How Drakelow Consulting helped Studio Retail substantially improve customer contact during peak trading period

Starting in summer 2018, Drakelow Consulting worked with Studio Retail Ltd to improve its forecasting & planning capability. As a result, the abandonment rate on all inbound calls fell from 9.1% (peak period 2017) to 3.4% (peak period 2018). This enabled customers to gain service more reliably and quickly than in the previous year, and contributed to an improved commercial performance.

Studio is a multi-channel home shopping retail business that has been in operation for over 50 years. It provides a service to around 1.8 million customers each year through a combination of direct marketing and online via the and websites. Shoppers may choose to pay for their purchase within 28 days, or take advantage of a monthly credit programme.

Studio has contact centre operations in Lancashire, South Africa and the Philippines - taking inbound calls, handling emails, web chatting and dealing with more complex customer correspondence.

In the 2017 peak period (September to mid-December), customers often had to wait a long time for a call to Studio to be answered. The abandonment rate on all calls was a high 9.1%, with Customer Service calls in particular having an abandonment rate of 14.0%. It was very difficult for customers to get through to the contact centre, leading to enormous customer frustration, and this was harming revenue.

It’s well known that competition is fierce in the retail sector. It was essential that customer calls were answered in a speedier manner, and Studio asked for help from Drakelow Consulting to help improve the situation in time for the 2018 peak period.

The first stage of the project was for Drakelow Consulting to study existing capability, using Drakelow’s best practice forecasting and planning methodology. Improvement opportunities were identified, including:

  • Forecasting models were not performing well; alternative models would have given more accurate results
  • There was no process to share forecasts with internal stakeholders to gain consensus, and no use of charts to check forecasts
  • The weekly planning model gave no overall view of whether the whole estate was over or under staffed
  • There was a poor within-day match resulting from in-house shifts that did not closely match customer behaviour. This meant that often there were inbound queues in the morning, but spare resource in the afternoon.
  • Rather than having a consistent email response throughout the day, advisors were sporadically deployed on and off emails due to poor interval fit
  • Within-day requirements were given to the outsourcer using an overall customer profile, rather than asking for precisely what was needed in each interval to achieve an overall match.

The first phase took place from July to September 2018, with the aim of ensuring there was enough resource in place for peak period 2018. A new forecasting tool was created, including weekly forecasting models for each worktype. Some of these were Explanative models, where the variation is explained by the business’s sales forecasts. Other worktypes were forecast using Time Series models – using seasonality and trend to predict future activity volumes.

Charts were created, and meetings were held with stakeholders to ensure that consensus was built. Further, a tool was created to track forecasting errors – this was a feedback loop to ensure that the business learned from the errors. Forecasting accuracy improved enormously, with relative improvements to the Mean Absolute Percentage Error of 57% for Orders and 26% for Customer Services.

A new weekly resource planning tool was created to take the forecasts – and other assumptions – to determine a resource requirement, against which resource could be planned. The model calculates a requirement in productive hours taking into account all of the assumptions, together with just the right amount of availability to achieve target service level.

A large resource deficit was identified with the new model, but there was just enough time to review the in-house recruitment plan, and reshape the weekly outsourcer resource requirements before the busy weeks came. The new model became part of the weekly planning process. Every week, when new information came in, such as revised forecasts or revised staff attrition estimates, Studio was able to tweak the model and take resulting action to ensure every week within peak had the correct amount of resource.

Both in-house and outsource centres went on to deliver the required resource to deliver the much-improved service levels. The net result was that overall inbound peak period abandonment rate fell from 9.1% to 3.4% year-on-year.

With peak trading out of the way, the second phase of the project took place in February to May 2019. Drakelow built a scheduling tool for Studio, which enabled alternate scheduling models to be tested against within-day requirements. Optimum shifts were designed, which were then tweaked by management and during consultation, to ensure the optimum mix of employee goals and customer goals was met. Also in this second phase, a method and process were devised to ensure that the within day outsourcer requirements reflected what was actually needed to maximise overall interval fit. Drakelow wrote these new planning methods into new contract schedules for the outsourcers.

The result of these two changes was that the within-day resource at Studio more closely matched the customer requirement. This further improved the ability to answer calls, and ensured that work on emails was spread more smoothly across the day. It also meant that Customer Services management spent less time on within-day workflow matters.

Drakelow Consulting helped Studio transform capability in forecasting, weekly resource planning, scheduling and outsourcer planning, which contributed to an improved commercial performance for the business.

Claire Hill, Customer Services Director of Studio said, "We have gained significant customer benefit from deploying Drakelow methodologies, particularly focussed around improved service levels across the phone and email channels. Drakelow also reviewed our structure and role profiles within the Planning and Forecasting function to enable us to adopt best practice across the contact centre estate"