5 Tips To Improve Customer Service During the Holidays

With the coming holiday season around the corner, I’m sure you’re already preparing your website, your stock and your sales tactics to maximize revenue during this  important part of the year.

Be sure to include customer service in your preparation, as they will be fielding any and all questions from customers, who will, as early as September, be shopping for the holiday season. A prepared customer service department will run smoothly, handle questions and complaints fast and efficiently manage this busy time.

In this article I will explain which key factors you need to pay attention to, to make sure that customer service contributes to revenue generation, rather than detracting from it. We’ll cover these five must-dos when preparing your CS department:

  1. Train your team on holiday specific details
  2. Hire additional support
  3. Update your AI/self-service support channel
  4. Prioritize holiday specific requests
  5. Keep customers informed

1. Train your team on holiday specific details

The holidays are a very busy time in all of e-commerce and many companies introduce holiday specific products, services, and protocols. Plan to train your customer service team in these three common holiday related areas:

  1. New product training: Some business owners might choose to introduce new products during the holidays. If this is you, it’s important to introduce these products to your customer service team before introducing them to your customers. Give your CS department time to learn about the products and anticipate questions. Make new information available to all agents at all times so they can refer back to the information.
  1. Holiday specific policy changes: The same goes for any amended procedures during the holidays. Many business owners will extend the return/exchange period to attract customers who chose to do their holiday shopping early, for example: “orders from the 15 October that can be returned until the 6th of January”. Train your customer experience agents to spot these orders, so they don’t cause any problems with the return/exchange procedures. Additionally, if you are so inclined, also make sure that they know what to do when a customer is outside this extended period.
  1. Holiday specific staffing protocols: Check your standard operating procedures (SOP) to see if a temporary amendment is beneficial. For example an extra break, or a daily shift of agents between returns and customer tickets, or customer tickets and chat. By giving your employees an extra break, or a shift in activities, they will get to breathe a bit, which goes a long way towards preventing agent burnout after the first 6 weeks.

2. Hire additional support

It may also be wise to see if you need and can hire additional support, specifically for the holiday period.

If you have an uptake of 300-500% beyond your normal order volume, you can be sure that the amount of returns will increase as well.

As most companies have strict rules on how to handle and process these, it can be very helpful to hire temporary support with a background in customer service to assist in these cases. They don’t need to be trained on all aspects of the job, which means there could be a shorter start-up period and less set up to arrange in terms of access to the systems needed to do their job.

Another option is to hire a temporary agent to answer all chat and social media requests. They would only need to have superficial knowledge of the company and the products and can defer the problem cases to your customer experience agents who are trained.

In general, look into possible areas where you can relieve the holiday pressure for your agents by hiring someone who can help out in a specific, outlined way.

3. Update your AI/self service portal

Take a look at your AI/self service portal, if you have one. If you don’t have one, it might be helpful to shop around for a (free) app that can help with that or get support adding an AI function. Also take a look at your current CRM system, they might already have options you can use (either for free or for an additional charge).

Installing and/or updating your AI or self service portal will give your agents further breathing room. As mentioned in previous articles, customer questions are often repetitive and an AI tool can filter out these questions by providing your customers with a ready made answer.

Most of the time, the AI is installed in the chat option on your website. By programming it with the most commonly asked questions and answers, you can drastically reduce the amount of chat requests that your agents will receive.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a catch-all for all the easy to answer questions and some customers will continue to prefer to speak to an actual person, but if your AI can take away three or four out of every 10 questions, it will soon pay for itself.

4. Prioritize holiday specific requests

When reviewing the SOPs with your customer service department, please take a moment to see if the ticket priority queue might need to temporarily change. Keep an eye on these areas in case they relate to the holidays:

  • Customer service inquiries
  • Change requests
  • Services like gift wrapping

Customer service inquiries: Normally your focus would lie on being proactive and trying to answer any follow up questions your customer might have. That is an excellent way to prevent further emails, but will require your agents to spend longer on tickets than they might have time for during the holiday period.

You don’t need to change the tone of your answers: Still be as friendly and welcoming as before, but don’t take the time to add any extra information to the customer question. If they require further information they will let you know, otherwise, your agent can move on more quickly to another ticket.

Change requests: Another task to prioritize is change requests. If you prioritize these (maybe even more than usual) and make sure you can process these requests before the order is shipped, it will save time and money in the long run.

By catching these requests before shipping, you’ll be able to avoid any unnecessary returns or exchanges (for customers who ordered the wrong size), or orders that are shipped back to you due to an incorrect delivery address (for customers who had the wrong address).

Services like gift wrapping: If you offer any additional services that relate to your customer service department, especially for the holidays (such as gift wrapping or gift cards that are included), it’s important to keep an eye on that as well.

5. Keep customers informed

The last, but definitely not the least important tip is to keep your holiday customers informed about three key areas:

  1. Item availability
  2. Processing times
  3. Delivery times

All of us have been and are customers as well. We all know there’s nothing quite as nerve wracking as ordering the perfect present for your spouse, significant other, etc, and then receiving no further information about shipping, delivery etc.

Give customers enough information to know if a present will arrive in time for the holidays. Be reassuring but realistic. Don’t set a cut off time on the 23th of December, for example,  if you know that 95% of your orders are usually delivered in 2-3 business days.

I know it seems counterproductive to talk about cut off times on your website, and I’m not saying you should shout it from the rooftops. However, it’s better to have it out in the open for two reasons:

  1. You avoid a lot of unnecessary cancellation requests if the customer finds out after they’ve placed the order it can’t be delivered before their holiday celebration
  2. Your agents avoid a barrage of angry customers.

Tensions can run high with your customers. They’re irritable and they may take it out on your agents when something goes wrong. The more you inform your customer on stock, on processing times, on delivery times, the easier it will be to manage their expectations and maybe even surprise them in a positive way (by delivering faster than expected).

Prepare now to improve holiday customer service

Anybody who’s had any years of experience in e-commerce will agree with me that the holidays are a busy and stressful time. This goes double for your customer service agents, who will be especially tested during this period.

By following the tips we just discussed, you’ll create structure and oversight and your agents will thank you for this, if not now, then after the holiday period has ended.

For now, all that’s left is for me to wish you a successful holiday season and happy holidays as well!

I help businesses begin and maintain their customer experience programs. If you’d like some help with your program, send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss the best options for your needs.

This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the independent freelancer listed as the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
This article was submitted by and expresses the views and opinions of the author. They do not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork, and Upwork does not explicitly sponsor or endorse any of the views, opinions, tools or services mentioned in this article, all of which are provided as potential options according to the view of the author. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situations.
Article Author
Author
Linda V.
Customer Service Manager
Roosendaal, Netherlands
Customer Service

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