Holidays are coming, holidays are coming…

And arguably this year they are more important than ever before. Around the world people are celebrating early in 2020, with decorations and lights having gone up in November in many cases. Perhaps people are just waiting to see the back of a challenging period in their lives and ring in the annual reset on December 31st.

Regardless, this has been a boom year for e-commerce, and every provider of goods and services needs to be on top of their game to make the most of the opportunities the season offers, to close out 2020 in style, with record sales and customer satisfaction.

Deloitte predicts e-commerce holiday retail sales to grow between 25% to 35% from November through January, reaching $182 billion to $196 billion in total, and a survey conducted by Dynata for Redpoint Global found nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 adult shoppers surveyed (62%) planned to do all their holiday shopping online.

So if shoppers are avoiding crowded high streets and stores, your call center and backend operations need to be ready to handle a surge, and the final push, which could make all the difference to how the year as a whole stacks up. Here are the best 6 tips to help your customer service agents deliver excellent customer experience this holiday season:


1. Know your numbers, and make a plan

2. Scale up your customer service efficiency

3. Liaise across departments

4. Expect the unexpected

5. Elevate your agent

6. Look after your agents



1. Know your numbers, and make a plan


While 2020 has had its unique attributes for sure, much of your increased volume will be predictable and seasonal. Dig into your call center metrics from previous years and see where the peaks and troughs lie, so you can staff up accordingly.

managers assessing graphs and results


Did average waiting time or call abandonment increase in previous years? Then you know you didn’t have quite enough people around to answer calls on those days. You can drill right down to the shifts affected, in order to plan your rostering accordingly, for example you may find people come in from work and then instead of hitting the high street for late night shopping, they hit up your website instead.

If the products you sell are really seasonal, you’ll need to consider scaling up more substantially, in order to meet anticipated demand in your customer service. Luckily, Ringover’s entirely cloud-based call center software makes it extremely quick and easy to do this on the technical front, with no concerns about cabling or installation — simply punch up your desired capacity in the dashboard, and your agents can get to work fast.

Ensuring your human resource availability may be more challenging, because humans are not cloud-based! But, they can be based anywhere they want to be — which is a help in the middle of winter, and many may welcome extra shifts and income over the busy period. They can also use whatever device they choose, including an app on their desktop or mobile phone, making it easy and comfortable for them to hop on the line at short notice, and easier for you than distributing new hardware endpoints.

Don’t forget Boxing Day!


Once everything is dispatched and delivered then a big part of the e-commerce job is done — but not all of it.

Your sales team may be taking a much-needed break once the gifts are unwrapped, but if you sell products requiring any degree of technical assembly or set-up, make sure you have a good support team on hand, to support new owners of shiny new tech — about which they may have no clue. If Santa forgot to buy batteries that’s not your fault, but if they can’t make sense of the operating instructions or how to get started, then you’ll need to be ready to help, and make sure everyone can enjoy their new gear easily and happily.

2. Scale up your customer service efficiency


You know your business, and will have optimized for the right balance between cost and throughput, for ‘normal’ times. But the holidays are not normal times, and it may be that you have to make temporary changes, to avoid that queue becoming too long. For example, you might consider:


3. Liaise across departments


Preparing for slick and smooth customer service through the holiday period is not about the call center in isolation.

To ensure responsive and effective provision, you need to know what’s going on in the rest of the enterprise. When is marketing sending out that special offer to your biggest list? When is the new stock arising? Are there going to be time-limited promotions and discounts, which will generate increased levels of inquiries over a very short period?

several department managers discussing plans


It’s important that the customer service department is at the heart of these conversations early on — not only are you the experts at communication within your organization, you’re where the rubber meets the road, and your business offering interacts with the public. Disappoint them once, and they’re gone for good — the boom in e-commerce is good news for you, but good news for their choice as well, and you could lose them altogether. If you become the bottleneck in a big promotion you didn’t know about, then not only will you let down your colleagues you’ll let down your customers too, so don’t lose sight of the value of internal communications and liaison.

4. Expect the unexpected


In the Northern Hemisphere the holiday season has always coincided with the middle of winter — and even before the climate became less predictable, this has had the potential to cause chaos. Throw in anything from a global health crisis to a political supply chain disruption, and you’ll wonder why anybody ever decided that this was the best time for us all to buy loads of extra stuff. But it’s not going to change now, so you have to plan for continuity, whatever happens.

man pondering on plans


Of course you cannot predict in advance exactly what kind of unexpected events you might face, but you can do some scenario planning in advance of the kind of disruption which might take place, just on the off chance. For example:


5. Elevate your agents


Speeding up your queue, and increasing customer satisfaction metrics, can be as simple as giving your agents more power to do their job.

For example, can you support them with better reference materials, training, an improved knowledge base? Again your data will have all the answers here if you mine it appropriately: is there a particular product which yields a high number of customer queries, and agent searches for information? In which case perhaps someone from the product team could come and do a Q+A, and help prepare better responses to the questions customers actually care about. Or they could review the support materials provided.

operator


Are those support materials accessible to the agents who need them? Augmentation like AI bots can listen out for keywords, and go and retrieve them in advance, while the human agent deals with the human empathy and sensitivity side of things (the bots won’t be able to do that for a while, even though they can detect emotional escalation and help supervisors provide targeted support if anything gets overheated.)

Empower action


Finally, how about letting your more experienced agents make more decisions?

For example, can they authorize discounts or refunds, within predefined parameters? Of course these decisions eat straight into the bottom line, and need to be used with discretion. But price paid is not the only cost of the sale, and anything involving a callback, escalation to a new support tier, or losing the lifetime value of a customer as a result, has a direct cost as well. Not to mention reputational cost, if they start moaning about you publicly, regardless of the ‘season of goodwill to all’. Returns and restocking cost money too.

Often then it can be a much better outcome to spread a little happiness, and train your agents to offer permitted discounts up to 10%, or a refund on any purchase under €20, for example — if that’s what it takes to make the customer satisfied in the moment.

6. Look after your agents


As well as training and empowering them to do their job well, with the latest technology, information, and authorization they need, you can also use the holiday season as a chance to show you care.

They’ve worked with you during a difficult year, and now more than anything else need to take a bit of downtime, as well as feel secure and appreciated for what they do. If you look after your team, they’ll always look after your customers — and there is no better time than to remember that.

Bonuses, treats, extras… These all reward good service, and recognize the importance of the customer service role, where these people represent your business directly to those who buy your products and services.

operator-gift


And they work as part of a team too, so social gatherings, public recognition, and time to relax and celebrate one another matters as well. These may take a bit more imagination and planning when you work virtually, compared with getting everyone together in the break room with some fizzy wine and chips — but there are lots of ways to celebrate with our remote teams which just require a bit of forethought, and are a great way to promote your team and organizational values and culture, while simultaneously thanking people for a job well done.

The holiday time is about gratitude after all, and this has been a challenging year for everyone individually — thanking and rewarding your team is the snowy white icing on the Christmas cake, which will enable everyone to relax over the break knowing they did their best, and come back rested and ready for 2021.

Is your customer service ready for the holiday season?


Contact our experts to help guide you step-by-step at +44 20 3808 5555 or sales@ringover.com. Start your free trial today.