Many of us look forward to the holidays. We get excited about the prospect of parties, family gatherings, holiday cheer and presents galore. But the holiday season also brings a big lump of coal: an increase in needy customers reaching out to your team in need of immediate support.
According to Kustomer data, inbound customer service inquiries increased by almost 120% during the holiday season, with a particularly dramatic spike in activity on social, e-mail, voice and chat.
Many businesses struggle to maintain a high level of support during spikes in activity. They may need to hire a flurry of seasonal employees who have a short training period. In 2021, retail sales grew 17% year-over-year in November and December, so the stakes are high. And in 2020, retail and e-commerce organizations were facing limited staff, frequent shipping issues and more challenging inquiries. The question now becomes, how do you handle the seasonal rush without breaking the bank or disappointing customers?
Dive into our guide to understand what customers are expecting for CX this holiday season and how to prepare your company, your agents and your CX software.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- About Holiday customer service
- What customers want during the holidays
- Create a holiday CX strategy
- Empower and support your CX agents
- Prepare your CX software
- Greater pressure for customers to deliver gifts by a specific date.
- A significant increase in retail sales, with nearly $860 billion spent during the holidays in 2021.
- A 120% increase in customer inquiry volume.
- More frequent time off for customer service agents.
- High volumes of customer service data processing for CX software.
- CRM for Customer Context
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Auto-Reply Email
- Order Status
- Downloadable Content
- Product Information
- Proactive Communication
- Fully updated on company policies
- Tapped into internal knowledge bases
- Trained to address common holiday pain points
- Quick answers for customers: Especially during the holidays, customers want answers simply and quickly, which is exactly what chatbots can provide in an automated way.
- Free up your agents: If chatbots are able to answer simple customer questions, it frees up your agents to focus on more complicated inquiries that require a human touch.
- Measure more than just handle time.
- Collect helpful interaction data to be passed along to product and marketing teams.
- Provide not only pain point information, but also product information to help agents guide customers through the purchase process.
What Is Holiday Customer Service?
Holiday customer service is working to provide customers with a high-quality experience throughout the busy, high-volume, high-pressure holiday season. If you’re creating great customer service experiences year-round, holiday customer service shouldn’t be any different, right?
The important differences between holiday customer service and customer service the rest of the year are the:
Additionally, many organizations now have limited resources and staff at their disposal due to the current macroeconomic environment. When combined with all of the above factors, there’s a perfect storm of challenges during this year’s holiday season, and customer service teams need to prepare in advance if they’re going to successfully weather it.
What Do Customers Want from CX During the Holidays?
As spending increases during the holiday season, so do customer expectations. Here is what consumers expect from brands during the upcoming holiday season.
During the holiday season, the turn of phrase “too much to do, too little time” hits a lot closer to home. Between normal day-to-day life, holiday celebrations, traveling and gift buying, consumers don’t want more of their time taken up by customer service.
According to Kustomer research, 77% of customers expect their problem to be solved immediately upon contacting customer service. Customers demand that you respect their time, especially during the busy holiday rush, and if you don’t, they are willing to leave for another retailer. In fact, 70% of consumers would not shop with a retailer again if they had to leave a chat before being helped, and 71% would do the same if they waited so long on hold that they hung up.
Especially during the peak shopping season, Thanksgiving to Christmas, consumers are on the go. They may be traveling to spend time with family, taking a much needed vacation, or multitasking during the work day. What does this all mean? Customers are more likely to reach out on platforms that are most convenient for them, like messaging and chat-based channels. In fact, Kustomer research revealed 64% of consumers enjoy talking to customer service via the same channels they communicate with family and friends on.
While 88% of consumers get frustrated when they can’t contact a company on the channel they prefer, availability on multiple platforms isn’t enough. Eighty-six percent of customers said they get frustrated when they have to repeat information to customer service agents. This means that if customers switch channels or need to be transferred, they don’t want the context of their previous interactions lost.
Most of the time, when a customer contacts a company, the team manning that channel will create a ticket. If the customer then contacts the company through a different channel about the same issue, a second ticket will be created with each team working their respective tickets. This results in a fragmented experience and the unfortunate need to repeat information.
Speed means nothing if you don’t have the right answers. This is especially hard when seasonal customer service agents that may not have sufficient knowledge or training are asked to tackle difficult questions.
Kustomer research revealed that 67% of consumers would completely abandon their purchase if they had poor customer service during the purchasing process. Arming your agents with the tools and information they need to deliver exceptional service is imperative during the holiday season, when customers may be broadening the retailers they shop with.
6 Ways to Create a Holiday CX Strategy
1. Prepare Your Platform for Holiday Traffic
During the holiday season, 49% of businesses report experiencing more digital inquiries. To prepare for a major spike in platform traffic, have your engineering team conduct a readiness review of all your services.
Validate that your services are prepared to automatically scale significantly beyond their normal operating levels in order to prevent any disruption during holiday traffic spikes. Also be sure to consistently review your monitoring to make sure that it is properly tuned. This helps detect any potential problems as early as they arise, allowing your team to intervene if necessary.
2. Equip Your Team to Respond
As part of holiday readiness preparation, conduct a review of your incident management process with all engineers and support team members who support your customers during the holiday season. This helps catch any tooling or knowledge gaps that might impede fast and effective resolution during an actual incident.
In addition, align the whole team on the importance of the holiday season to your customers.
3. Get a Little Help From Your Robot Friends
AI can handle simple tasks like tagging and routing conversations to the most appropriate agent. It’s important to consider how to leverage the power of chatbots during peak seasonal shopping periods.
Chatbots can be used to collect initial information, provide responses to simple questions, and even complete standard tasks like changing a booking or answering an order status question.
While there is always fear of losing personalization when using AI and automation, with the right platform, businesses can actually do the opposite.
For instance, if a business leverages customer data properly, chatbots could ask personalized questions based on an individual’s purchase or browsing history. These interventions save time for both the customer and agent, and increase the time spent on the actual issue rather than information gathering and low-level support.
4. Offer Thorough Self-Service Options
Many teams might not be aware that 67% of consumers prefer self-service over talking to a company representative — and this is only heightened during the holiday season, as customers need their questions answered quickly and simply.
By updating and expanding your customer self-service tools in preparation for the holidays, it can help customers get the answers they need faster, while also freeing up more time for your agents to engage in more complex customer needs.
We’ve broken down the top customer service tools for imparting great CX.
5. Be Available Where Your Customers Are
Omnichannel support shifts perspective from ticket resolution to customer relationship building, which is incredibly valuable during the holiday season, when companies have the opportunity to attract an entirely new cohort of customers.
Specifically, support should be available in some of the most prominent channels in CX today — CX professionals believe that live chat (79%), SMS (72%), and social messaging (56%) will become top channels over the next three years. Customers expect to be able to communicate with your brand in their preferred channels, so taking an omnichannel approach is crucial.
Agent collision never occurs when communication channels are integrated, because agents can view the conversation and maintain context even as customers engage through multiple channels. If executed properly, omnichannel support provides a consistent experience for customers at every touchpoint after acquisition.
6. Reduce the Risk of Disruptions
In addition to preparing for any problems, work to reduce risk around your product by minimizing changes to your infrastructure and scheduling code freezes.
During code freezes, pause feature releases and updates to the platform — outside of any critical changes needed to ensure your goal of stability and high availability during this period of increased traffic.
How to Prepare, Empower and Support Your CX Agents
Your agents are essential to ensuring your brand can weather the holiday season, so you need to give them the coverage, training and technology they need to do their jobs to perfection.
Your agents can only be expected to offer a high-quality customer experience if they have sufficient coverage and are rested and ready for the holiday spike.
While companies are expecting considerable increases in customer inquiry volume, your agents can’t provide exceptional experiences for those customers if they are stretched across many interactions at once. Regularly test your business continuity plans to ensure you have maximum coverage throughout the holidays and no agents are stretched too thin.
In order to prepare for customer inquiry increases during the holidays, companies should be training their agents year-round. The agents that are equipped to provide top-notch customer service during the hectic holiday season are those that are:
Get Your Agents the Right Technology
Customer support technology with AI capabilities can suggest messages to send to customers based on historical conversations and customer attributes, which can become more accurate and personalized over time in conjunction with a machine learning model.
Sentiment analysis is another benefit of AI technology. By looking at the words and tone in a customers’ messages, the technology can identify how satisfied, or dissatisfied, a customer is, and escalate the issue accordingly.
The benefits of chatbots are really two-fold:
Customers expect for CS representatives to know their history with the company without having to explain it. With all customer and company data accessible through one centralized location, agents can provide a personalized, speedy customer experience that exceeds customer expectations.
In addition, a central data location empowers agents to have access to essential product updates, policy changes, and shipping issues and alert customers of any pertinent information.
How to Prepare Your CX Software
Make it Consultative
With the majority of holiday customer inquiries coming during the pre- and mid-transaction phases, companies should prepare to use their CX software in a much more proactive, consultative way. You have the opportunity to take a more advisory position, so use it.
With this in mind, these more consultative conversations will require more time and knowledge, so you need to prepare your CX software to:
Make it Personalized
CX professionals believe personalized service is one of the three service attributes customers value most during the holiday season. Kustomer research shows that 67% of customers expect retailers to know them and personalize how they interact. To create these meaningful relationships, companies need to adopt technology that allows them to see customer history, issues and behavior in context, no matter the platform.
By leveraging automation for tedious and manual tasks, customer service agents can provide consumers with prompt and personal service, including individualized outreach.
Make it Proactive
According to Kustomer research, a whopping 89% of consumers expect retailers to proactively reach out to them if there is a problem with their order. When holiday orders aren’t delivered on time, you have the very real possibility of upset customers who are angry and embarrassed by missing gifts. And that could mean more than an unhappy customer, it could mean a lost customer for life.
Not only does proactive outreach put customers at ease, it can also prevent an influx of customer service requests. Make sure that your customer service technology is able to efficiently segment your customer base and power proactive communication.