Summertime means holiday planning time.
E-retailers have to be at the top of their game during the holiday shopping season, the biggest selling season of the year for most. The 2011 holiday season produced 15% growth in online retail sales over the prior year, comScore Inc. says, and the double-digit e-retail growth that's continued in 2012 offers hope of another strong holiday season ahead.
To make sure they get at least their share of that growth, and to turn holiday shoppers into loyal customers, web retailers need to deliver high-touch customer service to every web visitor who needs it. More than ever, holiday shoppers want quick access to the information they need about a product and a choice in how they communicate with the retailer, such as an 800 number, live chat, e-mail and social media.
"Retailers need to provide choice when it comes to customer care," says Wendy Shooster, co-CEO for Global Response, an outsource contact center. "Not every customer wants to contact a service agent by phone or use e-mail, so providing the communication options customers want and making them easy to access is important. That's especially true during the holidays when contact center volume increases dramatically in a very short period of time."
Regardless of how the retailer communicates with the consumer, good customer service starts with providing detailed information to the shopper. One area where retailers can provide better information is product descriptions. Continually adding information that answers common questions about each product spares the customer the extra step of consulting the FAQ page or contacting a service agent.
"Customer care can be proactive. A retailer that sells sunglasses, for instance, should include in the product description whether the glasses come with a carrying case and cleaning cloth," Shooster says. "The goal behind customer care is to build a dynamic knowledge base that is always evolving so customers become more self-sufficient in finding the information they want. FAQ pages, for example, should be dynamically built based on customer interactions, however, many of them are static."
Dynamic customer service also involves coordinating marketing promotions with the call center so agents are prepared to answer questions about each sale or offer. It is also recommended that retailers test all their holiday promotional codes in advance of pushing them out to consumers, to avoid technical snafus when a code is entered.
"Marketing and customer care go hand-in-hand. When service agents are not aware of a current promotion or can't solve problems that arise when a promotional code is entered, that can lead to customer frustration and lost sales," Shooster says.
Agents with answers
Providing the right customer communications options and more detailed product information throughout the web site are just two of the many pieces that make up the customer service puzzle. Scalable staffing is necessary to make sure retailers have enough agents on hand during peak periods.
Call center outsourcing partners can help retailers calculate their staffing needs based on prior holiday seasons using workforce management models to determine staffing by shift. "During high-volume holiday hours, retailers can implement a blended staffing solution by routing overflow calls from a pool of dedicated agents to a group of agents shared with another retailer in the contact center," Shooster says.
To provide the highest quality customer service and reflect the quality and personality of the brand, retailers should use dedicated agents whenever possible. "Dedicated agents know the brand, understand the brand and most importantly, communicate the passion of the brand," Shooster adds.
In addition to inbound and outbound services, Global Response provides customer support for live chat, e-mail and social media inquiries, as well as customer relationship management.
Once the holiday season ends, it is recommended that retailers analyze their call center interactions, as well as their marketing and promotional strategies, to determine what worked and what didn't. That's the first step in planning for the 2013 holiday shopping season.
"By the first quarter of the new year retailers should be able to forecast their holiday sales and use that data to plan staffing levels," says Shooster. "A lot of staffing forecasts can be made with their call center provider. Holiday preparedness is a year-round process and retailers that wait too long to start the process are liable to forget what they learned the previous holiday season."