13 Dec A Letter from America
Holiday sales will hit $586.1 billion this year with the average shopper spending almost $750, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). This optimistic forecast also shows that nearly 89 percent of all spending will occur in the last two months of the year.
Extreme seasonal spikes can pose tremendous challenge for businesses. In fact, even the most experienced retailers often find it difficult to resolve customer issues in a timely manner during the holidays. Yet, this time of year also offer incredible opportunities to gain market share, secure new customers and solidify brand loyalty. The key lies in providing an exceptional customer service experience that will keep customers coming back well after the holidays are over.
So, how does a company ramp up its customer service when business is unusually high, but not pay for stranded seats when volume is back to normal or lower? The solution is to tap into a business model with access to a worldwide, virtual network of small independent businesses and their customer service agents who work from geographically dispersed home offices.
Through sophisticated technology that allows for granular scheduling, this on-demand workforce can easily be adjusted in real-time to address both unexpected and planned business fluctuations. More specifically, this business model is ideal for handling unexpected spikes caused by seasonal volume, product launches or other unexpected events for the following main reasons:
- Immediate Access to Additional Qualified Resources. With access to thousands of independent businesses and their qualified customer service agents, virtual providers need only add a few more hours per agent to meet increased volume requirements. This is easily accomplished in an on-demand service environment where most agents work part-time and can quickly accommodate a few more hours and commute times are measured in seconds. In contrast, a traditional call center with full-time agents would need every agent to work a full day of overtime to provide the same amount of flexibility.
- No Temporary Staff. Forbes Magazine reports that retailers are expected to hire 700,000 temporary workers this holiday season. Yet, inexperienced, temporary staff members are more likely to deliver a poor service experience, resulting in both lost customers and lower revenue. The virtual business model can access companies and their agents who are already providing customer service for a company and use their existing product knowledge to deliver the additional service needed.
- Expertise in a Wide Range of Services. With a virtual network, companies have access to professionals skilled in handling all call types and modes of communication. From high quality voice, e-mail, chat and mobile customer service, to sales and technical support, the virtual business model has expertise at every level. A virtual model can also connect like minded callers and agents, such as a military veteran supporting a military veteran. This combination of expertise results in a much improved customer experience, greater empathy, and ultimately improved sales and performance metrics.
- Pay For Only What Is Needed. Handling seasonal spikes is very expensive in a traditional brick and mortar environment and the cost is usually passed on to clients, forcing them to pay for overtime or unused hours. However, when customer service is provided through a provider that has access to an extensive network of independent businesses and their home-based agents, clients pay just for the time customer service agents spend on the phones or handling emails and chats.
Flex in Action
Although meeting the needs of seasonal business fluctuations may be the most obvious reason companies would need workforce flexibility, there are many circumstances in which companies can benefit from a workforce that can be increased or decreased at a moment’s notice. Below are a few real-life examples showing the varied benefits of engaging a service provider using a virtual and independent customer service network:
- Black Friday (News – Alert): Demand soared 235 percent above forecasted volume on Black Friday in 2012, requiring an immediate ramp during the most critical time for holiday sales.
- Retail: Every year at least one major retail brand flexes its support team fivefold, expanding from 300 professionals to over 1,500 in November and December.
- Technology: With the launch of a popular smart phone, a high tech company required a workforce increase of 68 percent in a single day.
- Travel: Seasonality in the travel industry is experienced during the winter months. A large cruise line requires a workforce increase of more than 30 percent for the first three months of every year.
- Accounting: During the 2012 tax season, a tax software company requires an additional 400 professionals and a flex of 30 percet beyond committed service intervals to cover unanticipated volumes.
The ability to flex a workforce on demand allows companies to cost-effectively provide customers with the highest level of service regardless of fluctuating call volumes. The resulting improvement in customer satisfaction and bottom-line profitability helps fortify businesses for success in today’s extremely competitive environment. With the holidays upon us, there is no time like the present to find out how a service provider with access to a virtual customer service network could help turn seasonal or unplanned spikes into the most wonderful time of the year.
– By Peter Formisano, Vice President and General Manager at Arise Virtual Solutions (News –Alert) Inc., manages Arise’s operations and client relationships in the retail and technology industries. Peter is a noted speaker and thought leader on the subject of flexible business solutions. Prior to joining Arise, he held executive positions at Computer Generated Solutions, ClientLogic, and Convergys (News – Alert). Peter is a graduate from Iona College with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Accounting and Management Information Systems.