Create Loyal Customers ‘On the Fly’ With a Real-Time Workforce

(This blog post first appeared on WIRED Innovation Insights on March 10, 2014.)

In today’s market, the ongoing customer experience a company delivers is often its only clear differentiator. For better or worse, even a seemingly happy customer will make the jump to another brand if they can get a similar product or service easier and faster. Companies able to make adjustments on the fly are creating more profitable, loyal customers.

Whether it is an in-store experience or an online customer service inquiry, the customer’s expectation is that service and support should be delivered exactly how, when and where they want it, with no inconsistency across channels.

So how can your business realistically and profitably deliver on this “on-demand” expectation? Start by transforming your workforce into a real-time workforce that can respond to customer demand easily and efficiently.

1. Staff to customer demand. Many businesses approach staffing using historical data because, until now, there really hasn’t been another more efficient method. However, in most businesses there is not a single day that is exactly like the next, which makes historical data just a start to meeting customer demand.

Maximizing staff levels so you have the right amount of employees on hand without overstaffing is not an easy task. However, creating a real-time staffing approach would allow you to diminish unproductive employee down time by reassigning employees to other tasks when customer volume is lower than expected or by offering them voluntary time off as warranted.

Ultimately, a real-time workforce gives you the ability to maximize your operations without compromising service levels. This is possible by managing staff based on your current needs, not what happened yesterday.

2. Support multiple channels. Gone are the days when customers engage with companies in a single communication channel. With the en masse adoption of mobile devices, customers can conduct research, read reviews, solicit opinions and comparison shop without ever speaking to a company representative. By the time they reach out to your company, customers may have already formed their opinion and your workforce has only one opportunity to make or break the customer experience. But think about this as well – the time it takes for a customer to be acknowledged by a customer representative also greatly impacts the customer’s experience.

A real-time workforce allows you to support your various customer communication channels with ease. A scenario might be you have employees set up to handle customer inquiries that come in via phone. If a flood of customers start posting questions and voicing their frustrations on social media, you can transition a number of employees to your social media channels. Being able to quickly direct employees to interact with your customers when and where they’re reaching out to you not only helps alleviate customer frustration, it can also make that customer experience an encounter that preserves (or creates) customer loyalty.

Companies that can meet customer expectations across all communication channels will not only survive, but will beat their competition time and again.

3. Deliver real value to your customers. Customer loyalty isn’t gained solely by positive service experiences. Great experiences are part of the equation, but consistent and relevant offers drive the value you deliver as well.

Most companies have an extensive amount of customer data that can provide insight into customer preferences. By making offers based on preferences and buying history, as opposed to sending out blanket offers to your entire customer base, you can more readily get your customers’ attention. An example would be if a customer has multiple mobile devices and large data plans then their mobile carrier could offer them a discount on hotspot usage — a service they most likely use regularly.

While loyalty is not developed overnight, it can certainly be broken overnight. Be sure your employees have the information needed to deliver truly relevant and valuable offers, and give your customers multiple reasons for wanting to do business with you.

4. Respond quickly and keep your competitive edge. Amazon, Zappos, Neiman Marcus and other brands have set the bar high for customer expectations about service standards. These brands have created a competitive edge with their service levels because they know their customers can get virtually the same goods elsewhere.

A real-time workforce enables companies to have employees and systems in place to deliver proactive communications. If you send out a shipping notice to a customer, use the opportunity to remind them they have something special on the way. You can also provide recommendations to try new products based on their previous purchase history. If you’re going to be delayed in delivering the product, then let the customer know as soon as possible and give them an estimated time of arrival. Customers know service delivery isn’t always going to be perfect, so timely communication and correction, if possible, goes a long way.

5. Adapt at the speed of business. Many products and services have become commoditized making competition in various industries even more intense. The cable industry for instance has huge customer churn because consumers see “cable as cable” regardless of the provider. Customers care that they have Showtime in time for the Homeland season opener.

When competitors make new offers that cause a major shift in the industry, like free premium cable channels for 3 months, companies need to be able to respond. Creating true value around your product or service is imperative in order to keep churn low. Ensure customer facing employees are prepared to match offers if customers are calling to cancel service and switch providers. A real-time workforce lets you proactively communicate with customers and employees to provide a level of customer service that makes your customers want to invest their time with you. A responsive and knowledgeable workforce will help you achieve this. Without this, the competitive advantage is never fully yours.

Get the Right Mix

Customers look at a company holistically and do not differentiate their experience between the various channels a company may offer. This makes every point of contact with the customer critical. If you can create the right mix of proper staffing, customer support, valuable offers and quick response you’ll be on the right track to leveraging the power of a real-time workforce.

About the author

Matt McConnell

Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 300,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering.

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