The 5-step guide for retailers to cope with increased demand this Christmas

Christmas should be party time for retailers. More demand leads to more customers and, ultimately, more revenue.

But it can also be a time of great risk. If telecommunications systems are not as robust and reliable as they should be, there is the very real possibility that customer experience will suffer. And with plenty of other options available on the high street and online, around 50% of UK customers will take their business elsewhere if service levels don’t meet their expectations.

To ensure that your retail arm doesn’t end up nursing a January hangover, follow our five-step guide to coping with increased demand.

1 – Plan the party early

Christmas is all about preparation. And seasonal telecommunications is no different. A thorough and well developed plan for the peak trading season is the best way for businesses to ensure a positive customer experience.

In order to get in shape for the festive period, it is best to speak to a trusted provider well in advance. They’ll need to know all about your existing infrastructure and what call volumes you might be expecting. With this kind of information the provider can make an accurate assessment about the best way to approach peak trading. It is therefore worth consulting historic sales data to see what the uplift has been in recent years.

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2 – Don’t let overcrowding become a problem

Part of the peak problem for retail companies is having the staff numbers to cope with demand.

The idea of hiring Christmas temps is long established in bricks and mortar high street retail. But what happens when online retailers face a similar problem? They need the extra staff, but do not necessarily want to have costly extra lines in place all year. And the numbers are big – Amazon alone hired 13,000 extra staff for the 2014 Christmas period to work in their fulfilment centres and customer service function.

Hosted voice systems, like Gamma’s Horizon, allow for the quick addition and provision of new voice lines when needed, wherever there is connectivity. Many also offer additional call centre functionality to help effectively manage customer service teams and don’t restrict you to geographic numbering. So a call centre preparing for peak trading can rent space away from their main office, populate it with temporary staff, and easily install best in class telephony.

When the seasonal peak ends, temporary contracts expire and the short term lease is over, the lines can be removed just as easily.

3 – Make new friends

Thousands of relationships and friendships start at Christmas parties. And for online retailers, winter trading is the perfect time to turn new visitors into returning customers.

But just as telephone dependent retailers require extra lines during peak times, internet-based retailers will need extra bandwidth. If you’ve ever had an exceptionally poor online shopping experience (getting cut off mid-transaction or losing a place in a ticket queue, for instance) it is quite possibly because the company you are buying from failed to mitigate for increased demand.

There is a fine line between increasing sales because of a good customer experience and losing sales with a bad one. Which side of that line a business falls on depends on how they invest in peak trading. Organising extra capacity long before a busy season is an easy way to cope with the pressure extra visitors can cause.

4 – Expect the unexpected

Ever had to deal with unplanned dinner guests? Made that last minute dash to the shops for extra wine?

Apply that scenario to peak trading communications and what happens? Systems can quickly buckle under increased pressure. Because even if a business plans for extra demand, unforeseen (but nonetheless happy) circumstances may still leave them needing more. The cause of this can be anything from an influx of traffic taking advantage of an attractive promotion, to peer recommendations, meaning a retailer suddenly has to cope with significantly more demand than it was ready for.

Fortunately, next generation communications systems can help manage traffic more effectively than their traditional counterparts. Similar to how fully-hosted phone systems can allow for additional users quickly and easily, IP-based voice service SIP trunking is scalable in terms of demand too. It can often provide additional lines in minutes, rather than days and help businesses to meet the demands of their customers when under pressure from unexpected extra demand.

5 – Know when to leave

Every good party comes to an end. So when planning for additional capacity needed during peak trading, make sure everyone knows when the period finishes. Having an end in mind will ensure that retailers don’t end up having to pay for services that they aren’t using.

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10 December 2015 | Cem Ahmet

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The views in this article are the personal views of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Gamma.