Delivering Year-Round Customer Experience Excellence With Strategic BPO Partnerships

“Mastering Retail: Optimize Your Customer Experience Year-Round” is a free on-demand webinar sponsored by iQor in partnership with Retail Customer The virtual event explores effective strategies to enhance customer experience in retail throughout the year. Panelists include industry experts Tone Holmen, senior vice president of operations at iQor; John Swain, vice president of account management, retail at iQor; and Brian Madonna, vice president of operations at Universal Screen Arts, Inc. Here’s an overview of what they discussed. 

Personalized Experiences Every Day of the Year

In today’s highly competitive retail landscape, providing an exceptional customer experience (CX) is a necessity. The integration of digital and physical shopping experiences has created an omnichannel retail environment that demands seamless and personalized interactions at every touchpoint. To meet these expectations and stay ahead of the competition, retailers need to prioritize operational excellence year-round, especially during operationally intense peak periods. This involves implementing strategies that optimize workforce management, foster a customer-centric culture, and leverage technology effectively. 

By effectively managing and optimizing these key areas, retailers can transform the customer journey and create more smiles with exceptional experiences. At iQor, we deploy an effective operations process honed over several decades that enables retailers to confidently outsource their customer experience for every season.  

Operational Excellence Through Strategic Recruiting and Onboarding

Retail has the most seasonal needs of any industry. From peak periods for holidays to campaigns like catalog drops, retailers of all sizes experience staff fluctuations weekly, monthly, and quarterly. In order to meet demand, brands often partner with a business process outsourcing (BPO) company that cross-trains its employees to move between different clients as needs shift, which then enables employees to enjoy a long-term career and a deeper understanding of clients’ needs. 

In the post-COVID era, many retailers have shared that they struggle to secure reliable domestic outsourcing due to high attrition rates and higher expenses, and hiring multiple in-house customer service roles can create redundancy since peak periods are unpredictable, resulting in over-hiring and potentially low morale if positions are eliminated. 

iQor’s offshore and nearshore BPO capabilities allow us to shift according to our clients’ seasonal operations needs with a steady stream of expertly trained staff. Our teams maintain consistent employment and develop in-depth knowledge of the brands that entrust us to serve their customers, which results in smoother operations and more enjoyable customer experiences.

AI’s Role in Successful Agent Recruitment

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in recruitment processes has been a game-changer for BPO companies like iQor, allowing for the handling of a higher volume of applicants with efficiency and precision. Leveraging a variety of AI tools enables companies to automate skills testing and streamline recruiting to quickly identify and place candidates in roles where they are most likely to excel.  

This modern approach meets the demand for rapid recruitment cycles, ensuring that top candidates receive timely offers and are captured effectively without requiring excessive effort on their part. This strategic use of AI not only enhances the recruitment process but also competitively positions companies in attracting and retaining the best talent. 

iQor’s Symphony [AI]TM generative AI ecosystem maximizes employee performance capabilities throughout the entire employee lifecycle, ensuring a seamless transition for new hires into their roles and beyond. From recruiting to training to development, Symphony [AI] utilizes proprietary large language models (LLMs) to tap into iQor’s accumulated process knowledge from the last two decades to transform the tool set and allow employees to deliver optimized CX based on previous experiences and scenarios. Exploring past interactions and results for multiple retailers allows our team to vet processes from some of the best practices to effectively meet clients’ KPIs.

Effective Training Benefits Employees and Clients

Ongoing training and development are foundational to maintaining successful operations in customer service. This continuous education process is vital not just after initial hire but throughout an agent’s tenure, especially considering the high seasonal demands of retail. By preparing agents for leadership through early management training, companies foster an environment of growth and advancement. This method enhances service quality and significantly reduces attrition rates, as agents see clear pathways for promotion within the company. Such a strategy keeps the knowledge base within the organization robust and dynamic, ensuring sustained performance excellence. 

In addition to measuring successful recruitment and onboarding through key performance indicators (KPIs) like low attrition rates, iQor also analyzes the effectiveness of its training and speed to proficiency. Agents must be able to serve customers’ needs after a short period of training as seasonal needs and demands change, so feedback on training is crucial to ensuring an efficient transition from training to the production floor. 

Three important KPIs for iQor client Universal Screen Arts, Inc., include low abandon rates, successful VIP sales, and upselling. New hires are matched with the client’s needs, ensuring they meet these KPIs as soon as possible. 

One of the most effective training methods iQor uses is the active learning classroom, which allows agents to actively participate in their learning through hands-on demonstrations and practice models in groups or teams. Trainers and trainees engage in feedback and discussions that provide continuous improvement. In between serving customers, agents also undergo microlearning sessions, which allow them to train during idle time without being removed from production. 

Regular communication is another imperative aspect of a successful partnership. iQor’s teams meet with clients weekly to review KPIs. This allows all levels, from senior leadership to agents, an opportunity to connect with the brands they service. The most effective and rewarding customer experiences come whenever clients are in tune with their customers’ needs, and the employees who are undergoing and monitoring the customer experiences can provide invaluable insights that can transform customer interactions.

Maximizing Customer Engagement Through Omnichannel Support and Multiple Touchpoints

Customers have more options than ever to connect with retailers and seek support: voice, email, chat, text, social media, and digital agents are some of the omnichannel offerings that help customers to connect with brands based on personal preferences and needs. Understanding how different support channels work is critical to ensuring seamless CX that serves customers in their preferred channel. 

For example, self-service options often can handle simple customer inquiries and allow more complex tasks to go to human agents, who can empathize with customers. An inherent benefit of working with a BPO like iQor is having access to a team that has a wide variety of tools that can put the best solution together. Aligning staffing with customer preferences involves leveraging technology to guide customers towards the most efficient communication channels. This strategy depends on available technologies and directing customers to preferred methods like chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, or online accounts through specific cues in communications, such as order confirmations. 

Rigorously tracking the performance of customer communication channels is essential for refining marketing and service approaches in response to direct customer input and evolving preferences. Offering a variety of contact methods—from traditional voice calls to digital platforms—and customizing these options to suit individual customer needs can ensure an enjoyable customer journey. This tailored approach not only meets but exceeds customer expectations, promoting a positive perception of the brand and encouraging long-term customer relationships.

Workforce Management and Customer Experience

Effective workforce management over peak periods is crucial to consistent retail customer experience; having the right mix of staff available at all channels allows retailers to deliver optimized service. Once data is available regarding the forecast of peak periods, iQor begins conducting contact arrival analytics to match up the time of day and the day of the week for arrival patterns and then shares that feedback with the client. We plan for ongoing training, coaching sessions, and team meetings to prepare our agents for exceptional service delivery.

During the holiday season in 2023, iQor helped to lower Universal Screen Arts’ abandon rates from a range of 5 to 8% to a range of 2 to 3%, which were the lowest the client had experienced in 30 years. With peak weeks undergoing between 140,000 and 150,000 orders, reducing abandon rates not only ensures happier customers but also fosters brand loyalty. Satisfied customers are more inclined to repeat purchases and recommend the brand to others, driving up sales and strengthening the brand’s reputation.  

During the holiday season in 2023, iQor helped to lower Universal Screen Arts’ abandon rates from a range of 5 to 8% to a range of 2 to 3%, which were the lowest the client had experienced in 30 years.

 Overcoming Challenges for Workforce Management During Peak Periods

Forecasting peak periods accurately can be challenging due to unforeseeable external factors like delayed catalog mail deliveries or inclement weather, which can unpredictably shift a company’s high-volume periods. In such instances, it’s crucial for customer support agents to be prepared and adaptable. A partnership with a BPO like iQor offers a pool of cross-trained agents proficient in various communication channels and familiar with a variety of clients, so they are ready to meet fluctuating demands. 

A BPO’s flexibility can lead to significant cost savings for retailers by optimizing agent deployment based on real-time needs, thus avoiding the overhead costs of a fixed in-house team. We prioritize aligning our workforce management strategies with our clients’ objectives, ensuring our teams are positioned to deliver maximum impact.   

Investing time to thoroughly acquaint new agents with a client’s business model is also essential; this prepares them to provide exemplary support during peak times. Moreover, flexibility and the ability to adapt to potential overtime due to unexpected shifts are critical traits we look for during recruitment, ensuring we match our clients with agents who are not only capable but also resilient and responsive to customers’ needs.

Building a Customer-Centric Culture

Instilling a customer-centric culture not only enhances customer satisfaction but also builds a strong brand loyalty that is invaluable in today’s market. By prioritizing customer needs and ensuring that every team member from the frontline to the executive suite shares this focus, companies can create a cohesive and impactful customer experience strategy. 

iQor’s iQorian Values—Integrity, Qustomer Dedication, Open Communication, Respect, Innovation, Accountability, and the Need to Give Back—are fundamental drivers for how iQor employees interact with one another and with clients. These values are embedded into the entire operations process, from executives to agents, and create mutual respect for all parties involved in delivering exceptional customer experiences. 

A key insight shared during our webinar underscores the profound impact of respecting and empowering customer service agents. Explaining the “why” behind actions and processes fosters better performance and adherence. Understanding the importance of their role in the customer experience and the value it brings to clients motivates agents. By integrating this philosophy, we witness remarkable improvements in compliance and the delivery of superior customer experiences. This illustrates that agents value respect and how this explanation can transform the efficiency and effectiveness of customer interactions, highlighting the crucial role of thoughtful communication with frontline agents in achieving CX excellence. 

iQor’s Resonance With Client Brands

Making our processes and the work of our clients deeply relatable and significant for our agents emphasizes the emotional investment customers have in their purchases, whether those items are gifts, party supplies, or enhancements to their living spaces.  

Recognizing that these aren’t just transactions but parts of people’s lives and celebrations, iQor dedicates substantial effort to ensuring our agents fully grasp the impact of their work. This deeper understanding cultivates a more empathetic and connected customer service experience, reinforcing the importance of recognizing the emotional contexts behind customer purchases. 

Our agents have a remarkable dedication to the brands they represent. Their personal commitment, some of whom have supported the same retail client for over a decade, profoundly underscores their deep investment in and understanding of the brand. This level of familiarity and loyalty not only rivals but may even surpass that of the client’s own employees. It’s a testament to the depth of connection and expertise that our team brings to every customer interaction, ensuring that the brand’s values and essence are communicated with authenticity and passion. 

“iQor’s agents are just like Universal Screen Arts employees. You would not know any difference. You would absolutely believe that the iQor agent was sitting right here in our contact center.” – Brian Madonna, Vice President of Operations, Universal Screen Arts, Inc. 

The concept of partnership is vital, encompassing not only the engagement from our team but also the proactive involvement of client experts. They share insights, whether about new product offerings or unique services, through means like video recordings to foster a deep connection between our agents, the clients, and the products they represent. This multi-layered engagement strategy enriches our agents’ understanding and enthusiasm, enabling them to deliver service with the same passion and knowledge as the clients’ own teams. 

Leveraging BPO Partnerships for Revenue Growth and Customer Loyalty

A strategic BPO partnership offers more than operational efficiency; it opens avenues for revenue generation and customer loyalty enhancement. Our on-demand webinar highlights the success of iQor’s upsell programs and VIP sales for Universal Screen Arts, Inc., showcasing how BPO partners can significantly contribute to a company’s financial growth. By pushing the boundaries beyond traditional support functions, BPOs can drive sales and loyalty programs, contributing directly to the bottom line.

“We’ve experienced some of our highest VIP sales and upselling in the last 90 to 120 days that we’ve seen in years. We had approximately an 8% boost for February 2024. When agents are able to come right out and start hitting the sales, then it’s been a win-win for both of us.” – Brian Madonna, Vice President of Operations, Universal Screen Arts, Inc. 

This strategy enables retailers to leverage BPO partnerships, extending their value beyond mere cost-saving measures to becoming integral components of revenue enhancement. With a trusted BPO partner, retailers can support their day-to-day operations and align customer engagement practices in a manner that significantly boosts financial performance. This approach unlocks opportunities for retailers to transform BPO collaborations into vital contributors to financial success and competitive positioning in the market. 

Clear, multifaceted goals beyond just revenue or customer satisfaction scores are important. Aligning the broader objectives of the partnership with those of individual agents ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction. In essence, maintaining an active, engaged partnership with your BPO provider amplifies the impact on customer experience, operational efficiency, and, ultimately, the bottom line. This ensures that all stakeholders understand and work towards the shared vision and goals, fostering a productive and harmonious relationship. 

Actional Insights for Retail CX Leaders

A successful BPO partnership hinges on commitment at every level of the organization. From the executives to the frontline agents, the buy-in must be comprehensive, aiming not just to serve customers but to forge a deep, collaborative relationship with the BPO provider. This joint effort is crucial for a successful launch and ongoing management of the outsourcing relationship. The essence of an effective training and communication strategy revolves around ensuring agents possess comprehensive knowledge and maintain a positive relationship with clients.  

Active engagement and a robust feedback loop are essential, debunking the myth of a “set it and forget it” approach to BPO partnerships. Encouraging direct communication down to the agent level enriches the relationship, making frequent, focused interactions—like weekly meetings or daily sessions during peak times—integral to understanding and enhancing performance. This model fosters an environment where BPO partnerships are seen not just as external support but as integral, profit-generating team members of the retailer, driving forward both operational excellence and customer satisfaction.

“I can’t stress enough about how important it is to have open communication and dialogue. This is a partnership. iQor is an extension of Universal Screen Arts. I encourage anybody to really look at a strong BPO partnership” – Brian Madonna, Vice President of Operations, Universal Screen Arts, Inc.

Experience the iQor Difference

iQor is an award-winning managed services provider of digitally enabled business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions trusted by global brands. We understand the unique opportunities available to retailers and are ideally suited to help brands create exceptional customer experiences throughout the ebbs and flows of each season. iQor offers a comprehensive suite of BPO full-service and self-service scalable offerings that are purpose-built to deliver enterprise-quality CX. We provide strategic thought leadership, competitive pricing, performance excellence, attractive geos, and talented teams to meet demand and deliver differentiated customer experiences at the best value in the industry. 

Our award-winning CX services include:

  • A global presence with 40+ contact centers across 10 countries.  
  • A CX private cloud that maximizes performance and scales rapidly across multiple geographies on short notice.  
  • A partnership approach where we deploy agents and C-level executives to help maximize your ROI.  
  • The perfect blend of intelligent automation for scale and performance coupled with an irresistible culture comprising people who love to delight your customers.  
  • Virtual and hybrid customer support options to connect with customers seamlessly, when and where they want.  
  • The ability to launch a customer support program quickly, even when you need thousands of agents ready to support your customers.  
  • A best-in-class workforce management team and supporting technology to create a centralized organization that can better serve your entire business.

iQor helps brands deliver the world’s most sought-after customer experiences. Interested in learning more about the iQor difference? If you’re ready to start a conversation with a customer experience expert, contact us to learn how we can help you create more smiles.

WendyAnn Hornak is vice president of account management at iQor. Connect with WendyAnn on LinkedIn.

Get our podcasts delivered to your inbox