Managing an efficient customer service team is a challenge, even in relatively quiet times. However, the job gets far more complex when a crisis hits. Managers can foresee some fluctuations in staffing — like during the holidays — but the true test of a retail service center’s strategies comes when an unexpected event forces the need to scale service quickly in response to increased customer needs. Luckily, avoiding these three common mistakes can make moments of uncertainty easier to overcome.
Failing to Communicate
Customer service representatives need to know what’s happening within the retailer’s operations. It may seem obvious, but you’d be shocked by the number of organizations that fail to alert customer service reps when external factors that may impact call volumes occur.
Businesses are often siloed, leading individuals in different departments to make decisions without realizing their potential impact on other business functions. That lack of communication can affect customers, which means it touches the customer service department, too. Retailers that prioritize communication between departments and keep customer service in the loop will be better positioned to anticipate scaling needs before any changes affect customers.
The need for communication extends beyond internal decisions. Call volumes also spike in response to external events, such as widespread web page outages or global incidents. Unlike other employees who may hear the news on the radio in the background or through another news outlet, customer service representatives cannot keep up with current events while talking on the phone with customers. Companies often fail to prioritize alerting these employees, which leads to delays in scaling teams and lost time helping customers.
Assuming Spikes Are Short Term
When scaling in response to an unexpected spike in volume, retailers often fail to predict the long-term impact the news might have. They tend to view all incidents as limited in scope and estimate that any related complications will resolve themselves sooner rather than later. That isn’t always the case. Even relatively quickly resolved issues — e.g., an app going offline for an hour — can cause lingering effects for customer service departments. The simple act of increasing phone capacity for one week can ripple out and cause operational changes the following week.
World events that affect customer service departments in the long term may call for even more long-term planning. Take COVID-19 as an example. In 2020, no one could have predicted just how long the virus would impact day-to-day operations across industries. Those companies that developed plans for long-term accommodations early were more prepared to face the ongoing crisis than those that assumed the pandemic would only affect them for weeks. Companies should have plans for restructuring call routes, introducing flexible scheduling options for reps, and more in place ahead of time so they can pivot on a dime.
Cutting Customer Service Out
Customer service representatives are retailers’ most valuable assets in times of uncertainty because they have intimate knowledge of exactly what customers are struggling with (both in times of crisis and during regular operations). Their insights from the front-line of customer experiences can be used to guide the overall scaling strategy. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to put their knowledge to good use by neglecting to make customer service reps part of the solution.
Getting it right is never easy in customer service and getting it right during a crisis is even harder. However, retailers that prepare for unexpected scaling will be far more likely to deliver great experiences and keep their customers through uncertain times.
Giuseppe Ficarra is senior vice president of global sales at Majorel, a leading global provider of next-generation end-to-end customer experience (CX) solutions for digital-native and vertical-leading brands.