It has now been well over a year since the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and businesses have been significantly tested by the on and off closing of brick-and-mortar stores. Parcelhub, like many of its clients, suppliers and customers, had to adapt quickly to the change in the way it operated.
The pandemic lockdowns have created fertile ground for the UK’s 200,000 online retailers, catalysing a rise in entrepreneurialism, increasing internet adoption and accelerating eCommerce roughly five years into the future in a matter of months.
While traditional retail declined sharply during the early stages of lockdown, eCommerce growth helped overall retail sales bounce back. A 2021 report from Retail Economics and Natwest has found that, since the pandemic began, nearly half (46%) of UK consumers have purchased a product online that they had previously only ever purchased in store.
With the UK going in and out of lockdowns for much of the pandemic and the population being housebound, online demand has remained high. As a result, customer support divisions have been put to the test within many organisations. We have seen this ourselves, with a 54% increase in customer support ticket volume from peak 2019 to peak 2020. During the first lockdown, order volume increased by 250% in May 2020 and the number of daily tickets doubled to about 200 per customer support agent.
But with light at the end of the tunnel and hope of the UK returning to some semblance of normality in the near future, many businesses can be proud of how they’ve thrived during these challenging circumstances. But it’s vital they don’t disregard the business continuity lessons they picked up along the way. We’ve seen how crucial technology can be in helping navigate a crisis, and some of the main lessons we’ve picked up are included below.
Accelerate responsiveness and scale with customer support software
Undoubtedly one of the most useful tools a customer service agent can have at their fingertips is robust call support software. Helpdesk software can significantly improve an agent’s efficiency by organising the tickets an agent receives and automating routine responses so that agents can return the highest value. One of the most obvious advantages gained by using customer support software is the ease with which an agent can track the status and priority of a ticket.
Our support staff were responding to twice as many enquiries as normal when they made the transition to remote working. Customers were sending in requests on everything from sports equipment, to clothing, to home improvement stock and even essential items.
We knew that technology could help us cope with the added demands being placed on the team. Using Freshworks’ Freshdesk software we were able to efficiently offload routine requests and route critical tickets to the right agents. This helped alleviate some of the stress on our retail clients as they could quickly address their customers’ needs and handle inbound surges in volume.
The multi-carrier solution, IT capabilities and outsourced tracking support continues to offer solutions and flexibility for our clients, both large and small. It is crucial to work through challenges with many of them and our consultative approach to shipping parcels has really helped these businesses. The challenges just keep coming for all of us at the moment, so proving reliability in difficult circumstances bodes very well for customer retention in the future.
Manage spikes in requests to deliver efficient customer support
Interestingly, we found the increase in reactive tickets has massively outgrown proactive tickets (113.4%), which clearly demonstrates the importance of having a support network that can help us handle peaks in demand.
Despite such increase in agent ticket requests, our Proactive Tracking Support team managed to adapt quickly to the new working situation to achieve all its clients’ individual service level agreements. Thanks to Freshdesk, the customer support team was able to prioritise the tickets based on Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
This helps to maintain our own reputation, but also the customer service reputation of the retailers we represent. Crucially, these spikes reflect that our clients are going through a very tough period themselves, so using technology allows us to meet their individual needs. Freshdesk helps to prioritise, categorise and assign tickets and allows for collaboration to take place across its platform, giving retailers full visibility of responses and enquiry handling.
Provide employees flexibility where possible
Expanding our customer service operations outside a traditional office has allowed us to maintain operations. It also allowed us to match the increased parcel volume through flexible hours and working arrangements. Our customer support agents have been working from home, giving them flexibility around how and when they work to fit with childcare, home schooling and other family commitments, but also enabling us to increase our operating hours to provide better customer support–crucial to the success through the lockdowns.
Prepare for the future
Businesses thriving through the pandemic have shown that you don’t need to be in the office to deliver the same level of customer experience as normal times. Customer expectations and the retail industry dynamics have changed as a result of the lockdowns we’ve gone through. Those businesses willing to embrace technology will be the winners in this race. Adopting tech for the benefit of end-users can only stand to improve the customer experience and that is key. Within the eCommerce world, technology is becoming increasingly prevalent, and the pandemic has only accelerated this. Undoubtedly, we’ll face further periods of “off-the-scale” online demand again in the future. Companies that have the right technology in place to help manage peaks in customer demand stand to leapfrog their competitors and win.