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Retail Contact Centers Succeed When Customer Connection is Achieved

Affinity is represented by the strength of the connection between customer and company and brand. Companies that have done well in establishing affinity include Apple, Coach and L.L. Bean. Companies that had it and lost it include Jet Blue (customers held on the tarmac), Mercedes Benz (quality problems) and Natural Balance (harmful pet food). The reason why customer affinity is so important is profitability.

It’s natural that companies will experience a percentage of churn every year; averaging from 5 to 10 percent. However, attrition eats away at profits by introducing higher costs to find and acquire new customers; the potential of negative word of mouth in social networks that can damage brand and dislodge otherwise satisfied customers; and lost revenues that must be replaced.

A retail contact center should be positioned as an affinity amplifier. This means that the contact center provider you select must do more than deliver the basic activities of answering inbound calls and assisting customers with resolving issues. When a contact center is an affinity amplifier, it goes beyond meeting customer expectations to produce an emotional component that fuels the behavior of long-term loyalty more so than the attitude of satisfaction based on a point in time.

Connection is Amplified by Societal Emotions

Customers expect that their favorite retailers will be easy to do business with and meet their needs. Unfortunately, they’ve learned not to rely on these merchants for much more, which makes switching brands easier than it should be.

Research by PeopleMetrics found that the five emotional factors that most impact customers are the emotional responses they have for the way the brand makes them feel secure, confident, valued, cared for and appreciated. These factors are dependent upon the personal experiences customers have with a retailer more so than the products they use. Because 75% of the interactions customers have with an enterprise occur in the contact center, if customer service agents aren’t delivering on these emotional factors, the chance to grow affinity—let alone share of wallet—will falter.

The culmination of addressing these emotional factors during a customer interaction is an “enjoyable” experience.  Security and confidence are the two emotions that customers relate to most for their e-commerce experiences. But without the other factors, growth in affinity stalls. Customers rate the remaining three emotional factors from 10 to 13 points lower than security and confidence, as reported in the research findings.

Voice of Customer Strategies Are Building Blocks

To begin to understand what creates customer affinity, a greater emphasis must be placed on the two-way exchange of value between customers and the retail organization. This begins by listening to customer feedback and analyzing customer sentiment. Contact centers are a natural fit for this work as they have established processes for recording calls with professionals trained in quality assurance to interpret the context of those conversations in order to complement and enhance the agent’s understanding.

In addition to personalized interpretation, data analysis has emerged as a front and center discipline necessary to derive insights from the volume and velocity of data that’s inherent in contact center monitoring. For example, if a typical CSR can handle 60 calls per shift and your contact center has 250 seats, this equates to 15,000 calls that must be analyzed every day. What’s needed is a vendor with a methodology and technology to process big data to identify the sources of satisfiers and dis-satisfiers customers share about their experiences with the brand.

This is easier said, than done. According to Gartner, by 2015, although 50% of Fortune 1000 companies will have a voice of the customer (VoC) strategy, only 10% will have executed on it.

Use Affinity Criteria to Select Your Contact Center Vendor

Selecting a contact center vendor is no longer just a cost decision, it’s a profitability factor. As customers have changed, so must the way companies support, service and care for them. The contact center is a primary vehicle for establishing and building customer affinity that will pay off with longer customer lifecycles, increased share of wallet, and ultimately, profitability based on less need to replace customers lost to attrition. With a contact center structured around this goal, growth becomes probable, rather than a focus limited to sustainability.

Ask vendors under consideration to:

  • Explain the methodology they have to identify customer problems and sentiment from call data
  • Characterize their hiring processes based on finding the right fit for agents who can represent your brand
  • Describe how they train agents to create “enjoyable” experiences—even in the face of frustration
  • Show you how they’ve helped to amplify affinity for other customers similar to you

Vendors that have experience in your industry should be able to demonstrate that they can apply expertise beyond traditional KPIs to impact your business goals. If your contact center is strictly reactionary and operating as a silo apart from other customer experience efforts, the ability for it to contribute proactively to improving customer affinity is severely limited.  Can you afford not to take a more strategic approach to outsourcing your content center operations?