October 26, 2015, 4:10 PM

Rethinking customer service this holiday season

Let customers help themselves, and agents spend more time with their loved ones.

Lead Photo

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday season can make up twenty to forty percent or more of a retailer's annual sales both in stores and online. With the seasonal influx of customers, there are more support calls, tickets, and chats to answer. Retailers routinely increase their customer support agents during this busy time. While extra help on the holidays is great for customers and retailers, it’s also rough on those people working on days traditionally spent with friends and family.

This year, it's time to rethink retail customer support both for retailers and employees. New technologies are redefining the boundaries of customer service, allowing for more flexible and efficient customer service experiences than seasons past. Consider these three ways to approach holiday season customer service differently this year.

Spread the joy of self-service to customers everywhere

The volume of sales during the holidays is rivaled by no other time. During this high volume period, time with customer service agents can be hard to come by and long call waiting times are likely, infuriating customers and stressing already spent employees.

The solution? Let customers help themselves. They actually prefer it. According to a recent Forrester report, "Self-service was the most popular customer service channel in 2014" and "40% of callers have already searched for answers."

Self-service portals can serve as a great resource for customers searching for answers. Often times, if used properly, these resource can solve problems without the need for a service rep getting involved -- saving employees valuable time and providing customers with the prompt service they desire. Some examples include:

  • FAQ Sheets -- Make sure these are up to date and relevant as products often change from year to year.
  • Product Videos -- These can supplement FAQ sheets and provide in-depth solutions to frequent problems or guide a customer through installation and use of a product.
  • Customer Forums -- Forums can be a great resource for customers to help each other solve problems within a communal setting. However, be sure to monitor the community to keep out internet riff raff.

To maximize the return on self-service resources be sure to guide the customer support journey to these areas first. For many customers, their problem can be resolved more quickly by reading through the self-service resources than waiting for a customer service representative to get back to them.

Celebrate the season with live chat

Live chat allows customers to communicate with customer service agents in a way that fits into their lifestyle and can go well beyond a traditional phone call. And best of all, a recent Forrester report shows that customers of all ages are comfortable using this channel, with almost one-third of Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and the Golden Generation (ages 68+) using chat.

The benefits and ease of use of live chat systems enable customer service agents to work more efficiently—live chat can resolve customer issues seven times faster than email. It’s a simple math problem; with live chat agents can converse with more than one customer at once. Additionally, agents can create automatic triggers like generic greetings to save time during each customer interaction. For these reasons, it’s no surprise that chat usage rates have risen in the past three years, according to Forrester.

Moreover, incorporating live chat across your company allows representatives to leverage the knowledge of the entire customer service department. Representatives can quickly reroute customers to an agent specialized in the area of concern. Internally, customer service agents, too, can use live chat systems to quickly communicate amongst each other, sharing knowledge and lending a helping hand when needed.

Give the gift of working from home

The holiday season is first and foremost a time to spend with family and friends. While customer service agents understand the need to be responsive during the holiday rush, they probably also think that much of their support work could be done from the comfort of their homes. This can be especially helpful for your social care agents, those representatives support customer service on Twitter and Facebook, when customers have a 24/7 expectation of response.

Thanks to today’s communication tech, working from home is now easier than ever before. In order to get the most out of letting employees work from home, it is important to communicate goals and expectations beforehand. Be sure that they understand exactly what working from home means to the company. Pajamas? Okay. Ignoring customers? Not so much.

To keep everyone connected while they are working remotely, get creative. Make an event out of the new policy by create a company-wide social campaign to get employees onboard and excited. Employees can share photos of their home workplace creating a festive sense of camaraderie during the busy holiday workday.

This holiday season do retail differently. Improve your self-service, chat more, and remember that happy customer service agents make for happy customers! By giving employees and customers the right tools, success is a certainty this holiday season.

Zendesk provides customer service software to 36 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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