 individual days recorded $2 billion in online sales. And this data is outside of the holiday season. 

Here’s why retailers need to be prepared as the holiday season’s approaching. 

  • Accelerated shift in e-commerce: With fewer people stepping out for shopping, online websites will experience massive traffic. This traffic will have a wide and diverse range of requests. If your agents are under-prepared to handle the varied volume of tickets, it might end up as a bad customer experience.
  • Increase in first-time customers: Your customers might be first-time buyers or altogether new to online technology. Agents might witness an increase in basic requests like website navigation, checkout processes, or product details.
  • Customers in panic mode: Holiday gifts are time-sensitive. Add postage delays due to COVID-19 with the weather, and all you’ve got a recipe for anxious customers. Contact centers would be fire-fighting call surges for a myriad of reasons like dispatch, shipping updates, late delivery, payments, refunds, terms, and conditions, product conditions, and more.

How can contact centers overcome these holiday season challenges?

Apart from the external market needs, to make matters worse, there are more pressing internal issues. Many agents are working remotely for the first time without proper support or they’re being overwhelmed with record-breaking levels of customer inquiry demands. And with that shift to remote work, coaching programs and feedback loops aren't established, leaving agents out to dry on how to handle the massive surge in call volume.

Enter Contact Center AI

Contact Center AI: Contact center AI is a platform that uses cutting edge speech technologies and natural language processing to transform, automate, and simplify voice and text chat quality assurance. Every call is transcribed and analyzed by the AI services, providing deep, data-driven insights on every interaction, enabling organizations to improve CX, mitigate compliance risk, and create more impactful agent coaching programs.

With deep insights and the ability to act on them fast, here's three ways contact centers are overcoming the holiday season challenges.

Focus on customer experience

A lot rides on customer experience. From CSAT and NPS, to customer loyalty, customer experience directly impacts revenue. To handle the holiday surge, many contact centers employ seasonal agents. These temp agents who need to be onboarded, coached and trained to ensure CX does not suffer.

As a result, providing rapid feedback to agents is the best way for them to improve and handle the growing level of customer interactions.

Take agent empathy, the ability of an agent to connection emotionally with a customer and establish rapport. Empathy statements are critical, so monitoring and coaching agents on which ones to use when directly impacts overall customer experience.

Thus, a modern contact center solution should enable agents to do their job at the highest possible level. A good contact center AI platform will help CX teams to:

  • Analyze 100% of voice calls
  • Build a data-driven, objective picture of each agent’s performance
  • Personalize the feedback loop for every agent by tracking their strengths and weaknesses
  • Monitor and track coaching progress and results over time

Improve agent evaluation and coaching programs

When a customer is upset or frustrated on a call, agents should be trained to effectively handle these issues on the fly. Measurable interactions like dead air, average handle time, and supervisor escalations are an indicator of suboptimal agent training. Reducing such factors on every call can help save costs, time, and deliver a better customer experience. 

That gradual improvement rests in fast, automated, and efficient agent evaluations.

After using our platform, ASSA ABLOY, an international access solutions company, reduced time per evaluation from 20 minutes to 7 minutes. That’s 4x the feedback per agent every month!

Check out our ASSA ABLOY customer story for more.

Let's look at three ways retail organizations are using evaluations to improve their coaching programs. Success rests in empowering QAs to combine their evaluations with targeted coaching actions, and tips for supervisors.

  1. On-spot coaching: When you're able to do your evaluation side-by-side with your call transcript and call recording, you can pinpoint the exact moment you want to coach on, allowing the agent to see the behavior that needs correction.
  2. Detailed coaching: Citing specific instances, QAs can provide supervisors direct notes for agents, backed with additional resources, allowing supervisors to more clearly convey feedback to agents.
  3. Monitor coaching success: Are the evaluations working? Are they driving positive coaching results? The only way to know is if scores improve overtime. So being able to see proof of change in agent behavior is key.
Efficient QA evaluations are critical to improving customer experience for retail and e-commerce.

Coach agents to become advocates

In many cases, the best agents shoulder the responsibility of revenue growth. This isn’t productive or efficient. So, how can you turn your most valuable agents into a competitive advantage?

If an agent is upselling well, their calls must be thoroughly analyzed for phrases or tactics. This can be turned into coaching material for the rest of the team. 

Here’s a great example of one of our customers. 

A national moving company analyzed 100% of the calls of their top agents using Observe.AI. They found that the 2% customer service reps who were proactively mentioning safety protocols like— “the movers would show up in face masks” and “the movers have gone through a rigorous safety training specific to moving during COVID” were closing booking faster and upselling really well.

They scaled this as a best practice across the contact center. These in-depth insights and analysis helped the company generate $180,000 in revenues in one month!

What's next?

Holiday seasons can make or break your business. At this time of the year, your company acquires new customers, builds new relationships, and forges loyalties. As more people discover your business, your agents become the voice of your brand. They’re your coveted brand reps and also the key to unlocking a great CX for new and old customers.

When done well, this season is the easiest to achieve brand loyalty, word of mouth marketing, and upselling goals.

About the Author

sharath observeai

Sharath Keshavnarayana is the Co-founder and CRO at Observe.AI, and has over a decade of experience in the customer care space. Connect with Sharath on LinkedIn.

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