Up until now, annual strategies for the busiest shopping period of the year have been set in stone, agreed months in advance. But in 2020, many retailers have been forced to concentrate on merely staying afloat as they grapple with the effects of the pandemic, often taking a massive financial hit.

In the UK, consumer spending habits are far from clear, and while retail figures have started to rebalance, clothing and footwear sales have continued to suffer. An ever-growing list of household names, including Marks & Spencer, Boots and John Lewis, have announced thousands of job cuts.

As a result, many customer service teams are overstretched, leaving them less time to focus on individual customer queries or complaints. The winter period is undoubtedly set to be a challenging time, so retailers will need to switch up their customer service strategy to get the most out of Black Friday, Christmas and the January sales. According to e-commerce consultancy Wunderman Thompson Commerce, spending is set to shrink by 22%, however, online spending is expected to surge. More remote purchases equals greater strain on customer service agents. 

Acknowledging the power of effective communication with customers should be at the core of every retail game plan. And with the use of digital channels booming, this means that customer call deflection is a vital tool. As explained in a recent white paper, the goal of call deflection isn’t to avoid interaction with the customer – quite the opposite. Deflecting calls, either before or during the call itself and pointing callers towards more convenient channels boosts the customer experience.

Call deflection reduces costs and streamlines contact centre activity, enabling agents to handle more interactions via digital channels, keeping call times down. This is particularly important when dealing with increased consumer communication spurred on by events like Black Friday.

It also enables them to manage more complex actions, such as online payments, as well as offering out of hours service. Customers are increasingly dissatisfied with having to deal with queries over the phone, as they are usually restricted to calling within business hours and often have to endure long wait times. This kind of ‘synchronous’ or real-time communication also has the added complication of being session-based. If the call gets cut off or the customer needs to call back for any other reason, they have to start again from the beginning.

Switching to asynchronous channels solves this problem. Using digital channels such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp enables customers to send a message at any time and receive a notification when the company responds. This also means that a history of all the interactions is saved. The ability to pick up where the customer left off enables continuous conversation across devices and platforms.

Black Friday customer communications, in particular, could hugely benefit from the approach. For example, take a customer who has called about the progress of a delivery. After quickly selecting “delivery enquiries” in the IVR, he’s offered the option of switching to Facebook Messenger by simply pressing the number 1. He does so, and within moments, is sent a text directing him to a Messenger conversation chat, where a customer service agent is waiting to deal with his query. 

When using call deflection, it’s important to find out what channels your customers are using today and adopt those digital channels into your action plan. Demographics and location can affect the type of devices and channels used.

The ability to manage all of these digital interactions in one place is also vital. Consolidating customer profiles on a central hub helps contact centre staff to manage the ever-increasing volume of digital interactions and to put them in context. This approach also means that results can be easily tracked on a unified dashboard.

Though times are tough, there are still big opportunities ahead for those with a resilient customer service strategy. The shift towards asynchronous messaging in digital channels, managed from a central platform, will help businesses to manage their resources more effectively while also boosting customer satisfaction and nurturing loyalty over the busy Christmas season and beyond.

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