The Blog

Retailers Turn to Outsourcing as Consumers Shop at Will

retailers_outsource

Today’s retail hopscotch—or channel switching—makes tracking and serving customers trickier than ever. With consumers shopping at will, more businesses are turning to call or contact centers to be digitally adept.

 U.S. online sales rose to $341.7 billion in 2015 , accounting for more than half of total retail sales growth, according to Internet Retailer Magazine. That’s a  14.6% increase over 2014’s $298.3 billion.1 

Turn to Outsourcers

Citing Forrester Research, Internet Retailer also reports the number of consumers browsing and buying online will hit 270 million by 2020, with projected U.S. online sales of $523 billion.

This growth drives the need for virtual sales specialists. Retailers rely on call or contact center outsourcers—especially during sales peaks—to handle demand, satisfy shoppers and contain costs.

Successful outsourcing requires sales-savvy agents. Agents who identify with customers and know a retailer’s products and services. In short, agents who personify the brand.

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Work at Home as a Corporate Travel Agent

iStock_000070020433_MediumCorporate travel agents provide white glove service from the comfort of their own homes

With today’s virtual business world, work at home corporate travel agents can stay put—and go places. That’s especially true in the travel industry, where heavy seasonal cycles and year-round peak demand are nonstop. And yes, more travelers are booking their own reservations online. There is, however, constant demand for experienced call or contact center agents skilled in the complexities of corporate travel.

Work at this level takes industry know-how and can-do—from navigating far-flung reservation systems to delivering destination-driven service. These are the go-to agents to get there.

Case in point: Right before her shift ended, Beth received a frantic customer call. Because of a flight delay, the traveler would miss his connection.
Beth then booked a new flight through the same carrier, but it had to go through a code-sharing foreign airline. With different systems, she knew changing reservations might cause some turbulence.

Beth called the connecting airline to confirm the flight change. None found—even with a ticket number. Each airline blamed the other. She held fast, conferencing the customer and airline to iron everything out.

Point is: Beth stayed with the customer until he checked in and made his connection, even though she was scheduled to finish work an hour earlier. Her commitment went way beyond the clock.

Mt. Everest climber Brian O’Malley describes such dedication as “Sherpa customer service,” inspired by the spirit to help. Beth displays it, as do other top-notch agents I’ve recruited to work from home.

Corporate travel agents, characteristics for success

The characteristics of corporate travel agents are broad and deep. They’re proficient in airline systems, such as SABRE, Native SABRE and SABRE Red. Their experience also spans Worldspan, Amadeus and Apollo.

The job is as demanding as it is diverse—entailing customer care, sales and sometimes technical support. Client programs include global travel agencies, hoteliers and transportation rental services.

Travel specialists handle seasonal peaks, cross different cultures and provide white-glove service. As Expected: With 20+ years of getting 10,000s of travelers from here to there, Beth epitomizes going the distance for customers.

Whether it’s Everest or elsewhere, inspired service takes you places. Get there with us as an independent contractor corporate travel agent at Working Solutions. Join our Talent Community and Apply Now

6 Tips for Finding the Best Contact Center Outsourcer

Finding the best contact center outsourcer can be tricky, especially if you don’t ask the right questions upfront.

Essential questions to ask your call center outsourcer

Essential questions to ask your contact center outsourcer.

Experience and expertise, of course, are essential. More important, though, is commitment by a business process services (BPS) provider to take ownership of the work. Without it, there is no service excellence.

This means sizing up a contact center outsourcer’s can-do and know-how before entrusting your business. After serving clients for 20+ years, I recommend asking six questions before deciding. Candor upfront avoids headaches—and heartache—later.

1. Does the contact center outsourcer’s culture align with yours?

Cultures must mesh. If not, say no thanks and move on. Contact center agents are the company. An on-demand workforce is the brand, reflecting client values at every touchpoint.

Culture is all encompassing. It extends from senior management to business unit leaders to frontline workers. The same holds true for any contact center outsourcer. If cultures align, agents serving customers will respond like employees.

2. Is there an all-out commitment to great service?

Service excellence touches everything. It starts with recruiting the right talent, continues with onboarding agents and ensuring top performance.

For instance, our agent portal, Vyne, compiles results, customer comments and needed improvements—in one place, all at once. It drives clarity and accountability.

Clients deserve a clear line of sight, with metrics tracked and contingencies factored in, to see the value they receive.

3. Does BPS experience measure up to expectations?

Experience anchors expectations. So vet a contact center outsourcer’s background, asking for industry examples. Drill down for details, from challenge to solution to outcomes.

Consider retail, with all its cost pressures. What tools and processes are in place to improve customer satisfaction while reducing talk or chat time?

Ask to see results measured against expectations—backed by repeatable processes and consistent delivery.

4. Is the contact center outsourcer responsive—or reactionary?

Being responsive anticipates client needs, based on business cycles. Seasonal spikes and unexpected situations arise all the time.

Is the BPS provider prepared to fast-flex and deliver different levels of service—from steady to ready to future state? Whatever the need, the contact center outsourcer must perform quick turns, execute long range and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

5. Is innovation wired in—or tagged on?

Innovation. It’s a $25 word, which if oversold, can equal only two bits of value. So ask the services provider: Is it emphasized every day—or thrown in as an afterthought?

Big or small, innovation can be the technology used, application applied or process followed. Look for a contact center outsourcer willing to experiment and excel. Seek one that reinvents the business for your benefit.

6. Is your partnership real or a platitude?

Partnership. Is it a contact center outsourcer’s platitude to get the business or the real deal to run it? Ask straight-out: Are you a vendor or a partner?

Do you and your contact center outsourcer align?

Do you and your contact center outsourcer align?

A partner shares your goals, understands your vision and works to achieve them. A partner solves; never sells.

Find a services provider that defines value in your terms: be they operational efficiencies or amazing customer experiences. Ultimately, a true partner has your back—and front.

That’s the crucial six. Half a dozen questions to ask a contact center outsourcer, all with the same end in mind: Making sure the deal signed on Friday works come Monday—and every day of the week.

And it’d better. Mondays are hard enough as it is.

Like to learn more? Visit WorkingSol.biz.

Upon A Star

uma

Photo Credit: Miramax Films

In the movie, Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman’s character asks hitman Vincent Vega (aka John Travolta) this between-the-eyes question: “Do you listen or do you wait to talk?

He replies: “I wait to talk, but I’m trying to listen.”

Ah, there’s a business lesson here: Listen before you talk. Then, take the time to learn and leverage what’s said.

As we begin 2016, it’s worthwhile to carry over conversations worth remembering—and repeating. Call them lessons with legs. Among them were discussions at the Chase Women’s Business Symposia, where I did plenty of listening and learning, along with several hundred attendees and fellow panelists:

For me, the takeaways for leveraged learning remain relevant in the New Year:

  1. Go with your gut. How many good ideas got away because you failed to act? Tic toc, the clock is ticking. Opt in or out of the opportunity. Take in as much information as you can to make a well-informed decision. Stringing out the process for months will only hurt your company, not help it. Time, indeed, is money.
  1. Be polite, but direct. Some people in authority have titles, but no clue. And they’re between you and what needs doing. Speak up. Be polite, but direct, says Lori. Not the right chemistry. Tell them. Not listening to what you’re saying. Ask to talk to someone who will. Pull an Uma Thurman.
  1. Find a banker who gets it. To be clear, it’s not about borrowing money. Rather, it’s about finding a banker who understands the business for the long term—your values and vision. Working Solutions pitched eight to nine bankers before finding one that “got it” and understood its virtual services business model. That’s what we banked on.
  1. Stuff happens. Sideways is not a preferred direction. But stuff happens—all of the time. Does your business bounce with it or get bruised by it? Factor it in. Bottom-line those bumps. Leverage experiences to find solutions for sideways. Always have in hand—or know someone who does—a fix that will work. Dead end ain’t a busines
    Jiminy_Cricket

    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios

    s plan.

  1. Believe in your dream. Practice the art of self-realization. I call it the “Jiminy Cricket effect.” Borrowing a verse from his song, When You Wish Upon a Star,it goes: If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. Jiminy had it right. Fellow panelists—Angelle, Carmen and Lori—and I succeed because we believe in what we set out to do. And purpose gives all of us power—as it can for anyone with a dream.

Steadfast Service—20 Years in the Making

The original Working Solutions home office, complete with desk and credenza, is reassembled at our headquarters in Plano, Texas. First located in Omaha, Nebraska, the office cost $1,000 to set up in 1996

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It’s a reminder of where everything began, helping clients and their customers. As we begin our 20th year, the office stands for steadfast service, which guides the company today. Invested well, a thousand dollars goes a long way.

We owe two decades of success to our team. They do whatever it takes—and when things get tough—take whatever the business gives, ups and downs.

11203174_10155450712475361_3709216868193004374_n-e1451508677605-300x146 In 2015, as we do every year, we held a series of agent luncheons, where virtual business professionals met face to face. Sometimes, it’s the first time agents on the same client program see other. Other times, it’s reuniting agents in arms, who soldiered through the business together. Either way, bonds are strengthened.

As we begin the New Year, it’s worth recounting a few stories from the field, where customers were well-served.

 

With Reservations

Right before her shift ended, Beth received a frantic customer call. Because of a flight delay, the traveler would miss his connection. Beth then booked a new flight through the same carrier, but it had to go through a code-sharing foreign airline. With different systems, she knew changing reservations isn’t always smooth. Beth called the connecting airline to confirm the flight change. None found—even with a ticket number. Each airline blamed the other. She conferenced in the customer and the airline and was able to iron everything out. “The customer was so happy. I had planned to finish working an hour earlier, but I waited on the line with him until he got checked in.”

Irate to Ideal

Paula received an escalated customer call. The woman on the other end was irate about a duplicate order, which was shipped and charged. Staying cool, Paula said: “Yes, it’s our fault.” Then “fix it,” the woman replied. Paula did, detailing everything she would do in an email to the customer, including a FedEx pickup. The next day, the woman called back, praising Paula’s composure. “I learned from you,” she said. “I took your attitude and applied it to my own job.” Paula understood, later remarking: “You don’t know what people have been through before talking to you. You might be the final straw in a long list that day.”

 

Customer Service Barefoot BrideBarefoot Bride?

Never mind the dress. Two days before a destination wedding, the bride had no shoes. They were missing from her order. Clock ticking, enter Jaimee. She starts making calls, lots of calls, to FedEx and the retailer’s stores on the West Coast to find them. Persistence paid off. A pair of pink wedding pumps, size 8.5, were located, boxed and shipped—with a day to spare. “It was very emotional for the customer,” said Jaimee. “We were affecting somebody’s life.” And their happily ever after.

These are but a few of 10,000s of our customer engagements. Each is a story in its own right. One by one, we work them through. Always knowing that whatever it takes—is what we’ll give in the coming year.

 

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