How to break the connection between business growth and headcount growth

22 Mar 2023

6 min read

It’s a tough time for businesses. Even though the economy is in a dire place, customers have not lowered their expectations around product and the buying experience. If anything, they expect MORE out of it. As anyone who’s ever worked in retail will tell you, sales customers are the most demanding.

We wanted to know how our clients were dealing with this challenging economic climate and what kind of prospects they had for their businesses in 2023, so we created a survey and sent it to 200 Senior CX leaders in eCommerce in the UK. The first surprise? Even though the British Chambers of Commerce predicts the economy “will not recover to pre-pandemic levels until the final quarter of 2024”, 73% of respondents stated they are planning to increase the number of agents in 2023 – 27% by 20% or more. 

The number of businesses looking to hire more is high, but do you need to employ more people to sustain growth? A couple of decades ago, the answer was unquestionably yes, but in 2023, businesses have more options at their disposal. Besides the classic increase of headcount and its polar opposite, the ostrich approach, in which you deal with a higher volume of tickets with no-reply email addresses and longer wait-times, in 2023 businesses have technology. Automation offers innovative solutions for supporting your company’s growth or simply dealing with spikes in demand. 

Starting a self-service journey

When Thomas Staudte joined Air Up as the Head of Customer Engagement, the company only used email to communicate with its customers. Determined to scale up the business,  instead of hiring more agents, he decided to focus on the customer engagement basics. “We evaluated saying ‘okay, which channels are needed to make our customers happy’, which was the ultimate mission, of course. So we decided to start building a totally self service journey’, he explained during his interview with DigitalGenius.

Staudte started by creating FAQs, adding a contact form and implementing chat whilst “always ensuring the exchange of information and the information flow within departments”. He understood that to keep his margins down, he needed to either reduce the number of tickets their agents dealt with or make agents more efficient. He decided to do both.

“One challenge was we had no historical data. So for me the question was ‘how to prepare for the unpredictable’. Somehow we needed to get information on the customer contact reasons to develop our product in a customer centric way”. This is where automation came in. “Having a machine that interprets what the customer wants and extracts it by automatically reporting this back to the company was already a huge benefit for us”. This released agents to focus on more complex tasks, whilst better use of FAQs and other self service tools like returns portals decreased the volume of tickets.

Opening the door to AI

Beauty Pie is a fast growing beauty subscription that deals with a high volume of transactional customer service requests. They quickly figured out that most of their enquiries were repetitive, low complexity contacts that took a lot of time and effort from agents. This was the perfect scenario to bring AI into the picture. “In no time at all we were automating 40% of our contacts with a resolution rate of over 90%, whilst hitting our CSAT goal of 95%”, says Chandni Bhatt, Beauty Pie’s Senior manager. “These incredible figures show that the introduction of DigitalGenius allowed Beauty Pie to break the connection between the growth of the business and headcount”. 

Different businesses will have different needs. There’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to optimising customer experience. For fashion retail companies, for example, peak periods are seasonal and can be incredibly stressful. To cope with sale season, the release of exciting new products or any other kind of short term event that brings in high volumes of contacts, 67% of CX leaders responded to our survey saying that they intend on hiring staff or outsource to an agency during peak periods. Of those, nearly 10% double their staff in busy times, whilst 57% add more than 50% of temporary employees. 

“[In] A lot of the brands that I've worked for within certain marketplaces, or the luxury fashion industry, there is an element of handholding, there is an element of advice, having a conversation. In that type of environment, as an example, the operating model would be heavily leaning towards advisors and then technology helping them do a great job”, states Sham Aziz,  currently the Head of Customer Service at Selfridges - you can listen to the full episode where he was a guest in DigitalGenius’ podcast here.

When you hire seasonally, there’s two main roads you can take: you either invest a lot of time and effort training temps to make them into brand ambassadors - fully knowing they won't stick around - or you can give them the quick resolution simpler queries - yes, precisely the ones that automation can excel at.

Balancing hands and technology

“One of the big topics for our department was what I always call ‘balancing hands and technology’. So, when is the right moment to automate, when is the right moment to bring in technology that helps you scale? AI technology, machine learning, things like that, and then picking the right solution for your company and for your audience”. Thomas Staudte’s question is one that is still up for debate. How do you balance the role of the human with the role of technology?

The answer, as with so many other aspects of life, seems to rest on finding the right balance. Easy, right? “I don't know the split because it would be different everywhere, but even if you went with an 80-20 split so that you could provide the right tools to the advisors so it's all at hand”, says expert Sham Aziz. Sham admits he’s not “a great fan of forcing self-service, deflection, and putting loads of technology in front of customers”, but “if you put the right kind of technology in front of both customers and advisors to enhance the conversation, that's probably what I enjoy. That's where I like being, and I think that gives you the right mix of customer experience versus customer transaction”.      

The high performance / low headcount checklist:

  • Start with gathering the data. If you don’t know why your customers are coming to you in the first place, how can you give it to them? 

  • Offer a self-service buffet where customers can pick and choose how they want to be helped. Not everyone wants to chat, and that’s okay – and great for your company.

  •  Get your team on board of the AI train. Share your plans for incorporating automation and give them a chance to ask questions and put any concerns to rest. Information and transparency will be essential for the new tools to be welcomed into the team.

To find out how you can use AI to do more work without increasing your headcount, get in touch with our team today.