This year’s Black Friday didn’t see a crush of eager shoppers at every big box store in the nation. Very few people waited all night for doorbusters or fought over merchandise in crowded store aisles. In fact, due to concerns about the coronavirus, most shoppers stayed home on Black Friday.
But that doesn’t mean they weren’t shopping. According to reports, 2020 set a new Black Friday online shopping record: shoppers spent an estimated $9 billion on U.S. retail websites this past Friday, a 22% increase over last year’s record of $7.4 billion.
This is not a surprise — this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has brought in more business for online retailers as people stay home. US eCommerce sales are projected to grow 18% to $710 billion this year, even as delivery time slows due to demand and other issues.
And this is just the beginning of the holiday season. As holiday shopping continues, as shoppers track their packages, need returns, and get more stressed about the approaching holidays, there’s one group that will be caught in the middle: your retail customer service reps.
The plight of the retail rep during the holidays
Call center customer service reps have one of the highest turnover jobs in the world. Although there are no hard and fast numbers for the industry as a whole, the stat most often quoted, from the Quality Assurance and Training Connection (QATC) is that call centers have a turnover rate of between 30 and 45%.
Why? It’s a stressful job; inbound customer service reps deal with angry customers, high call volumes, and often work long hours. During the holidays — especially this holiday season when more people are shopping from home — all three of those elements become more intense.
The last thing you need is a crew of burned out customer service reps. They’ll need all the support you can give them to get through this December.
How can you support your retail reps this holiday season?
1) Don’t just throw new employees into the fray
You may be hiring additional staff to help your team cope with an expected rise in call volume, but are those new reps prepared for everything they’re going to encounter on the job? It can take a while for new employees to get up to speed; and you definitely don’t want a nervous newbie flubbing a call from a customer who is already upset about something. That’s not good for the customer, for the rep, or for your business.
Fortunately, a solid onboarding program can make all the difference; research from The Recruiting Roundtable shows that a good onboarding program can increase performance by 11.5%. Make sure your newest hires are prepared for the onslaught of calls by onboarding them thoroughly and giving them all the training they need to handle every call professionally, right from the start.
2) Give all your employees the gift of ongoing training
Just as no one enjoys having to guess at what someone wants for the holidays, your call center employees don’t want to guess at what you want from them. According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace report, only 6 of 10 employees know exactly what their managers expect of them. They might think they’re doing fine and meeting objectives… until a manager calls them into their office.
Make sure they know exactly what you want from them by providing ongoing training for all reps. Every rep can stand to brush up on their skills, and by providing learning paths, you can strengthen specific skills before you have to take an employee aside for a decidedly Grinchy conversation.
3) Good things come in micro packages
Even the best retail rep can’t remember everything they learned in training all the time. Sometimes, they’ll need to brush up on a product, take care of a complicated problem, or remember exactly how to escalate things to a manager. In those cases, offering microlearning — small, focused chunks of content — lets your reps quickly brush up on one topic when they have a minute.
By maintaining a library of microlearning content, you’ll give your reps all the knowledge they need to do their jobs — and it will be right at their fingertips.
4) Keep it jolly by training people skills
Your reps put up with a lot, and they do it all with a smile. Or at least they’re supposed to. Some of your customer service reps might have a hard time with people skills, especially if they feel like they’ve been yelled at all day. For these reps and for those who might need a little more support, it’s important to offer soft skill training.
What are soft skills? They’re the skills that make a person pleasant to interact with: empathy, good listening, and communication are all soft skills that customer service reps need to provide exceptional service. Not every rep needs this training, but it’s important to make sure you’re offering it. Some employees may not have had the opportunity to develop these skills on their own, and even your friendliest reps can have a hard day.
5) Help them follow their dreams
One of the reasons for the astoundingly high rate of turnover in call centers is a lack of advancement opportunities. Employees feel like they have to go elsewhere in order to get a better job. They may worry that they’ll be getting yelled at and taking calls forever. This is not necessarily true; the Zoom blog points out that many managers of call centers started as reps themselves.
Offer training that points to a career path within your industry and company. Teach reps the skills they need to move up in your industry, and in your company so you can keep their skills and knowledge in-house.