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Do you hear that? The tingling of bells… The unpacking of thousands of twinkle lights… the entire retail industry taking a deep breath in anticipation of customer service issues…

While everyone is jumping for joy at the coming holiday season, you’re a little less enthused. You know that while it’s lucrative, it’s also extremely tough on your customer service team.

The holiday shopping season is basically here, but there’s still time to get ahead of the avalanche of customer service issues that await you.

Between pandemic pressures and logistical issues, this year might be tough. Even though brick-and-mortar stores will see more business than in 2020, shoppers continue to do most of their shopping online. 40% of retail executives expect double-digit online growth, according to Deloitte’s 2021 holiday retail survey.

This could put even greater stress on your customer service team. Now’s the time to come together and strategize the next few months with your team.

Keep reading for seven key tactics to get ahead of the holiday rush.

1. Start preparing now

So, the holiday shopping season has effectively started.

With inventory and shipping delays, shoppers are worried about getting their holiday gifts in time this year. According to Deloitte, 68% of shoppers plan to shop before Thanksgiving this year, compared to 61% in 2020. 

Of those looking to start shopping earlier this year, 49% cite potential shipping issues, and 47% say stockout issues are responsible for their early-bird habits. With holiday shopping already underway (and the cash register already chiming), the support messages will be a-ringing

If you haven’t already seen an uptick in customer support issues, you’ll likely see it soon. This means you need to start preparing now. With just a few weeks before we’re deep into Christmas cheer, any strategies you plan to implement must be simple and work seamlessly into your existing workflow. Whether you need to scale up your team or invest in technology, you’re running out of time.

2. Strategize based on last year’s performance

It’s easy to get through a holiday season and never look back. You’re tired, your team is exhausted, and you have another year to plan for. But now’s the time to (quickly) pause and reflect.

Take another look at last year’s numbers. What can you learn from them?

Customer service KPIs

  • Revenue: Was last year a high-performing year for the business? Use this along with market indicators for 2021 to predict how busy the holiday season will be. 
  • CSAT: How did your team perform last year? If you had high customer satisfaction scores, continue putting effort into your current strategies. If customer satisfaction dipped over the holidays, identify the contributing factors. 
  • Wait times: How long did customers have to wait to connect with a customer service agent during your heaviest service windows? If your wait times suffered, see what processes you can put into place this year in order to save some time. Be upfront with your customers about their expected wait. You may need to hire more staff to cover the extra volume.
  • Popular platforms: Which platforms received the highest volume of customer support issues? Did you receive a lot of Facebook messages? Email questions? Prioritize resources and training for the types of communications with the most action.

Take a second to look at this information and see what insights you can extract from last year’s data. It’ll give you a great starting point to help you build your 2022 strategy.

3. Improve your knowledge base

Sure, not all customers will bother searching for the answer to their questions before reaching out to your overwhelmed customer service team. But some will. And some even prefer it over chatting with a team member.

Add seasonal information to your knowledge base to help answer frequent holiday-themed questions. Add articles on Black Friday, holiday shipping, your return policy, upcoming deals, holiday service hours, and any other questions you can get ahead of.

If you haven’t built out your knowledge base yet, a simple homepage banner and/or link in the footer can work in a pinch. Even if only 5% of customers view this information, that’s 5% fewer conversations your team must navigate.

4. Make your return policy easy to find

 The holidays already inspire more returns, and online shopping just adds to the mix. While some online retailers like to hide their return policy as an (ill-advised) strategy, customers notice—and it might just turn them away.

More than a third (34%) of consumers surveyed by PowerReviews say that refund and return policies will have more impact on their holiday purchase decisions this year. Even more indicative of the current shopping landscape, 44% said return policies even influence which gifts they purchase.

So making your return policies easy to find and easy to navigate benefits your team two-fold: It can prevent customer service issues and potentially increase sales.

5. Provide holiday training

The holiday rush can get the best of even your most senior support staff. During a good year, customers are stressed and in a hurry to buy their gifts and refocus their energy on their families. And this year… It’s even more brutal.

Combine 18+ months of pandemic fatigue with the inventory shortages and delivery delays, and you get customers with a much shorter temper. And according to Deloitte’s survey, 21% of consumers hold retailers and sellers responsible for delays, which could make for some very aggressive conversations.

This is a great time to get the team together for a short refresher. Remind your team that they’re valuable, but also reinforce your customer sensitivity. Some patience and compassion will go a long way to elevate your customer experience.

6. Embrace automation

One of the best ways to support your team is with automation—and no, that’s not a dirty word. 

You can use chatbots and AI in a variety of ways to reduce the burden on your team and increase customer satisfaction while maintaining a human connection your customers crave.

Here are some ways you can integrate automation into your holiday customer service strategy:

  • Answer simple FAQs
  • Route questions to the appropriate department
  • Suggest similar items to those in your customers’ carts
  • Estimate shipping times
  • Notify website visitors of specials, deals or delays
  • Tell customers when items they’ve viewed are back in stock
  • Gather customer feedback

There are endless ways you can integrate chatbots and other automation tools into your customer service tech stack. The goal is to simply solve issues at scale without burning out your support team.

7. Prep your social media team

It’s vital that you take a look at all your customer service channels before the big holiday rush begins—especially social media.

Sprout Social predicts an 18% increase in average social media messages in November and December this year. This includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with the latter expecting the most significant holiday boost at 44%. 

Enterprises see the biggest social media message jump over the holidays:

  • Small businesses: 15%
  • Mid-sized businesses: 12%
  • Enterprises: 23% 

These numbers tell us you can’t forget to include social media in your holiday planning. Customers flock to social media for gift guides, influencer suggestions, and more, so it’s vital you meet them where they are and provide optimal customer service. 

  1. Provide your social media team with training to assist customers.
  2. Write a script for commonly asked questions and standard responses.
  3. Share a routing map with them so they know which team member to send which issues to.
  4. Create an elevation plan for when issues need to be taken up the ladder for resolution.
  5. Assign customer service team members to manage your social media inbox. 
  6. Set up auto-responses that are tailored to frequently asked questions, such as “Where’s my package?” and “What’s the return policy?”

Since social media platforms are highly visible, it’s important to service these questions thoroughly and quickly to improve customer satisfaction.

Holiday shopping is already here

Your window for getting ahead of the customer service rush is quickly closing. With holiday shopping already starting, the pressure on your team is mounting. 

When you work in e-commerce, it takes grit to get through the holiday season. With the shopping window getting longer and pressures getting higher, it’s going to be extra tough to solve customer service issues with a smile.

We hope these strategies help you put together a concrete plan so you and your team feel more prepared and more confident in tackling the rest of the year.

More than just streamlining work processes, don’t forget to take the time this season to show your team how much you appreciate them. Be sure to show your support throughout the holiday season.

Get ahead of customer service issues with Quiq

When you need help connecting with your customers across multiple messaging platforms, Quiq can help. Quickly get up and running for the holiday season, integrate with your CRMs, and build messaging trees to elevate your customer experience instantly.

See Quiq in action with a demo.

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