DURBAN 23122015 Christmas shopping, Gateway. PICTURE: Jacques Naude

When it comes to preparing for the holiday season, from gift purchases to flights and accommo­dation, consumers seldom leave enough time. The increased quantities of queries businesses encounter ­represent an opportunity for excellent customer experience – or the risk of damage to their brand.

The contact centre is often the face of the company during this time, there must be adequate provisions made for an influx in business interactions, ranging from a business strategy that allows for tech or training upgrades to an increased workforce. The central feature of this is planning, then developing and executing a strategy and ensuring that it is monitored.

Simply doing business as usual won’t cut it, but some preparation can aid in not just avoiding damage to brand reputation, but it can also lead to enhanced reputation and increased profitability.

Increased traffic

There must be trained staff available to handle the additional contacts and systems that aren’t slowed down by increased traffic. If systems slow down, then this has a direct negative impact on service – customers may have to make repeated calls, and this compounds the problem.

A solution is to make sure you have the right skills and number of people in place by using tools. There’s a wide range of tools available, such as workforce management. These use predictive algorithms and analytics to predict, based on historical information, what the staffing levels should be at particular periods. This makes it easier to deploy staff accordingly to service the demand, and significantly reduces costs by preventing overstaffing.

Another strategy is to have self-service options available that can take the burden off the contact centre, such as self sign up options that allow for customers to allow the customer to interact with the company without the need for an agent.

Keeping the agents free to deal with more complex interactions helps in keeping the workflow efficient and productive. A strategy that aids with this is to inform the customer according to their request of additional information or options, negating the need for agent involvement.

An example would be: a pipe has burst in the street, you call the municipality to ask about it, and a message is already in place stating that they are aware of the problem at that address and that they’re taking steps to fix the problem. Or, in sales, if you want to buy a phone, you may get a message saying, “Please note, you can also make purchases via our mobile application” to make you aware of the self-­service option. This technique steers traffic away from agents and helps ­customers get the information or assistance they need quicker.

Self-service options are for performing functions that don’t necessarily require agent involvement. Balance enquiries, for example, can be funnelled through menu selection options instead of being handled by an agent. Time saved in the contact centre environment translates to profitability and an enhanced customer experience.

For businesses, investment may be needed to beef up systems for busy periods, but this can lead to having the capacity in place all year round. An option that some contact centre solution pro­viders offer is short-term subscriptions that allow businesses access to technology for shorter periods to cater for more traffic. This keeps the company agile while providing their customer base with excellent service.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that ­shoppers and holidaymakers don’t spend their time trying to resolve queries or conclude sales, but that they get to spend as much time doing what they really want to do – having fun.

For companies, this is an opportunity for enhanced brand reputation and increased profitability.

Wynand Smit is the chief executive of Inovo, a leading contact centre business solutions provider.

This article was first published IOL on 1 December 2016.