The Black Friday Surge: Is Your Customer Support Ready?

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Happy Anniversary, Black Friday in the UK! Five years ago, Walmart-owned Asda offered its first Black Friday sale in the UK, spurring several other large retailers to follow suit the following year. Since then, the event has quickly grown and changed. In 2017, Black Friday sales in the UK totalled £1.4 billion, up 11.7% on 2016, according to IMRG. But it has also migrated to other categories, such as travel, and expanded to cover more days, dubbed Black Fiveday and Black Fortnight by various observers.

What remains the same, however, is that shoppers are collectively concentrating their shopping activity into a short time window. In those few days or weeks, retailers have the chance to win over—or win back—thousands of new customers that may make additional purchases all year long. Everything a retailer does on Black Friday they must to do at higher volume and scale. It’s retail on turbo.

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Creating exceptional experiences

Retailers have been working hard to make that shopping experience exceptional. They’ve been reimagining the entire purchase cycle to ensure a potential customer can shop seamlessly across channels, receive personalised offers and experiences, enjoy a digitally enabled and mobile-fueled store visit, and communicate when and how they want with customer support staff to get the help they need.

That’s a lot to achieve, so many retail transformation projects are still a work in progress. Unfortunately, ensuring a great customer contact centre experience has not always been at the top of the priority list. Research by Retail TouchPoints for RingCentral found the biggest share of retailers’ customer experience investments are aimed at the online/website customer experience (80%), with just 22% devoted to the contact centre. That means as retailers’ Black Friday activity grows, so does the risk of alienating the very consumers they are working so hard to convert into year-round loyal customers.

The role of the contact centre

A recent survey by Deloitte underscores the critical role contact centres play in customer experience in retail and other industries. According to Deloitte:

  • From 2015 to 2017, customer experience/expectations bypassed business growth as the main driver of contact centre growth; 88% of respondents call customer experience the number one goal, a trend they expect to continue.
  • Accuracy and quality of information are seen as most important to customer satisfaction (66%), followed by ease of interaction (62%).

To ensure the Black Friday customers who reach out for support attain that ease, accuracy and quality, retailers must ensure their contact centres and other communications systems are set up to engage with consumers in the ways they want. Right now, voice and email are the most commonly used media, but Deloitte’s research found a shift in preferred communication channels is already underway:

  • Phone contact will drop from 64% (2017) to 47% (2019);
  • Web-based chat/collaboration will rise from 6% to 16%;
  • Social media will rise from 4% to 9%;
  • SMS (2% to 6%) and video (1% to 2%) are showing early signs of growth.

Consumers are not only showing a growing interest in new ways to communicate, but they also want to seamlessly transition from one way to another. So, if a busy mother started a pre-sale shopping cart in anticipation of a Black Friday event and talked to an agent on the phone about it, she will expect to be able to pick that conversation up again via chat on mobile without missing a beat when she’s in the throes of the transaction during her lunch hour on Black Friday.

READTapping the Right Data for Relevant, Personalised Customer Engagement in Retail

To make all this possible, retailers need a well-designed, cloud-based unified communications infrastructure that brings all forms of customer communication onto the same platform. This approach enables retailers to deliver the quality, ease, and accuracy consumers want while enabling faster speed of service, lower costs, personalised interactions, global reach, and those all-important, seamless cross-channel communications.

Consumers are not only showing growing interest in new ways to communicate, they also want to seamlessly transition from one way to another. Click To Tweet

Ready for go time

There’s one more quality that often gets overlooked in the quest to upgrade the customer support experience: reliability. When traffic to a store or site spikes as it does on Black Friday, outreach to a retailer’s contact centre goes up as well. That means the contact centre’s infrastructure must be ready to withstand huge increases in activity, delivering the same fast, seamless, cross-channel experience consumers expect on a “regular” retail day.

That means the unified communications system that enables contact centre staff to work their magic must be reliable, redundant, and backed by highly qualified 24/7/365 support. A Black Friday flash sale event is no time to leave a customer hanging who has a time-sensitive question or issue.

In its Black Friday report, digital commerce consultancy Salmon reported an 86% increase in the percentage of visitors adding items to their cart during “Black Fiveday” compared to the previous week. That’s a lot of increased traffic among motivated buyers—just the folks’ retailers want to attract with their outstanding service and support. Outstanding, consistent communication is a key part of that effort.

READThe Need for Speed in Customer Communications in Retail

Originally published Nov 20, 2018, updated Jan 17, 2023

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