How to Connect with Holiday Shoppers Staying Home

Is it cold where you are yet? Do you feel the chill in the air? Do you smell the hint of pine and gingerbread hiding amidst all the PSLs?

Well, get excited because Christmas and the holiday shopping season is right around the corner.

While there’s a lot to be thankful for this year, the e-commerce world is also holding its breath. Habits from the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted shopping permanently online, but economic uncertainty hangs over the season.

Pandemic concerns and general convenience means many consumers are staying home this year, meaning you need new ways to reach your customers and capture their attention.

Let’s explore how you can prepare for the 2022 holiday season and take a look at how to connect with customers shopping from home.

The 2022 holiday shopping landscape.

Given the general uncertainty in the air, there are mixed predictions for the holiday season. Adobe’s annual forecast predicts online shopping to top $209.7 billion in the US—a 2.5% increase over last year.

While that’s still a jump, it doesn’t come close to the 8.7% year-over-year growth between the 2020 and 2021 holiday shopping seasons. Or, for that matter, the 33% jump in online revenue we saw in 2020 as a direct result of the pandemic.

Despite Adobe’s neutral outlook, other surveyors aren’t anticipating an economic boost at all this year. ShipStation predicts a 14.4% reduction in overall holiday spending in the US, which represents a $30.6 billion loss.

At the same time, merchants are staying optimistic. A whopping 50% expect online sales to increase. Unfortunately, 58% of consumers said they plan to cut back on non-food spending.

Here are the top three things weighing on consumers’ minds.

Inflation during the holidays

Inflation is a topic on everyone’s mind right now, and it will influence consumers’ holiday shopping habits. According to ShipStation, 28.8% of consumers are most concerned about rising inflation and its impact on their holiday spending. Although wages have gone up, they haven’t kept up with the cost of living increases and general price hikes. Knowing that prices are higher overall—and not knowing when inflation will subside—means customers will be price-conscious this year. They plan to spend more time hunting for deals and holding back from impulse purchases.

A looming recession

Beyond the immediate impact of inflation, people can feel a recession in the air. Whether it has a long-term effect on our economy is yet to be seen, but that won’t stop it from impacting the shopping season. ShipStation reports that 18.3% of consumers say they’re most concerned about rising economic uncertainty. Expect more strategic shopping, with less focus on brand loyalty and more focus on the overall cost of goods.

COVID-19 effects on holiday shoppers

COVID-19 levels are down and most of our lives have returned to a semi-normal state. Yet, while 59% of consumers say they’re less concerned about COVID-19 this holiday season according to IBM, many consumer habits implemented during the pandemic are here to stay. This includes online shopping, curbside pickup, and avoiding holiday crowds. Customers prefer the convenience and on-demand nature of online shopping. Since they’re avoiding the crowds of Black Fridays past, there will be less emphasis on individual shopping days (Black Friday and Cyber Monday).

7 tips for connecting with customers staying home this holiday season.

Convenience and safety are two big factors that sway your customers to shop online, but it takes more than that to get and keep their attention.

Take a look at these seven tips for connecting with customers online.

1. Optimize omnichannel service.

Part of creating a digital customer experience is ensuring consistent service across channels. A whopping 54% of customers say it feels like sales, services, and marketing don’t talk to each other, according to Salesforce.

Customers want to be able to start a conversation in one channel and pick it up in another without having to repeat themselves. This is especially true during busy times when the last thing they want to think about is, “Where did I talk to that nice rep?”

Instead, ensure a seamless online experience with a conversational AI platform that works across channels and carries your customers’ conversations with them. Having a conversation on a social platform, like Instagram or WhatsApp, and carrying it to your website’s live chat (also known as web chat) will create a frictionless experience for your customers that they remember.

2. Personalize your customer service.

No matter the state of the holiday season, the question is still the same: How do you stand out in a crowded online marketplace? Even amid everything else going on, personalization still reigns supreme.

According to Zendesk’s CX Trends report, 68% of customers expect all interactions to be personalized. To meet these customer expectations, customer service agents and chatbots need one major thing: information.

Ensure your conversational AI platform integrates with your existing CRM and e-commerce software, like Salesforce, Shopify, Oracle, and more. Armed with information, your agents can give customers a personalized and unique online shopping experience.

3. Send rich messages.

Rich messaging is the next level of text messaging. (You probably already do it in your own personal text messages.) Instead of sending simple text-based messages, you can send photos, emojis, GIFs, and more.

With Quiq’s advanced rich messaging capabilities, you can send personalized messages to your customers, and even:

  • Process secure transactions.
  • Schedule appointments with a tap of a button.
  • Send reminders, confirmations, and notices.
  • Increase engagement with compelling content.

Rich messages are a great way to notify customers of special sales and upcoming discounts during the holiday season. For example, if they’re waiting on a hot item with the potential to sell out, you can let them know when it’s restocked and even complete the transaction right within their messaging app. This ensures your customer won’t miss out on the deal while helping you capture more revenue.

4. Make holiday information easy to find.

Sometimes, the best way to stay connected with your customers is to make sure they can find what they need without talking to your service team. Younger customers especially prefer to find answers on your site independently. In fact, it’s often a sales driver since they might be more likely to leave your site than talk to a service rep.

Make sure you update your knowledge base to include holiday information, like the return/exchange policy, shipping costs, the last day to buy to receive items by Christmas, etc. But don’t just hide it on your site somewhere. Include this information on your social media, in newsletters, and in other marketing materials. Not only will this spark engagement and purchases, but it’ll also lessen the amount of customer service inquiries during an already busy season.

5. Up your live chat game.

If you haven’t implemented live chat on your website, you absolutely should. The holidays are a great time to flex your live chat muscles. In case you don’t know, live chat (also known as web chat) is a way to instantly message your customers from your website. It typically lives on the bottom right-hand corner of your site, where customers can easily interact with your service agents.

During the holidays, you may have an influx of new customers that live chat can help you capture. Proactively reach out during key points in the customer journey to head off questions and even prevent abandoned carts. Check in with web visitors when they first hit your site, when they stumble on your returns page, or when they first view their shopping cart. It’s a great way to give customers a similar experience to being in a brick-and-mortar store and will help prevent bounce rates.

6. Have more conversations on social media.

Social media is dominated by marketing teams, but it can also be a great place for customer service. Many consumers won’t differentiate your brand’s customer service team from your social media team, and they’ll expect the same service, ready-to-go answers, and personalization they’d get from using your website’s live chat.

So, that’s what you should give them. Make social media an extension of your customer service by using your conversational platform in social media channels. From Facebook Messenger for Business to Instagram for Business and even Twitter Direct Messages, you can give customers a stellar experience no matter where they reach out.

7. Turn Google searches into experiences.

Never miss out on an opportunity to have a conversation with your customers. When customers find your business on Google, Google’s Business Messages gives them the option to text you directly with a click of a button.

That way, customers can go directly to your customer service team with questions and get a personalized experience from the get-go. Since you’ll be using their native messaging app, you can use the same rich messaging to delight customers with GIFs, image carousels, and more.

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More ways to have a successful 2022 holiday shopping season.

With the balance of the holiday shopping season hanging in the air, you can’t continue business as usual. Consider these bonus tips to help finish out the year strong.

Start now.

Retailers are used to the holiday rush—that crunch time between Thanksgiving and Christmas day when the majority of people get the majority of their shopping done. That’s always been a challenge for retailers in general (how to make the most money in such a short period of time), but even more so for e-commerce.

This year, holiday shoppers are planning ahead. Big retailers are offering sales ahead of the busy season. Amazon, for example, hosted a fall Prime Day event in early October to kick off the holiday season. And a Bankrate survey shows 50% of shoppers plan to start before November. Only 12% plan to wait until December to start.

What does this mean for your business? Don’t save your sales and holiday marketing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Repurpose what messaging and promotions you can to get shoppers to your site as soon as possible, or you could be missing out on a lot of the early revenue.

Cut shipping costs.

Or at least don’t raise them. As prices increase, customers will look for ways to save money while online businesses will look for ways to cut their own costs. Typically, online retailers will pass shipping costs on to customers as a way to cut their own costs.

But when money is tight, savvy shoppers are more likely to switch retailers or even skip online shopping altogether. In fact, 30.3% of customers say the cost of delivery is one of the most important factors when choosing a merchant according to ShipStation. Be cautious when considering increasing your shipping rates and look for other ways to combat rising expenses.

Offer new ways to shop.

Now that holiday shoppers have spent a couple of years in the COVID trenches, alternative shopping methods like curbside pickup have increased in popularity. In an Adobe survey of 1,000 consumers, 35% said they would use curbside pickup this season. This will be a big increase from the 25% of shoppers who used this service last year.

Curbside pickup is a way to help your last-minute shoppers, too. While a lot of holiday shopping is happening earlier in the season, there are always last-minute shoppers. Offering this option could help your customer service team, too. They won’t be as bogged down with angry customers asking why their package won’t arrive until after December 25.

Make customer connection your differentiator.

Despite uncertainty this holiday shopping season, connecting with customers is the best way to stand out and ensure success. You can give your customers the same outstanding experience they’d receive in-store (or even better) when you double down on conversations.

Using Outbound Messaging in Field Services (Ft. Terminix)

We talk a lot about outbound messaging here on the Quiq blog. And it’s easy to make connections between better CX, more revenue, and outbound messaging across many different industries.

But there’s one industry in specific that benefits from outbound SMS messaging that we don’t talk about nearly enough: field services.

The field services industry relies heavily on phone calls and other cumbersome technologies to connect the home office, field agents, and customers. Yet we’ve seen just how effective it can be to adopt outbound messaging in place of the good ‘ol telephone: Just ask Terminix.

Continue reading to see how to use outbound SMS to increase efficiency, sales, and customer satisfaction in your field services business.

Why Terminix was itching to make the switch.

Terminix, which helps businesses and residents get rid of common household pests, needed a better way to manage outbound calls to their customers. So they switched from phone calls to Quiq’s outbound messaging for appointment scheduling and other customer communications.

The problem with phone calls.

Many businesses—especially in the field services industry—rely on phone calls for most of their customer communications. We get it. Calls are an easy way to connect instantly with your customers. But they come with their own set of challenges.

1. Calls are inefficient.

According to Verizon’s Fleet Technology Trends Report, 44% of surveyed field services companies say costs were their biggest challenge in 2021. There’s no denying that the inefficiency of phone calls leads to increased costs.

You typically have two options when managing phone calls. You either have your field agents call customers (usually to confirm time, location, and availability), or you centralize your phone operations to your home office. Neither is an elegant solution.

The success of your field service agents relies entirely on how many visits they can make in a day. Asking them to stop and make phone calls does the complete opposite. Not only do the phone calls take time (especially when talking to especially chatty customers), but it also increases the chance of interruptions. If customers call back in the middle of a job, that hinders your field agents’ productivity.

Centralizing calls in your home office or using a dispatch service is another popular option that comes with its own set of frustrations. While it leaves your field agents to work uninterrupted, it requires dedicated staff. Paying staff salaries adds to your costs. Plus, having a large home office staff means you have to manage staffing issues, balancing the number of staff members you have between your slow and busy seasons.

2. Calls are harder to track.

Who manages your calls? Whether it’s your field agents, home office, or a mix of both, the more people you have making and receiving calls, the harder it is to track.

But you should be tracking your numbers. Whether you’re calling to remind customers about their existing appointments, scheduling new visits, or notifying them of changes, you should track your numbers. Call volume can help you forecast staffing needs (instead of using the It feels busy, we should hire more method). Tracking call times can help you determine how efficient your team is. There are vital metrics that are difficult to measure without expensive call-tracking tools.

3. Customers don’t like phone calls.

It’s no secret that Millennials and Gen Z despise talking on the phone. The memes and the Tiktoks are abundant. And almost no one these days answers calls from numbers they don’t recognize. So spending time calling to reach new and younger customers is like rolling a boulder uphill.

And when customer service is so important, concerns like preferred communication methods are vital. According to Verizon, 40% of field services businesses report customer demands as one of their biggest challenges in 2021. And it makes sense since 94% of customers say how a brand treats them is their most important buying decision.

Using a communication method customers prefer will make them more likely to see it and respond—and view your brand more favorably overall.

We know what you’re thinking. Okay, but what about emails? Why can’t we just use what every other business uses on a daily basis to interact with our customers?

And you’re not wrong. Every business uses email communication in some form. But that’s just the problem. Sending appointment reminders via email means it’s going to be in among the retail sales and the tech newsletters and the work communications and the endless notices from kids’ schools and… *enhancement* emails that somehow managed to slip through the junk mail filter. The odds of your customer seeing that email and opening it are stacked against you.

The benefits of switching to text messaging.

Switching to text messaging is a huge change in operations, so for a business like Terminix (and many others), ROI has to be huge. Here are some of the benefits you can expect from switching from phone calls to SMS text messaging.

Increase open rates with text messaging.

Whether you’re sending appointment reminders or notifying customers of a discounted service, it won’t matter if they don’t see them. Email open rates run anywhere from 3% to 30% depending on whose stats you use, and standing out in a crowded inbox is just plain hard to do.
Text messages don’t have that problem. Terminix, for example, uses rich text messaging to connect with its customers, and to date, it boasts a 100% open rate. If nothing else, customers will actually read your outbound text messages.

Service on your customers’ terms.

Customers don’t always want to engage with your team—but then again, sometimes they do! Terminix was able to use Quiq’s AI technology to let the customers lead the conversation. Customers got to decide if they wanted to communicate via text, when, and how often.

More efficient field services management.

Using automations and Quiq’s chatbots, staff will spend less time on transactional phone calls (like appointment setting, rescheduling, reminding, etc.) and more time providing value to your customers. Chatbots can handle everything from appointment scheduling to answering simple questions, while your team can focus on deploying field agents and solving more complex customer issues.

Plus, instead of contacting customers on a one-to-one basis, your team can pick and choose how to connect with customers. With Quiq, your team can deploy text messages to thousands of your customers at once or send a personalized message to one customer.

How does outbound text messaging work?

So how will you actually use outbound text messaging to reach your customers? Take a look at these examples.

Send appointment reminder texts.

Sending SMS reminders is a great way to notify customers of upcoming appointments without draining your staff’s time. Automatically send appointment reminders, and give customers the option of canceling or rescheduling without involving your team.

Customers get to communicate how they want, asynchronously, and you’ll have fewer no-shows as a result.

Increase sales with texts.

The fastest way to more revenue is to keep current customers coming back. Employ bots and automation to send regular appointment reminder text messages so customers never go too long without their next appointment.

Terminix took its sales pipeline to the next level with outbound messaging. They used chatbots to engage with cool and warm leads so customers could respond in their own time. When those leads didn’t respond, they used customer service agents to follow up.

By adding Quiq’s outbound messaging, Terminix saw $7M in ROI in just 9 months.

Boost efficiency with SMS notifications.

Sending a “time for service” reminder text message is a great way to generate more revenue, but if you use them strategically, it can increase field efficiency, too. For example, you can send out service reminders to customers in one geographic area to group them together. You’ll save on fuel costs and commute time without changing anything fundamental in your business.

You can also use it as a sales tool. Once you’ve booked one service in a geographic area, send out text message reminders to other customers in that area to generate more revenue. You can even pass along the fuel savings to your customers with a special discount if they book on a certain day you’re already in the area.

Put “service” back into field services.

The weight of customer expectations hang heavily over the field services industry. With rising demands and changing preferences, traditional methods of communication just can’t cut it anymore.

Companies that opt for outbound messaging, like Terminix, will see big rewards in both efficiency and revenue. Don’t hesitate to ditch voicemails and embrace the text.

Is Live Chat Better than Form Filling?

Forms have ruled the online space since the beginning. And they’ve served us well. But are they going extinct?

Here’s the better question: Should they go extinct?

Live chat (often referred to as web chat) has penetrated the online world, with businesses in both the B2B and B2C online space embracing it. While it’s been used to supplement businesses’ main info-gathering method (forms), now live chat is taking over.

Businesses are replacing contact forms with live chat, using a combination of live agents and chatbots to deliver the best experience.

Let’s compare live chat and form filling.

Why form filling isn’t ideal.

Form filling has been the standard for years, but that also means customers are wise to them. They know sharing their email, and phone number potentially means fending off follow-ups they’re not ready for.

With the mad dash to move sales and service online in the past few years, contact forms just aren’t cutting it.

5 ways forms fall short

  1. Conversion rates are low. The average form conversion rate is 3–5%, according to WebFX. There are many outliers to that average depending on the industry and other business factors like marketing. Yet, customers have to be pretty sure of your product or service to fill out your contact form—without additional incentives like discounts or lead magnets. This means that even if you’re getting people to your forms, few are turning into sales.
  2. They take a lot of your team’s time. Do you have an easy way of sorting form entries before they get to your team? If you don’t, your generic forms are siphoning your sales and customer service teams’ time. Sorting through inquiries (are they just asking a customer service question, or are they looking to buy?), vetting leads, following up when you don’t have enough information… It all adds time before you even get to the sales process.
  3. Poor customer service. People have high expectations for customer service. Over 80% of customers expect to interact with someone immediately when they contact a company, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report. Try as you might, customers don’t get instant answers through contact forms. And if their issue requires multiple back-and-forth emails, you’re adding unnecessary friction.
  4. You’re probably losing sales. How many customers reach your contact form only to bounce? You’re probably very familiar with that number, but what about all the customers who bounce on your website without even making it to the contact form? Even when customers have questions, they might not poke around your website to find your form and ask it.
  5. You might be alienating customers. Some people are introverts! The thought of filling out a contact form and possibly receiving a phone call can be daunting. Even if they’re interested, the fear of talking to a person can keep them moving forward.

Forms vs. live chat: Why is live chat better?

More and more businesses are embracing live chat as an easy way to engage their website visitors and convert them into paying customers.

Here are a few ways live web chat outperforms contact forms.

Instant gratification.

Live chat connects customers with your team members (or a chatbot) instantly. No matter how quickly you respond to contact forms, you don’t get the same satisfaction of a quick conversation using chat.

Even knowing that live chat is an option will make your customers more likely to engage. It’s like having a salesperson at a traditional brick-and-mortar store. You may not want to have them walk you through the displays, but it’s nice knowing they’re there if you need them.

Human connection.

Customers don’t engage with a contact form—they fill it out. There’s no back-and-forth conversation and no way to make a connection until after they’ve taken that step. Live chat with your agents (or even a well-trained chatbot) gives them a human connection, and maybe even gives them more affinity for your brand.

Always accessible.

Forms can go on every page, but there’s almost always scrolling/searching involved to find it. The benefit of live chat is not only its accessibility on your website, but that it can engage your web visitors in conversation even before they think they need it.

And when you swap forms for chatbots, customers can engage with your brand any time, 24/7. When they have a question on Friday night, they don’t need to wait until Monday morning to get a response.

Familiarity over formality.

Forms are only the beginning of a conversation that will inevitably lead to an email, and then a phone call. Then your customers think they’ll be dealing with unwanted phone calls. It feels like much more of a commitment they’re not ready to make. It’s much simpler for customers to ask a few questions in live chat and leave the conversation when they need to.

Customers prefer it.

Compared to other forms of customer service, live chat frequently performs better, with faster response times, higher CSAT scores, and quicker resolutions. According to Salesforce, 42% of customers prefer live chat over other communication methods. Plus, your customers are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat, according to 63% of respondents, reports SaaSworthy.

What can you do with chatbots?

While live chat can run sufficiently when staffed by your own team, chatbots take it to the next level.

According to Databox’s informal survey, 50% of respondents said chatbots convert better than forms, while only 39% said forms convert better. (The other 11% said they convert the same.)

Here are some things chatbots can do to save you time and improve your customer service:

  • Answer customer questions.
  • Troubleshoot common problems.
  • Gather customer information.
  • Determine the department to route customers to.
  • Move customers into an agent’s queue across channels.

Forms vs. live chat: Who wins?

Hands down, live chat.

Live chat gives customers the one-to-one experience they prefer when choosing an online business. And with personalization becoming an even bigger part of the customer experience, having conversations is vital.

Essential 24/7: Reflecting on National Customer Service Week 2022

This week (October 3-7, 2022), and every first full week of October, is National Customer Service Week (NCSW) in the U.S.

First proclaimed a national event by the U.S. Congress in 1992, NCSW is meant to recognize and give appreciation to customer service professionals.

I first developed a deep appreciation for customer service professionals when I graduated from college. My first project as a management consultant was to assist with process documentation at the then newly established NYC 311 contact center. For the next 4 years, I spent countless hours in contact centers across the world, y-jacking with agents and documenting ways that they could be more efficient with their time while also providing world-class service.

Customer service workers keep businesses running.

It’s fitting that this year’s NCSW theme is “BEE-cause You’re Essential”. The concept of an “essential worker” became common language during COVID lockdowns. These were the professionals who often risked their health to keep our society and systems working while many of us stayed home to stop the spread of the deadly virus. They were critical to making sure lives were saved and sustained.

Customer service workers are also essential because they provide support and service to keep industries going. During COVID, many customer service pros were able to work remotely and answer our calls, and respond to emails and other messages. Back during the lockdown and stay-at-home orders, they were often the only face and voice of the brands we all love to do business with. Since we couldn’t go to stores in person, we were bound to shop online—and shop online we did. Overall, e-commerce sales grew over 50% during 2020, with many categories like home furnishings and goods leading the surge.

Customer service teams were slammed, having to handle an unprecedented amount of contacts across existing and new channels. And now as we’re nearing talks of a national or even global recession, these teams are still tasked with doing more with fewer people and resources.

This National Customer Service Week, we should all refocus on the employee experience.

Cost savings has always been a primary focus area for these teams but I’m excited to see a new theme emerge from the customer service leaders I follow and admire; a focus on the employee experience.

The employee experience is crucial to driving great Customer Experience. Being a customer service professional is a tough job. They sometimes don’t get the resources they need to answer tough questions from customers while also having to spend most of their days dealing with customers who are upset.

For leaders, let’s focus more on how these professionals are experiencing work and help them get the training, support, and resources they need to be successful in their challenging roles.

Also, showing recognition and appreciation of their work is important in keeping morale and retention high.

For the rest of us, here are two things that we can all do to thank Customer Service pros:

Show appreciation to a customer service professional this week.
Show some empathy and compassion in your interactions with them, every day.

Let’s all remember that there are real people on the other side of the phone, email,or messaging thread. Each day we engage with them, let’s remember to treat them with the respect they deserve. Happy National Customer Service Week!