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Coping with the post-Christmas returns rush

Tuesday January 3 2012

The seasonal boom in online shopping brings with it the inevitable customer service returns rush in January. As communications expert Neil Hammerton explains, now is the time to make sure the telephone customer experience is spot on

The seasonal boom in online shopping brings with it the inevitable customer service returns rush in January. As communications expert Neil Hammerton explains, now is the time to make sure the telephone customer experience is spot on

 

2011 has seen the biggest number of shoppers flock to the internet to do their Christmas shopping. ‘Cyber Monday’ – dubbed the busiest online shopping day of the year on December 5 – saw an approximate 85 million visits to ecommerce sites in one day, an 18% increase on last year, Neil Hammerton, chief executive of UK-based hosted voice services provider Natterbox, said.

 

Staying in touch after holidays

 

But, he asked, what does this mean for retailers’ contact centres? "With Christmas gifts come the inevitable returns rush and the associated customer service queries," he said. "In the pre-internet days, frazzled shop assistants would deal with returns instore but, in today’s e-commerce age, the only way an online retailer can deliver direct, personal service is through its call centre. Customers place a lot of emphasis on Christmas, so it’s important to get it right if you want repeat business in the New Year."

 

Hammerton said customer contact centres need to provide seamless, personalised services to impress today’s consumers. "Technology exists that enables contact centres to personalise the customer experience, so they can speak to the same operator every time, first time," he explained. "Traditionally, contact centres were interested in managing calls effectively to increase profits, focusing on call duration and first contact resolution as core metrics. Now, they have realised that improving the customer experience will have a better, long-term impact on the bottom line. As a consumer, dealing with a call centre is one of the easiest ways to identify if customer service is a priority for that organisation."

 

He continued by saying companies that are getting it right include Groupon, which improves its customer experience, increases loyalty and improves business efficiency by using Natterbox. "For example, Groupon’s London-based call centre is staffed by regional experts from all over the UK. Natterbox’s cloud-based system automatically recognises the geographic location of individual callers and intelligently routes them to a regional expert," he explained.

 

Meeting individual customer expectations

 

"The experience for the customer calling from Edinburgh, for example, to discuss a Groupon deal in their city, is greatly improved because the agent has knowledge of the area and local offers. This empowers an international organisation with a localised voice. It is this level of personalisation that UK contact centres need to achieve if they want to develop loyal customers and the revenue benefits that will ensue as a result.

 

"Personalising the customer experience also involves storing the callers’ preferences so that they get a consistent service. From recalling their favourite hold music to automatically connecting them to the same operator each time, with Natterbox every telephone number can hold a wealth of customer and business information."

 

Hammerton added that part of providing a seamless customer experience, particularly over the Christmas holiday period when staff are on leave, can involve creating a ‘mobile contact centre’. "Maintaining business continuity over the hectic festive period is a challenge for retailers but an important thing to get right. After all, a customer is for life, not just for Christmas," he concluded.