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Empowering Customer Service to Protect Your Brand

By: Christina Bentley

Are you neglecting a critical channel? Your customer service center serves your best customer — don’t let them become your most detrimental.

A customer service desk isn’t the sexy part of retail or CPG. With low revenue and a high operating cost, call centers are often a neglected and underinvested in area of a business.  But your service desk gives you a front row seat to engage with your customers and protect your brand. Retailers invest heavily in customer engagement, retention, and acquisition, spending millions on innovations in personalization, social listening, loyalty, and clienteling — but what about the customers that quite literally come to you?

Your call center is a free engagement channel where brands have the opportunity to put their best foot forward, but this outreach comes with a treacherous edge. Interactions in this channel have the ability to create a loyal customer or generate customer chaos — an aggrieved customer on social media puts you at risk. Bad service can destroy a brand.

While customers reach out for countless reasons, there are some specific things they typically want. It may feel like they are looking for reimbursement, but demands for compensation can, at times, be mitigated by (1) listening and (2) providing actionable information. Retailers train their call centers to listen to their customers — they are exceptional at it, but the emphasis on actionable information is the key here. Where customer service organizations fail is when their associates aren’t empowered with information. To put it more directly,if you are not empowering your call center with information, you are losing customers, putting your brand at risk, and refunding when you could have retained.

Equipping Your Team for Success

So where do you even begin? Your customers want a lot of things, but one of them is answers. These answers are often available within the four walls of your company — your call center just doesn’t have access to them. Start rectifying the problem here. Systems, technology, and ultimately data exist in your organization — you have already made this investment — your call center just isn’t leveraging them because they aren’t being prioritized as a functional area.

Still questioning the investment? There’s an added benefit. With access to more systems, your call center is able to provide more granular insights. Did your customer want to locate their package, did they want to understand nearby stores’ inventory levels, did they want to switch their order from pickup to ship? All of these questions and answers are datadata that you can collect and learn from to further understand your customer and your brand.

So, what can companies do to improve customer engagement, increase retention, reduce refunds, and prevent brand detriment?

  1. Make a top down commitment to customer service desk functions as a critical part of customer engagement strategy and investment.
  2. Empower associates by giving them the technology, data, and tools they need to know exactly what’s happening. Connect and integrate these tools and use data analytics and tracking so associates have the best real-time information possible to support this channel.
  3. Implement chat, text, and callback functions. These are out-of-the-box features of most support desk tools and put customers’ time and preferences first.
  4. Authorize associates to make decisions with the information at their disposal. Process-driven support desks are successful support desks, but if you give your team guardrails and let them be human within them, you’ll find their delivery will be more in line with your customers’ expectations and drive results that bolster your brand.

Our Current State of Affairs

While most of us have settled into some sort of new normal in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this period of great disruption has significantly impacted the customer service channel.

In times of calm and crisis alike, the customer comes first — but in crises, consumers’ brand preferences are tested. Stress on supply chains, inventory levels, and new engagement models puts increased pressure on customer service functions. Requests for refunds, increased web traffic, lack of delivery windows, and low stock levels all contribute to a deluge of outreach to customer support. Brands are finding themselves unprepared to meet the demands of this influx in customer engagement and unsure of what their response should even be when unprecedented situations arise. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has exponentially increased service desk volume and has exposed a weakness in that side of the business.

In a crisis, retailers and consumer products companies must inculcate critical customer support standards and leverage rapid processes and supporting technologies to address constantly changing industry landscapes. The good news is that making a change in this area can have an immediate impact on customer satisfaction and your reputation.

Start with a crawl-walk-run approach to supporting this pivotal channel by providing your service desk access to the tools your organization has already invested in. It’s a low-cost, defensive play that can put you on the offensive and allow you to engage with customers and safeguard your brand.

Want to learn more about how SEI can help your brand drive targeted, meaningful change? Learn more about our retail experience or contact us today.

Christina Bentley

Consultant

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