Building on last week’s favorable news about rising consumer confidence, the National Retail Federation (NRF) this week predicts that sales during the fourth quarter holiday shopping season will rise 4.1 percent over last year.
This is less than the increases of 5.5 and 5.6 percent the two previous years, but more than the 3.5 percent average increase since 2002.
But the NRF, the nation’s largest retail trade group, isn’t completely confident in its prediction. In fact, the association’s president said “this is the most challenging year doing a forecast.”
The reasons? Widespread public uncertainty about the economy and individual American’s financial insecurity. Housing is on the rebound and the stock market has gained more than 10 percent this year, but employment remains flat and the cost of life’s basics (food, gasoline, heat, electricity) are going up. And there are ongoing worries that the U.S. and global economies are moving back toward recession.
What does all this mean for retailers and ecommerce companies? It means a lot of sales managers are losing sleep. With so much unpredictability, it’s harder than ever to put in place the right customer service resources for consumers needing order processing, order taking, shipping order updates or other customer service call center services needs.
What if, after all, the NRF’s prediction is too low and holiday buying increases as much as it did in 2010 and 2011? It could mean customers left on hold, high numbers of abandoned calls and consumer dissatisfaction. It would also mean customers fleeing to competitors in search of more responsive service.
That’s the thing about consumers during the holidays. They’re more demanding and impatient than at any other time of year – just when retailers’ resources are stretched to the limit.
Smart retailers are putting the resources in place now to accommodate surges in customer service demand in November and December. Partnering with an outsourced call center services company is smart because most outsourcers have flexible, scalable customer service staffing models. As call volume increases, the outsourcer can absorb additional inbound calls.
Many retailers partner with us to handle overflow calls when inbound call volume spikes. Or to extend hours of customer service later into the evening or over the weekend.
We minimize the risk of using an outsourcer with our “time-on-task” (shared) billing model, which means our clients only pay for the actual minutes we are on the phone with customers. If call volume spikes, we can handle the increase. If additional calls don’t materialize then the retailer hasn’t wasted any money.
We all hope holiday shopping keeps pace with the last two years. Let’s also hope retailers have the customer service resources in place that the holiday buying season requires.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Call Center Services