6 ways to prepare for peak – whatever your industry
Retailers need no reminding that we’re coming up to their busiest time of the year. Last year’s peak season was responsible for over 20% of annual retail sales and even more in some sectors such as toys and games. Retail is not alone when it comes to dealing with surges in demand, all industries have peak periods that require careful planning. For example, restaurants around public holidays (and Valentine’s Day!), travel from January onwards, finance around the end of the tax year and the public sector around specific regulatory deadlines.
In all of these cases being able to cope with demand and deliver the experience that customers expect is central to remaining competitive and, especially in the case of the hard-pressed retail sector, can even impact survival. Delivering the right experience, cost-effectively, means focusing on these six areas:
1. Be prepared
While it is obvious that companies should aim to be ready for peak times, achieving it can be difficult. Use the data you have from previous years to model likely demand, allowing for potential increases in sales and spend time testing your systems thoroughly. What worked last year and what needs improving? Update your policies, procedures and knowledge base to ensure that everything is ready for when demand ramps up.
2. Support (new) staff
In the US, the National Retail Federation estimates that half a million temporary staff will be employed over the peak period. Many of these will be in contact center roles, providing support and advising customers. Ensuring that they add value and deliver the right impression means getting them up to speed quickly. As well as training programs, arm them with information from a centralized knowledge base, which makes it easier for them to respond to queries on every channel. Of course, providing access to consistent knowledge also helps your existing staff as well, increasing efficiency and service levels.
3. Resource accordingly
Customers are becoming more and more demanding. Providing fast, consistent responses on their channel of choice can be hard for retailers given the rising volumes of queries, concentrated in a relatively small period of time. For example, UK customers now contact brands nearly half a billion times every month, with 27% of interactions by email and 17% through web self-service, telephone and social media respectively. Retailers, therefore, need to make sure that they have allocated resources where they best meet customer needs – after all, there’s no point having agents dealing with one channel sitting idle while those on another are rushed off their feet. Look at how you can multi-skill agents so that they can best help customers, and again support them with knowledge across all channels.
4. Take a customer-centric approach
Customers want their interactions with brands to be straightforward and seamless. For many, Christmas is a particularly busy and stressful time, so they value those companies that make the process as simple as possible. When asked what made them loyal to a brand, the top two factors highlighted by consumers were ‘easy processes’ and ‘giving satisfactory, fast and consistent answers’. Understand this and ensure your culture focuses on the customer and helping them complete their journey, rather than always following rigid processes that force consumers to jump through hoops or repeat themselves.
5. Join-up your approach
A successful peak requires everyone within the organization and its partners to work together. That means breaking down barriers between departments and channels and providing a single, consistent face when dealing with customers. They should be able to follow up a query in-store, over the phone or through digital channels, confident that whoever they are talking to they will have access to the right information to help them. This extends to third party suppliers, such as logistics companies, too – consumers trust a retailer that their gifts will be delivered and will hold them accountable if a delivery company lets them down.
6. Listen, understand and act
Customer experience needs to be constantly improving and innovating, and that is particularly true at peak. That means you need to be listening to your customers, updating your approach and tweaking your processes as you go. Analyze the interactions that consumers have with your brand on digital channels – what is sentiment like? What do they like or dislike? Being able to change and adapt once peak begins is a powerful differentiator for brands and enables them to outperform their rivals.
Whatever industry you are in, peak provides challenges – and opportunities. Therefore, focusing on CX is vital to navigating your busiest times successfully, creating loyalty with customers and safeguarding your revenues.