The 7 Major Challenges of the Retail Contact Center

By Tony Iero

The days of the single channel contact center are long gone. Retail contact centers are more complex than ever, creating a variety of challenges that can have a direct effect on your customer experience. The first step in addressing these challenges is being able to identify them. The following are seven major challenges facing all retail contact centers, along with solutions to overcome them.

Transitioning from Customer Service Management to Customer Experience Management
Unlike customer service management, which was primarily focused on single interactions, creating an exceptional customer experience is about creating successful end-to-end journeys. Because consumers are more likely than ever to use multiple channels or shift between channels, effective customer experience management requires building consistency and integration between them.

For example, if a consumer finds a product on your website that they’re interested in buying and then opens a chat conversation to obtain more information, the interactions of both channels should be accessible to an agent if they choose to escalate their engagement to a voice channel.

Your CRM solution certainly can provide information about the customer. However, it requires a more focused system of engagement approach to combine both customer information and engagement data that can help you understand the intent of what the customer is trying to achieve. It may require website visits, an online chat, and a call before entering a retail store to make a purchase. Knowing the details of every interaction on both voice and digital channels can provide a wealth of information that can be used to help personalize service.

Effectively Leveraging Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels were first used by businesses as a way to market to customers. Yet, they quickly evolved into major customer service channels. What makes social media different than IVR system, help desks, or online chat is that it was first adopted by customers and not by companies. In many cases, social media channels were adapted by customers who were dissatisfied with the challenges of other channels such as long waits on hold, complicated routing, and dropped chat conversations on other channels.

Today, social media is transforming customer service by making it more transparent and personal. It’s no longer considered exceptional to quickly answer a customer’s question on Facebook. It’s expected. According to a Gartner study, dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers. In other words, it’s now vital for companies to implement strategies for managing social media as a customer service channel.

Yet, there has been a tremendous challenge in integrating social media channels with more traditional customer service processes. This requires integration via infrastructure that supports Omni-Channel engagement. This can be achieved through interaction tools within a CRM solution or through a system of engagement that integrates all voice and digital channels on a single platform. Every retail contact center needs to closely evaluate the role that social media plays within their larger customer experience and determine the best ways to support customers who are using these channels. What is universal is that customers are using social media as a channel to obtain service, and it needs to be managed just as other channels are. Businesses that are not proactive with staying on top of customers’ questions, comments, and complaints on social media channels will increasingly put themselves at risk for brand damage and disgruntled customers.

Increasing Upsell and Cross-Sell Opportunities
Many retail contact centers are woefully lacking in effort to grow profits from the low hanging fruit of existing customers. However, upselling and cross-selling is vital to keeping most contact centers profitable. To maximize selling capabilities, there are few tips that can help:

  1. Train agents to completely understand products and services being offered as well as any deals, sales, or campaigns that can provide the customer with an extra incentive to buy.
  2. Provide agents with context-driven suggestions and scripts so that they ask the /call-center-metrics/attach-rate/customer for a sale at the most effective time and in the most effective way within their end-to-end journey.
  3. Improve IVR and on-hold messages by incorporating sales-generating messages.

Hiring and Retaining Quality Agents
According to a report on customer service from global research and advisory firm Forrester, consumers are more apt to use self-service channels than ever before. Thus, issues that are escalated to voice channels are often more complex or difficult to manage. The need for skilled, well-trained contact center agents is high. The first step is finding the right talent for the job. This requires careful identification of needed skills and education and equally as diligent hiring practices. Agents are your front line team. You will get what you pay for, so choose carefully and compensate intelligently.

With the cost of finding, training, and replacing one contact center agent often over $5,000, it’s also highly important to provide your agents with the tools and training they need to succeed. Effective scheduling, benefits, incentives, a comfortable work environment, and a clear career track are also very important to keeping your best agents on board and dedicated to their work.

Better Workforce Management
Retail inherently has peaks and lulls throughout the year. This can be challenging when it comes to staffing your contact center. While there are plenty of temporary or seasonal options available, these resources are not always highly trained or capable of providing your customers with the service they need. Through an integrated workforce management system, you can gain the insights necessary to enable better scheduling and work flow distribution. This requires analysis of historical data and forecast call patterns to create schedules to meet specific service goals and optimal coverage.

Reaching the Mobile Consumer
With the majority of consumers now holding smartphones, being able to obtain service on mobile channels is no longer just a novelty. It’s a must! Yet, many retail contact centers aren’t delivering on their promise of providing high quality service to mobile customers. Fortunately, there are a number of mobile support features that can instantly improve your success with this growing segment of your customer base. These include instant messaging and click to call. Mobile consumers also don’t want to wait on hold in a queue. The addition of retail call back software is very appealing to customers who can go about their business and get a call on their schedule, as opposed to waiting extended times to speak with an agent. It’s also important to note that more than 30 percent of web browsing and nearly half of social media use is done on mobile devices. These channels must be integrated with your others to capture important data and provide a personalized customer experience.

Leveraging Big Data
Agents typically interact with customers more than 1,000 times per month. The bulk of these interactions are relatively consistent. Yet, a flurry of negative calls could signal a potential problem with your products or services. However, if these calls are siloed and not investigated as a trend, the problem could go unnoticed. By being able to look at data collected from business intelligence solutions, you can link together interactions to see trends or issues that might require further investigation. This data can also be analyzed to evaluate agent performance, understand customer preferences, and even provide guidance for making larger operational decisions.

Retail contact centers pose a unique set of challenges. Yet, they also provide amazing opportunities to support customer experience goals, provide business insights, and even generate revenue.