Why staffing can make or break your omnichannel strategy

Why staffing can make or break your omnichannel strategy

November 20, 2017
Why staffing can make or break your omnichannel strategy

Picture this scenario: Customers contact you on the channels that are most convenient for them. Your team provides seamless and consistent service on every channel, all while being fully up to speed on every customer’s complete support history, every time.

It’s a vision of customer service that more support leaders are actively working to make a reality in their organizations.

But pursuing this vision takes commitment—and building a successful omnichannel support organization takes time. Once you’ve mapped your customer journey to find gaps, crafted your channel strategy, and selected the right omnichannel support solution, you’re ready to execute on those well-laid plans.

A critical part of that execution is about organizing and managing your team. While every company will need to find the right plan for them, here are a few things to think about when preparing your team to provide omnichannel support.

Decide how your team will staff channels

With omnichannel, customers move fluidly between channels and agents pick up any conversation where it left off. While you should rely on your support solution to surface each customer’s history across channels, it’s up to you to ensure each channel is staffed so that you can respond to customers within the expected timeframe for that channel. A critical part of that process is deciding if agents will be specialized in one channel or will cover multiple channels.

In many cases, it makes sense for all agents to be trained to staff all channels. This gives managers the flexibility to move agents between channels based on volume. If there’s an unforeseen spike in incoming requests on a channel, everyone’s ready to respond.

It also provides flexibility in staffing. When creating schedules, managers are juggling vacation days, sick days, employee attrition, company-wide events, training sessions, lunch breaks, and more. When agents are only trained to handle a single channel, it can be more difficult to staff appropriately—up to 25 percent more headcount could be required to ensure all channels are covered, said Ana Wiechers, Senior Advocate Manager at Zendesk. In this way, having all agents trained on all channels can optimize the customer experience and be cost-effective.

When agents are only trained to handle a single channel, it can be more difficult to staff appropriately—up to 25 percent more headcount could be required to ensure all channels are covered.

– Ana Wiechers, Sr. Advocate Manager

Empowering agents to handle multiple channels also gives them the flexibility to engage the customer through the channel most appropriate for the customer’s question. If a complicated ticket arrives via email and would be best hashed out on a phone call, agents “have the independence to move people as they see fit and still own that conversation,” said Advocate Manager Erin Hampe.

But there are some cases where having agents dedicated to a specific channel might work for you. At Zendesk, a “social media squad” of advocates handles social media tickets in addition to regular channels. Because social customer service can be intimidating, advocates who are enthusiastic about social media support join this team and receive special training on best practices.

“Social media is a hot potato,” said Angelique Bunel, Senior Advocate Manager at Zendesk. “People volunteer for it and don’t mind being on the front line.”

Differentiate staffing levels by channel

You’ve likely adopted a staffing model that works for the channels you’re already supporting, but staffing new or additional channels is always something of a wild card—at first.

Every channel is different, just as every company’s customer base is different. Factors to consider include seasonality, volume trends, and how many interactions an agent can reasonably handle on a given channel, Wiechers said. Global operations will also need to account for language coverage and coverage across multiple time zones.

Over time, you’ll learn more about how to optimize your new channels. It’s always possible that your customers may end up preferring a new channel or that you’ll continue to see steady volumes, despite adding any new additions to your channel mix. In general, you’ll need fewer agents for those channels that enable one-to-many support—unless these channels account for the bulk of your volume.

One tip: Don’t forget to factor in the times that customers typically contact you. Your customers might not always contact you during your business hours. Some brands tend to get a large portion of their requests in the evening hours, so staffing for predicted channel volume and time of day can ensure your team is ready.

Make adjustments in real time

Unless you have a crystal ball to see everything coming your team’s way, even those with sophisticated predictive staffing models will need to make last-minute adjustments.

Being responsive in real time requires open communication across your team. Zendesk’s Advocacy team schedules agents for one- to two-hour shifts on a specific channel throughout the day. A digital display in every support location also shows current unassigned ticket and phone queues. If advocates are overwhelmed with requests on one channel, they are empowered to alert their teams and ask others for help.

“It doesn’t require leadership involvement when you have a team that can do all channels,” Hampe said. “There’s a camaraderie and support between team members so when they see a need to help, they jump in and help.”

Staffing is a critical part of a great omnichannel experience

From your initial strategy to your technology solution, there are a lot of moving parts to a strong omnichannel program. But at the heart of it is your team. Set your agents up for success and you’ll be well on your way to realizing your organization’s omnichannel vision.

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