Incoming! Making Every Customer Contact a Precious Event
Big brands in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry are constantly in contact with customers. So when contact becomes a process driven transaction, what happens to the customer¹s experience of the brand and the values it represents? Article by Laurin McDonald, Managing Director of Sitel UK.
The proliferation of loyalty card schemes has forever changed the way consumers purchase consumer goods, with points systems and bonus rewards creating irresistible benefits for the customer to ‘keep coming back’. At the same time they offer businesses new opportunities to enrich their customer data and plan more efficient and effective customer retention strategies.
As these schemes have flourished, so too has the need for major brands to respond to an explosion of customer orders, enquiries and even complaints. In the dialogue that follows, brands can be weakened and eventually fail if the customer ever has a negative experience, leading them to disengage and worse still, to switch to the competition.
Over the past three years Sitel UK has provided outsourced contact centre services to Loyalty Management UK Limited (LMUK), the company responsible for the hugely successful Nectar Card programme. Launched in September 2002, Nectar has become the UK’s largest customer rewards programme, with more than 50% of households across the country participating. Originally supported by four main sponsor companies, there are now 17 companies signed up to multi-year agreements. There are over 5,000 retail outlets now issuing Nectar points to collectors across the country and in January the programme underwent a major expansion with the launch of the Nectar for Business programme.
The task for Sitel UK, from the day the programme was launched, has been to provide a seamless brand experience for customers when they make enquiries. There are two separate hotlines set up to manage calls; the General Enquiries line manages the needs of callers with enquiries about the redemption of points, the linking of additional card holders to reward accounts, change of address details and other basic issues such as the locations where reward points may be spent. The Rewards Enquiries line is dedicated enquiries about the amount of points redeemable on individual accounts and information about the items available under the rewards scheme. The combined volume of these two lines is approximately 6,000 calls per day.
Nectar Card Programme
Sitel UK has a consistent team of 135 staff to service the needs of the Nectar Cards programme. Each individual member of this team is trained specifically for the role and it is equipped to manage spikes in call volume caused by regular events like Points Update Mailing (PUM), which involves a quarterly direct mail campaign to keep customers informed of the status of individual accounts. In between these spikes the team is engaged in ad hoc outbound call campaigns on behalf of LMUK, such as cross promotions for sponsor partners. In this way Sitel provides a value-added service to the client and maintains steady levels of expert staff at all times. The relationship with LMUK is collaborative, with changes to the contact centre management strategy made on an ongoing basis to reflect the changing needs of the dynamic marketing and consumer driven campaign. One recent change is an evolution from separate call centre agents for the General and Rewards enquiry lines to a universal agent capable of servicing the needs of callers to both lines. The recent launch of the Nectar for Business programme has also seen a number of changes introduced, each serving to further ensure that every call from a Nectar Card customer is treated as a precious opportunity to enhance and extend the customer¹s experience of the brand.
The training of Sitel call centre staff is central to the quality of service provided. There are three separate levels of call centre agents, based on the amount of experience an individual agent has on the programme. They range from A-level (basic enquiries), to B-level and finally to Nectar Champions (complex), with each level approved to manage enquiries of varying nature and complexity. This capability is not limited to phone contact, with the programme incorporating multi-communication channels such as white mail (regular post), real time web chat and email enquiries. Call centre agents are trained on an ongoing basis, empowering each individual to progress their expertise on the Nectar programme and continuously improving the depth of skills and experience which Sitel UK provides. From a Sitel UK business point of view, it is this commitment to training and personal development which is perhaps most rewarding, in addition to the benefits of building a strong, long-term relationship with the client.
Providing a consistent, top level of service to a programme like Nectar Cards is not without its challenges. The maintenance of service levels between call spikes and quieter periods is critical, as is the ongoing development of staff to ensure that no member of the team is exposed to customer contact which they have not been trained to handle. The dynamic nature of the Nectar Cards programme, including the steady stream of new sponsor partner agreements, also means it is critical for Sitel UK to maintain constant and close contact with the client. By doing this, it allows an outsourced service (contact centre management) to be operated seamlessly, with opportunities to improve the service identified pro-actively and collaboratively to ensure that the Nectar brand is enhanced with each new growth phase of the programme.
Sitel’s delivery of contact centre management services for the programme is enhanced by management tools such as IEX software, which allows it to accurately forecast staff requirements to match call patterns. The application of real time data means that this capability is employed to its full potential so that all calls are satisfied within targeted time frames and that Sitel is never under (or over) staffed, ensuring maximum cost efficiencies and value for money are maintained for the client. Furthermore, Sitel’s leading edge call centre technology ensures that in the unusual event of major call spikes, additional volume can be accommodated by our other call centres located throughout Great Britain. Again, this event is managed seamlessly, so that the customer¹s experience of the Nectar programme is of a consistent high standard on every occasion.
Sitel UK and LMUK have worked together to identify emerging issues and resolve them quickly, to the benefit of the programme. The strength of the relationship between the two companies, a tribute to the collaborative approach taken by both organisations, means that challenges are worked through and to date, have almost unfailingly delivered an enhanced experience for the end user, the customer.