The rate of change has never been greater — or faster — for the footwear industry, with new challenges popping up every day in nearly all corners of the business, from navigating cash crunches and supply chain issues to understanding the latest technological advances. In its “Ask An Expert” series, FN asks industry leaders — all solutions-based providers — to take on some of the most timely topics.
At the best of times, a customer service team is an important part of a business’ retail strategy; during the pandemic, it has become critical for success. Shoppers are purchasing in new ways and through new channels, while retailers explore new offerings and services. While this has been an exciting period of innovation, it also presents a learning curve for consumers, who are turning to customer support at higher rates than usual. Instead of in-person interactions at physical stores, these exchanges are now frequently the main source of engagement between brand and consumer.
Greg Hanover, CEO of customer service platform LiveOps, spoke with FN about what makes for a strong customer service team, how 2020 has changed the game for retail customer support, and why a third party solution might be the right fit.
FN: How would you define a successful customer service team?
Greg Hanover: A successful customer service team is one that’s well aligned with the client’s brand and culture and that understands what an ideal customer experience looks like. It’s a team that delivers consistently exceptional experiences to customers, generating results that can be measured through data metrics. Success starts with the talent profile: With putting together a team of efficient, business-minded, compassionate individuals.
FN: What are the benefits of outsourcing customer service to a third party?
GH: Outsourcing customer service lets a company stay focused on its core business, while leaving the call center work to the specialists: Teams whose core competencies are providing excellent customer service. Outsourcing this function helps companies reduce risks and costs in general, as it means the company doesn’t have to make any additional investments in real estate, HR or hardware. It also provides retailers and brands with access to a more agile, scalable model that leverages customer service best practices and best-in-breed technology.
A virtual model like ours also gives companies the ability to flex the customer service team when needed, for expected and unexpected events. It provides a qualified talent pool to tap into that the company doesn’t need to recruit or train, one that’s not limited by the company’s geographic location.
FN: What are some retail-specific customer service needs that merchants should be aware of?
GH: Many retailers saw their existing call center infrastructures strained by the accelerated shift to online shopping in 2020 and this year proved that having an agile, flexible call center model for planned – and unplanned – events is more important than ever. Customer service representatives are often the first, and sometimes the only, point of contact a customer has with a brand. They serve as brand ambassadors and can drive or weaken customer loyalty; retailers and brands have to ensure these ambassadors are empathetic because people are looking for that human connection more than ever.
In retail, the most common customer service requests are to place orders, find out the delivery status of an order or ask about returns. So, customer service teams need to be equipped with technology that gives them up-to-date information about inventory and order status. Supply-chain and fulfillment are real pain points in the retail industry right now, so having access to this information is more important than ever. Retailers should also dive into their data from past seasons to learn as much as they can from it.
FN: Are there any unique challenges to customer service that have been presented by 2020?
GH: This year has been really tough and customer service has become a connection point and source of human interaction for many people who feel isolated or frustrated. Also, the demographic profile of online shoppers has broadened significantly this year, since so many purchases have shifted online due to safety concerns. That’s meant that customer service teams have fielded calls from people who are new to online shopping and may need help navigating a website or transaction. They may have calls about available inventory. Return and exchange rates are high because shoppers aren’t trying on or touching products like they would if they were shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.
FN: Looking ahead, what do you think will be critical for success in this area?
GH: Building an agile customer care call center model, one that allows a brand to scale its efforts along with the accelerated shift to e-commerce, will be key. Companies shouldn’t settle. If they’re concerned about the state of their customer care, they should look for alternatives now. Flexibility, scalability, security, distance learning, community and a well-rounded technology infrastructure that allows call center representatives easy access to all the information they need, from inventory to delivery status – all of those are essential.
It’s also critical to find the right people to fit the brand’s business model and the needs of customers. And to keep those agents informed about business updates, new trends and changes, so they’re always well prepared to interact with customers. Communication is key.