Sham Aziz, Head of Customer Service at Selfridges

Effect of the pandemic on customer service; changing operating models; and the future of careers and workforce.
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This week's guest on the podcast is Sham Aziz, the current Head of Customer Service at Selfridges (the famous British department store).

Sham has 20 years of experience on the frontline of customer service. He's lead teams across companies like Natwest, Ocado, Net-A-Porter and Fab.com.

We caught up with Sham just as the UK is coming out of lockdown. The timing made it perfect to dive into Sham's experience of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his work over the past year and what he thinks the future of customer service will look like.

For the first time in history, Selfridges closed their doors. Like much of the high street, they shifted their focus online, had to shift to remote work and hiring, and saw significant growth in customer contacts.

But, amidst this chaos, there is opportunity. Opportunity to make changes happen quickly and become an agile company again.

In this episode, we take a look at:

• The impact of the pandemic on operating models

• Importance of customer insights and how to get them listened to (we also wrote an eBook on this recently here).

• How should the profile of who you hire change?

• A discussion on whether customer service advisors should be sales trained

• Why there has been a shift in customer service careers outlook

• Sham's ideas for the future of customer service

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Skip Ahead

01:00 Introduction to the podcast

01:24 What was the pandemic like for Selfridges?  Discussion of early days of pandemic and how the company prepared.

2:42 For the first time in Selfridges history, they closed the store.

05:00 The challenges the first pandemic lockdown presented (increases in contact, changing channels, and hiring remotely) and some ideas of what they did

07:15 Discussion about the flip to eCommerce and the impact that has had (partnerships with couriers; growth in online grocery shopping)

08:27 it never ceases to amazes me how people are able to find a way to make something happen if they want to do it.

08:45 became able to propose a new thing to the board, and unlock funding immediately, and implement it immediately. It’s really a time of opportunity to get things done.

10:00 How do the channels customers want to contact you on change post-pandemic and into the future? Email and social far outweighed phone during the pandemic, phone took a back seat. Email and social maintained their share of contacts still.

10:50 Emails are harder to deal with from a customer service perspective (take 2 emails minimum). Chat and calls are faster, you can do it all in one session. Email can take 2 days. It’s more experience. So what impact does this have?

12:00 We need to adapt our operating model: service customers who are channel hopping, introduce new channels if required, and find ways to drive email down (automation for repetitive queries)

13:00 Insights are important. ‘Why are customers getting in touch with you?’ ‘What are trending contact reasons’? 99% of eCommerce online businesses have 1. delivery. 2. Return queries 3. Stock queries. 4. Website queries. 5. Everything else.

14:54 What systems would you suggest people get in place if they are to get the rest of the business to listen to customer service insight? How do you present that back into the business?

19:20 How has the ‘who’ you need to hire changed?

21:25 Businesses that will win market share will do so by having support teams with product knowledge. Helping customers through a problem and help them overcome a hurdle to purchase.

22:00 Should customer service people be sales trained? What should the KPI for customer service people—retention/acquisition or helping customers? Luxury fashion, don’t push on sales, just give a great experience

24:00 Potential downside of pushing a sale via customer service is that advisors may push a sale to the detriment of a customer. You need to be careful about setting KPIs around sales behaviour as it may annoy your customer.

26:00 What should be the future career progression of a customer service agent? The rise of call centres as a place to work.

27:30 Who progresses in a contact centre to a lifetime career?

28:00 What other roles are there out there? The breadth has widened and it is becoming a more interesting career choice.

28:39 Did the pandemic impact employee churn?

30:31 Workforce and career in support—could the future of CS careers be more flexible?

32:30 Some tips on managing peaks and troughs

33:30 What’s the future for customer service?

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