Is your Contact Centre Prepared for Black Friday?

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Ah, Black Friday. No doubt you recall the frankly end-of-days imagery of shoppers scrumming for the latest coffee machine last December? My favourite was a vox pop with a chap who, actually, didn’t even know what he was shopping for, was just there for the fun of it. While those 2014 coffee makers gather dust before their inevitable outing to eBay, we take a look at the integral role contact centres play in this most competitive of shopping days. And how your business can make sure you’re ahead of the scrum.

Are your systems fit for purpose?

Now, don’t answer ‘yes’ until you have considered the fact that behemoths Tesco Direct, Argos and John Lewis struggled to cope with the increased traffic on Black Friday 2014. John Lewis, who offered online deals from midnight, said that between midnight and 6am, traffic to their main commercial site was up a whopping 307% compared with Black Friday the previous year. The company reported phenomenal sales, their biggest in their 150 year history and at one point sold Nutribullet food processors at a rate of one every 30 seconds. However, in the earlier part of the day they were unable to process orders from 7% of their customers – that’s a lot of food going un-shredded. Curry’s, who saw a fivefold traffic increase to their site, implemented a pre-planned queueing system as an act of parity, though considering this queue was half an hour long by midday, you have to hope their deals were worth it.

John Lewis reported a 307% increase in traffic to their website, compared with Black Friday the previous year.

So, what do you need to do? Work with your IT department to strengthen your e-commerce and contact systems to the absolute hilt. If you are using a queuing system, choose your on-page messages carefully to encourage people to wait. Opinion is split with transparency on estimated wait time; I believe you should disclose this information and make sure your beseeching calls for patience are effective and on-brand.

What you absolutely don’t want is for the whole system to fall over – rather than creating more robust systems solely for this busy period, why not take this as an opportunity to overhaul your systems altogether. It’s not like people are going to start buying less from you online, is it?

Are your contact centre resources allocated well?

Take a look at last year’s call volumes and stats, especially your lost calls. Were you available to your customers when they needed you? Was channel usage what you anticipated, i.e were there more or less people calling rather than emailing, or vice versa. Were call types as expected? The last thing you need on such a hectic day is people calling to ask for product information or other customer service-related enquiries on your order lines. If you don’t have separate lines for these two call types, now’s the time to consider doing so.

Have you made enough provision for operators?

Have you got the internal flexibility to upscale at short notice and/or is your outsourced partner up to date with your campaigns, offers and expectations around this period? Do you anticipate a lot of returns post-Black Friday? There are a number of ways of minimising this through your contact centre activity.

Will your customers be fulfilled?

It’s no good funnelling through all your sales and then finding yourselves unable to fulfil orders. It’s absolutely an all-hands-on-deck process. Be very clear with customers about when they can expect to see their new possessions and offer all relevant methods of delivery (making sure you utilise trusted fulfilment partners). Take the possibility for inclement weather into account and, if your Black Friday happens during the Silly Season, make sure you note last guaranteed postage days and bank holidays. Should anything go awry it is good to know that you have a reliable outsourced contact centre partner to pick up any slack with call tracking enquiries and general customer service calls.

Why not create your own secondary sales days?

Never one to stick to others’ retailing conventions, Amazon celebrated its first ‘Prime Day’ on Friday 15th July, a festivity limited to their £79 per year membership and promising double the number of deals for UK customers as Black Friday. Next also don’t limit themselves to an annual sale, offering one in summer and one at Christmas. The right publicity and strategy can mean your discounting successes aren’t limited to one crazed day a year.

So, in a nutshell, it’s all about being genuinely honest with yourself about your business’ current capabilities and what needs overhauling or reviewing. A spring clean of systems and processes is always advisable. But I promise not to start talking about spring just yet – we’ve got Christmas to get out of the way first. Good luck!

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