Retailers worldwide mark it as the year’s most significant sales event. Online and in-person shoppers queue up in the early morning, eager for once-in-a-year discount opportunities. A staggering sum of money exchanges hands—consumers and retailers invest billions. It’s rare to spot any retailer not taking part.
Of course, we are talking about Black Friday, a make-or-break moment for retailers and e-commerce businesses. Although it dates back to the 1950s, the event has grown dramatically since retailers went online. Black Friday online sales grew 3.5% to $65.3 billion globally in 2022. While there is great potential to boost sales, providing customers with positive experiences is still crucial in developing the perception of a brand.
The sheer number of consumers participating in ‘discount day’ means businesses are under immense pressure to manage customers and quickly fulfil orders. Contact centres play an instrumental role in the customer journey, with operational efficiency key to enabling businesses to optimise their returns.
With AI’s emergence, contact centres can now handle significantly more customer engagements. They are evolving rapidly with many new features to enable better customer service, from virtual assistants to workforce optimisation. In this article, we will look at the contact centre solutions that will help businesses better manage the surge in demand on Black Friday.
What is Black Friday?
“Black Friday” was first associated with post-Thanksgiving shopping in the 1950s. Philadelphia police used the term to describe the chaos ensuing as masses of shoppers descended upon the city the day after Thanksgiving, which created a significant crowd control challenge for them. Today, Black Friday is globally recognised as one of the most significant shopping events of the year, leading to substantial seasonal customer demands. It also marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is a time when retailers offer incredible discounts and deals. As consumers flock to make purchases, contact centres are busy managing customer inquiries, resolving issues, and ensuring a seamless shopping experience.
Challenges Contact Centres Face on Black Friday
Black Friday presents a unique set of challenges for contact centres. With the dramatic increase in online shopping and high customer inquiries, support teams can quickly become overwhelmed. The increased customer demand can lead to longer wait times and frustrated customers.
This leads to an increased potential for system outages as contact centres experience a significant increase in website traffic and transactions. These outages can hinder agents’ access to vital customer information, resulting in delays and frustrated customers.
Additionally, overwhelmed agents may need help to keep up with the high volume of inquiries. The pressure to provide fast and consistent customer support can lead to agent burnout and potential errors.
Solutions Retailers Can Implement to Improve Contact Centre Performance on Black Friday
1. Conversational IVR (Interactive Voice Response):
Retailers can leverage Conversational IVR systems to manage high call volumes during Black Friday. Unlike traditional IVR systems, Conversational IVRs employ natural language processing to understand and respond to customer queries more humanistically. This technology allows customers to speak naturally rather than push buttons, reducing frustration and fast-tracking resolution. Find out more.
Imagine a customer calling about the status of their Black Friday order. Instead of pressing ‘1’ for order status, they simply say, “I want to check my order status.” The Conversational IVR recognises the request and responds, “Sure, please provide your order number.” The system then checks the order status and provides an immediate update, all without the need for human intervention.
2. CAI (Conversational Artificial Intelligence):
Conversational AI can be integrated into chatbots and virtual assistants across messaging platforms, social media, and retailer’s websites. These AI-driven bots can handle various customer service inquiries, from tracking orders to product recommendations. Find out more.
Customers looking for electronics on a retailer’s website can interact with the chatbot for product recommendations. They might type, “I’m looking for a gaming laptop under £1000.” The AI understands and retrieves a list of products that match the criteria, along with Black Friday special deals, effectively serving the customer without live agent involvement.
3. Intelligent Routing:
Intelligent routing ensures that customers are directed to the most appropriate agent or department based on their specific needs or the complexity of the issues. This can significantly reduce wait times and increase first-call resolution rates.
A customer contacts the service centre regarding a complex issue with their high-value purchase. The intelligent routing system identifies the nature of the issue and the customer’s purchase history then routes the call to a specialised agent trained to handle such high-priority concerns.
4. Workforce Optimisation:
Workforce optimisation tools can forecast call volume and schedule the appropriate number of staff, considering the expected surge in customer contacts on Black Friday. They also provide real-time analytics and reporting, enabling managers to make data-driven decisions. Find out more.
The system uses historical data to predict a 200% increase in customer interactions on Black Friday. It then schedules additional agents for that day, ensuring the workforce optimally aligns with the anticipated demand.
5. Request Callback:
Offering a callback service can reduce customer frustration associated with long wait times. Instead of waiting on hold, customers can opt to receive a callback when an agent becomes available.
A customer trying to get through on Black Friday is informed of a 45-minute wait time but can request a callback. They opt in, continue their day, and receive a callback from an agent 40 minutes later, ready to assist them.
6. Implement Outbound Campaigns on SMS:
SMS has a 98% open rate, making it a highly effective channel for communication. Retailers can send out Black Friday deals, order updates, and respond to customer inquiries via text messages. Find out more.
A retailer sends a targeted SMS campaign to customers who have shown interest in electronics before Black Friday, informing them about upcoming deals. Customers can text back to ask questions or opt-in to receive reminders when sales start, which maintains engagement and can boost sales.
7. Social Media:
Retailers can incorporate social media platforms into their contact centre strategies to engage with customers where they spend a significant amount of time. By monitoring social media for customer inquiries and complaints, especially during high-traffic events like Black Friday, retailers can provide timely and personalised customer service. This approach also allows for leveraging social listening tools to gauge customer sentiment and manage brand reputation actively. Find out more.
A customer tweets at a retailer about a missed delivery on Black Friday. The social media integration tool flags the tweet and routes it to the contact centres social media team. An agent promptly responds to the tweet, resolves the delivery issue, and uses the opportunity to upsell a related product that’s on a special Black Friday discount.
8. Virtual Agent:
A virtual agent is an AI-powered tool that can converse with customers using voice or text, handle transactions, and provide 24/7 customer service. Virtual agents are scalable solutions to manage the Black Friday influx without the cost of hiring additional staff. Find out more.
On Black Friday, a customer interacts with a virtual agent via a retailer’s mobile app to inquire about the return policy for a sale item. The virtual agent explains the policy, offers to initiate the return process, and answers subsequent questions about the timeline for receiving a refund, all without the need for a live agent.
Chatbots can be integrated on various platforms, including websites, apps, and messaging services, to handle a vast range of customer service tasks such as answering FAQs, guiding through purchases, or providing personalised recommendations based on customer’s shopping history. Find out more.
A customer is browsing a retailer’s website and uses the chatbot to ask if there are any Black Friday deals on winter coats. The chatbot presents a curated selection of coats with Black Friday discounts, details on each product, and an option to complete the purchase directly through the chat interface. If the customer has additional questions, the chatbot is capable of escalating the conversation to a human agent seamlessly.
WhatsApp, with its extensive global user base, has become a crucial channel for customer service. Retailers can integrate WhatsApp into their contact centre operations to provide instant, convenient, and secure customer service. This platform allows for real-time two-way communication, where retailers can send order updates, respond to inquiries, and even handle transactions within an app that customers already use daily. Find out more.
During the Black Friday rush, a customer sends a message on WhatsApp inquiring about the availability of a popular item that’s on sale. The retailer’s integrated system receives the message and, using pre-set algorithms, identifies the product in question, checks inventory, and immediately responds with the item’s availability. The customer can then choose to reserve the item or make a purchase directly through WhatsApp, facilitated by the retailer’s e-commerce system. If the conversation needs to escalate, the chat can be transferred to a human agent who continues the service without any disruption.
In conclusion, implementing AI and technology-driven solutions in contact centres for Black Friday can drastically improve both the efficiency of operations and the customer experience. Retailers that embrace omni-channel solutions can manage the Black Friday surge and turn it into an opportunity to deliver exceptional customer service and drive sales. These strategies, combined with the power of AI, help retailers stay ahead in a highly competitive market, ensuring customer loyalty and brand strength in the long run.