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The holiday gift giving season is upon us, which means retailers have been ramping up for the holiday shopping season for months.
To put things in perspective, during the 2016 holiday shopping season Amazon sold enough 4K TVs to reach the peak of Mount Everest nine times and enough Happy Potter: Complete 8-Film Collection DVD sets to play the movies non-stop for more than 300 years.
This year, the National Retail Federation expects holiday spending to increase 4% over last year, predicted to land around $678-$682 billion. Already this year more than 174 million Americans shopped between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, up about 10 million over 2016. To help keep up with increased demand, the NRF predicts 500,000-550,000 seasonal workers to be brought on board – many of whom will be seasonal call center agents to support increased customer support volume.
The holiday spike in consumer activity brings with it a corresponding rush on customer service and contact centers. While some businesses see increased call center demand at other times of year (flower companies around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, tax preparation services and software companies in the run up to April 15, etc.) the end of year shopping season presents the longest, sharpest and broadest reaching increases of the year.
Despite increased volume, consumers expect the same level of customer support as other times of year – and may even have less patience.
Retailers know they need to proactively address the sudden increase in demand and often start planning as early as September and October so they’re prepared. Without offering a consistent and pleasant customer support experience, they risk losing sales and leaving consumers disgruntled, potentially hurting future business.
Knowing that the increased demand is coming and that they can’t leave consumers unhappy, companies prepare by scaling up their contact center support just like in-store employees. It’s not uncommon for even smaller or regional retailers to increase contact center staff by thousands of agents to support the holiday rush.
Even with this ramping, the most significant concern stated by retailers is under staffing call centers. While adding thousands of agents may seem like more than enough to handle increased volume, the average number of support tickets per agent can still increase by 17% during the holiday season, putting a lot of pressure on retailers, their stressed full time staff and new, seasonal agents.
Offering a good experience in the face of increased demand isn’t impossible though. StellaService reported that during December 2016 its “best in class” retailers maintained an average wait time of less than 60 sections to speak to a live agent via phone and less than 30 seconds for chat support.
Having enough people isn’t the only key to handling increased volume during the holidays. Having the right contact center software and technology solutions can also mean the difference between a good or bad customer service experience, affecting critical interactions like wait times and issue resolution. It can also have a major impact on how much retailers have to spend to support seasonal spikes (not only do retailers have to hire thousands of seasonal agents, those agents need access to customer support platforms).
While 53% of retailers believe the only thing they need to stay competitive during the holidays is hiring extra staff, a different study found that 54% of retailers are concerned about not having the right technology in place.
Having the right technology in place gives contact centers a range of benefits:
Demand and consumer expectations aren’t going down. Retailers and the contact centers and BPOs that support them need to get smarter about the competitive advantages and cost savings benefits technology can provide, particularly in regard to the extreme scaling during the holiday shopping season. Right now, only 58% of retailer decision makers invest in technology to manage sales spikes. That presents a huge saving and optimization opportunity for more than 40% of the retail market.
The seasonal spike caused by the holiday shopping season isn’t a surprise to retailers. They’ve learned to adjust by staffing appropriately, now the next phase is to adopt technology solutions that make scaling easier, more effective and more cost efficient every year.
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