Part I: The Contact Center, Retail’s NRF Converge, and the Post-Pandemic Shopper
It’s been an exciting week watching the Retail industry’s premier virtual event, NRF Converge. You could see natural smiles on the speakers’ faces, such as that of Matthew Shay, President and CEO of the National Retail Federation. At the NRF's State of Retail and the Consumer, Mr. Shay had compelling news to share. Retail experienced a 6.4% overall economic growth, which is remarkably better than what was expected one year ago when the pandemic arrived. In fact, the NRF forecasts that sales will grow between 10.5% and 13.5% to more than $4.44 trillion in 2021. And, yet, working in the industry that I do, I couldn’t help asking where was the praise for the contact center in all the speeches?
Words count. Retailers everywhere used their best instincts to keep their stores open and not lose their customer base during the pandemic. Speakers throughout NRF Converge repeated "resilience", "reimagine", and "evolving." Many speakers spoke with pride about their success with e-commerce and dot-com sales, as they should. Retailers experienced 18-20% growth in online sales and that is fantastic. But what does e-commerce rest upon? The contact center. And if you waited for that story at NRF’s Converge, you might as well be stuck on hold for a while.
The lack of attention to the contact center has been the bane of many retailers. Too often, when shoppers begin the customer journey, they start with exceptional advertising and smooth in-store experiences that validate the brand promise. But then they reach out to the contact center for help and it’s like leaving the Garden of Eden with your purchase and heading to Purgatory to discuss your issues. You can blame the snake for the advertising, but it still won’t prepare you for a contact center that was not prepared for your arrival.
There are two key statistics that support why the contact center is an unsung hero of the pandemic. First is the hockey stick of growth for e-commerce. Second is e-commerce's impact on the contact center. At Five9, we saw our cloud’s average monthly agent minutes jump and keep growing as the pandemic progressed. So, what does this mean?
Consumer behavior is difficult to change. According to Melissa Gonzalez of the Lion’esque Group, “Shoppers navigate by value and convenience.” Value is easy to define, but convenience is relative. The pandemic drove 10 years of change to customer behavior in less than one year, and that tested customer loyalty. Businesses could weather the pandemic only if they made their contact center the new front door to their business for the at-home shopper. But no one talked about the contact center’s role at NRF Converge, so retailers may not learn from it.
Why was the contact center so essential to retail during the pandemic? And why is it essential to the post-pandemic shopper? It’s all about convenience, and that the pandemic was the time for the contact center to shine. Tune in to Part II, where I explore why the Contact Center is essential for the post-pandemic shopper.