The growth of online shopping over the past year has awakened the industry’s need for more remote-friendly customer service capabilities that engage shoppers at any time across all touch points, whether through a phone call, email, chat or social media.
Liveops, a cloud-based virtual call center service designed to scale during high-traffic periods with a network of work-from-home customer support representatives, has fit the bill throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by helping retailers engage with more traditional shoppers online and ultimately boosting average sales made through the channel.
Although the company operates in various industries such as healthcare, insurance and hospitality, retail represents 35 percent of Liveops’ revenue, making the sector a critical growth driver. From January 2019 to January 2020, the company saw 100 percent growth in its retail business.
Here, Greg Hanover, chief executive officer of Liveops, chats with WWD’s sister publication Sourcing Journal about the significant changes the company has seen in virtual customer service since COVID-19 began, preparation for the holiday and the tailoring of its services to different retailers.
Sourcing Journal: How did the continued e-commerce spending surge in the summer prepare you for what was to come in the holiday season?
Greg Hanover: Flexing up is one of the advantages of our model. We’re essentially an Uber or a Lyft business model in the call center space. I think what happened was we went into what we call kind of “holiday mode” back in April and May. We were in many ways responding like we typically do during the holiday season, and that never really let up by the time we had August. That increase in volume has been in place.
From the March-April time frame to even now, we’re still well above where we would typically be in a January with many of our retail partners. That really helped us just even elevate our service even more once we got into the November-December timeframe, because we’re already operating in that seasonal mode.
Since COVID-19, you likely have a new consumer in your e-comm channel — somebody who used to spend more time in the offline channel and visit your retail outlets, who are now shopping online, and they’re a savvy online shopper. So when you think about your customer experience, you now have to educate a new consumer in the online channel. And now you’re dealing with these logistics issues, from a supply chain perspective.
The biggest challenge retailers faced in the holiday season was shipping delays and we’re still dealing with that today. We call it the “WISMO” calls, meaning “Where is my order” and we have a lot of our retailers were still seeing inflated contact volumes, whether that’s in the voice channel, the email, in chat or even in social channels, because some people in some cases haven’t received their orders yet.
SJ: How has Liveops helped retailers from a business perspective, especially as it scales in different channels?
G.H.: A big area of focus for many retailers is “How do we increase that average ticket?” Average order value is a big metric when you think of spending inside a retail outlet. And then you get them into the online channel, how do you ensure they’re going to spend the same and not more in that channel? You think about what that new experience needs to look like, what does that customer interaction need to be.
We’re trying to help our retailers overhaul the experience for the shoppers, to help them sell more and increase that average ticket.
It’s about making sure that you know this customer, and if they’re a repeat customer, you know this purchase history. You’re trying to present the products in a way that drives up that customer interaction and that average order value for that customer. It’s about leveraging that information you have access to about that customer to create a more meaningful experience and make sure you’re hitting your financial metrics.
SJ: Liveops appears to work with retailers that are at different stages of e-commerce adoption. How do you go about tailoring your offerings?
G.H.: We’ve been working with some of these partners for four or five years, and some are more recent, and they’re thankful to have a virtual flex model like ours. We’ve always been 100 percent virtual so we’re able to not only keep our business moving, but also really step in and help some of these retailers because the demand in e-commerce volume went through the roof for sales and customer service.
First, the priority was to take care of my customers. Volumes doubled overnight as stores were shuttering. From there, it was more learning about the evolution of the customer experience. How do I need to adapt my approach if a client retailer has a new customer?
For example, at a luxury apparel department store client, this new customer is somebody who every week went into their local retail outlet and they knew the person, their first name and would help them with their shopping experience. Now that the shopper moved online, the retailer doesn’t have that ability, so you’ve got this new shopper in your online channel. They’ve been spending a lot of time working on replicating the in-store experience online.
The good news is, we can give them a lot of insight and feedback from our interactions in working with our customers. We roll up all those insights so they can take that into their business and help make decisions on evolving their customer experience going forward.
SJ: How many team members are you dedicating to each retail customer? Does it strictly depend on the level of experience with Liveops?
G.H.: It depends mostly on the number of contacts or the amount of volume that we’re handling. That determines the numbers of customer service specialists needed on each line of business. That can vary. We have upward of 1,500 customer care specialists who are dedicated to one of our biggest clients, an athletic apparel and footwear brand, and their customers. On the other hand, the specialists dedicated to the department store is much smaller than that, so it really just depends on how many interactions they expect or that they average on a daily or weekly basis.
SJ: Has the Liveops team developed any feature updates or seen anything used more in the wake of COVID-19?
G.H.: There’s an increased importance of services like intelligent virtual assistants. Back to the point around call volume, your customer interactions mix is changing. As all these calls, chats and emails are coming in, there is even more of an importance to get that customer to the right agent.
You have more of a variety of these dispositions and these customer interactions, so what a lot of retailers are doing is looking at these intelligent virtual assistants that they can sit on top of their customer experience, so that when that call comes in, they can tell who that caller is, what they’re calling for and make sure that they get to the right customer care specialist.
SJ: Where does Liveops feel its role in the shopping experience will continue to evolve, especially as more retailers get accustomed to e-commerce?
G.H.: When you think about our ability to provide the number of specialists and to be able to scale up and hit those peaks whether they’re planned or unplanned, we can help them go capture that market share and that opportunity now.
A lot of retailers try to do this work in-house and hire their own people, and they run into a lot of challenges in getting the quantity of people they need, and then being able to step up and step down in a cost-effective way. The fact is, we can do that, and we can help them capitalize on that opportunity now.