Here’s how to turn a cost centre into a profit centre
Forrester Research predicts that online sales will increase by at least 10% annually through to 2015, but also reports that almost 60% of Internet users are dissatisfied with their experience of shopping online and even more regularly abandon shopping carts. The statistics reflect the nature of how goods and services are now sold, but it also suggests there is a widening gap between the experience offered and customer expectations.
Whether or not you currently sell on-line, businesses are still failing to grasp that the nature of how customers want to buy and interact has changed. The result? – lower sales and less repeat business. So whether you focus on B2B or B2C, are you falling behind in the way that you manage and communicate with customers?
On-line, Social & Globalisation
There’s no doubt customer habits are different to what they were even a few years ago. The Millennial generation prefer to text or tweet rather than talk and are more likely to surf the net via their smartphone or tablet rather than a desktop PC. At the other end of the scale, whilst an ageing population may still be more comfortable with talking on the phone, silver surfers are more technology savvy so may be open to other forms of discourse such as webchat. Interestingly, research published by analyst ContactBabel, reveals that 37% of UK contact centres now offer an on-line chat facility, suggesting that more organisations are introducing new platforms to match the more real-time and instant demands of time-starved consumers.
The power of ‘social’ should also not be overlooked with 4 out of 5 consumers more inclined to buy a brand’s products more often after being exposed to the company’s messages over social media. All these trends combined with globalisation means that brands can connect with customers over an every growing number of platforms across different countries and time-zones.
Are you a customer services dinosaur?
As servicing the customer becomes more complex and sophisticated, the challenge for customer-facing organisations is whether they can keep up with the pace of change. So how can you tell if your services department belongs in a museum? Probably the first clue is to look at the last time you invested in new technology. Take email management for example. If you are still using standard Outlook programmes to handle large volumes of responses, then this is no longer an efficient or acceptable approach. Rather you need the capability to escalate more urgent requests as today’s consumers want to hear back almost immediately and any delay will result in them going elsewhere. Another tell-tale sign is that there is no integrated way of monitoring the different communications channels, rather they are all handled separately, whilst some such as social media, are simply ignored altogether. If a customer posts a complaint about you on Facebook or Twitter, without the right systems and people in place, you could be completely oblivious, and are powerless to stop it potentially going viral.
With new channels such as web-chat, SMS and social media displacing more traditional voice-based communication, you should also assess your people and the skillsets they have. With a trend towards ‘non-verbal’ dialogue, more old-fashioned departments focused on phone-based interaction may need to be re-trained to deal with customers that wish to converse on alternative platforms that need stronger written skills and the ability to hop between different types of media at the same time.
Turning a cost centre in to a profit centre
If you are failing to embrace multiple channels in an effective way, then you could be missing out, not just on providing a better customer experience but also on increased conversion rates, better brand loyalty, reduced churn and greater opportunities for up-sell and/or repeat business.
So if you still see your customer services as a ‘cost centre’ that primarily deals with support, returns or complaints, how do you move towards turning it into a ‘profit centre’? First of all you need to assess whether you are getting the most of your current resources and whether they are directly or indirectly making a measurable difference to the bottom line. What are the additional revenue opportunities within the business and how could the services team be better deployed?
Perhaps one of the most obvious and valuable ways of re-distributing resources is on lost sales. Nearly three quarters of shopping carts are left abandoned in virtual aisles and Experian reports that UK e-tailers lose over £1bn from disillusioned buyers that fail to check-out. By engaging with a customer at the point of purchase, these figures can be dramatically reduced by using tools such as web chat or even SMS to support a customer to complete the sales transaction. Similarly if someone is browsing a website and can’t find what they are looking for or need advice on sizes, delivery questions or pricing, then staff (like in a physical store) are around to lend a hand.
With the right technology and training, staff can work across multiple mediums simultaneously, making better use of their time. What were traditionally known as inbound sales staff could be re-assigned to up-selling. Meanwhile, social channels could also be monitored and any enquiries or complaints dealt with in real-time. With good MI (Management Information) you can immediately measure how new ways of communicating with customers can deliver additional sales, whether it’s an increase in conversions, upsells or frequency of purchases.
Best of all worlds
However, for many companies they simply do not have the budget to invest in new technology or the time to re-train or manage staff. Also if you are a seasonal business, busy for a just a few months a year, you may not be able to justify the up-front spend. Outsourcing is a perfect way to either supplement or replace a more traditional in-house service team, because you don’t have the expense of continually updating IT and you can tap into a pool of experienced customer service professionals that are available on-demand and around the clock. Whatever the nature of your business, if you want to hit or exceed sales targets then customer service could be the perfect place to start.
Dino Forte – Managing Director – Ventrica
Dino set up his first outsourced contact centre business in 1997 and with his business partner built it from a four-person outfit to a 300 seat blended operation. In September of 2007 he sold the business to a $750mn global diversified conglomerate with interests in telecoms, software, mining and manufacturing.
Dino has extensive experience of operational implementation, customer service delivery & strategy, sales & marketing process, business process & project management, change management & industry best practice. He has also been extremely successful in identifying and capitalising on new business development opportunities in helping to drive both customer service and sales excellence within both “Direct Sales” & “Customer Service” environments.