Holiday Planning: Q&A With Customer Service Experts

Gladly Team

Read Time

6 minute read

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and the most overwhelming if you’re not ahead with holiday planning.

Due to expected surges in sales volume and an increased sense of urgency, navigating customer experience around the holidays is always challenging. Throw in global unrest, supply chain delays, inflation, and economic uncertainty, and it’s a whole new ball game.

Luckily, we have the scoop on how our community is preparing to address these challenges. We spoke with Ben Devey, Director of Customer Experience at Ollie Pets, and Eliza Wiraatmadja, VP of Services, Support, and Education at Gladly, on how they plan to alleviate the holiday customer service rush while strengthening customer relationships in the process.

1. What Role Should Customer Self-Service Play in the Holiday Support Strategy?

Eliza: Research studies conducted over the past few years indicate that anywhere between 40 – 67% of consumers prefer to self-serve instead of speaking with a representative. That’s a lot. Self-service tools — like order tracking, knowledge base articles, FAQs, returns portals — play a huge role in delivering a great customer experience, especially over the holidays. Make it easy to self-serve by showcasing your self-service options in multiple channels.

Let’s take shipment notifications as an example: give customers the option to subscribe to shipment notifications via text or email, make your shipment tracker searchable via search engines, and allow customers to view shipment statuses on a mobile-friendly site, in chat widgets, and even via phone. However, don’t let self-serve become a replacement for the human touch and customer experience. No consumer wants to be stuck in a self-serve loop and never get the help they need.

Ben: This should always play a big role, not just during the holidays but year-round (after hours). The practice of identifying or anticipating the most commonly asked questions or requests and solving those in advance. If there are any promotions, having commonly asked questions surfaced there can deflect large volumes. This can prevent long wait times, especially if you have your team off for any of the Holiday days.

2. What Are 2–3 Items That Should Be on Every CX Leader’s 2022 Holiday Planning Checklist?

Eliza: First, take care of your team. Empower representatives to make on-the-spot decisions to go above and beyond for a customer. Give them the training needed to support complex products and make product recommendations. Develop an escalation policy to help them loop in supervisors and managers when necessary. If you have a remote workforce, help them ensure they have the appropriate network and hardware setup to support customers. The list can go on — but the key is that a happy team makes happy customers.

Second, be prepared but flexible. Do the usual things — like making sure you’re involved in holiday planning for marketing blasts, promotions, staffing, potential demand, etc. However, be open to iterating on processes and tools based on data and remain curious about the “why” behind trends.

Third, make it easy for customers to do business with you. This can be as simple as offering customers the ability to transition to text while waiting in queue for an Agent — or it can be investing in a self-serve knowledge base.

Ben: First, is your IVR (Interactive Voice Response) experience set up to account for time off or various SLA performance needs?

Second, have all your auto-responses been set up on all your channels to communicate your Holiday hours and response times? Sidekick, Email, SMS, etc.

Lastly, have you forecasted pre and post-holiday business needs, and do you have the right staff to support those needs?

3. What Impact Do You Believe Supply Chain, Inflation, and or Economic Uncertainty Will Have on Holiday Support?

Eliza: It’s been a turbulent past few years, to say the least. More than ever, it’s important to be transparent to your customers and proactively communicate. If you need to raise the price of your subscriptions, let your customers know why. If you are guaranteeing delivery dates, ensure your projections aren’t too over-optimistic — the same goes with backorder dates.

Ben: I believe ecommerce businesses will first see impacts on shipping times. Setting the right customer shipping expectations will be a crucial response. Strong service recovery tactics are also key when running into these situations. If you are a business that encounters hefty Black Friday sales and spikes in support volume, make sure to account for that in the customer journey and support strategy. My guess is that if inflation worsens, we might not experience the same level of sales we have seen previously, but I would still expect an increase in activity.

4. How Should CX Leaders Plan To Address These Potential Holiday Obstacles?

Eliza: Every interaction is a chance to build your brand by delivering an exceptional customer experience. 59% of customers would recommend a brand to a family member or friend due to a positive customer support experience. Empower your team to deliver on this exceptional experience and give them recognition for their efforts.

As I mentioned earlier, transparency and timely communication with your customers is key during this time period — whether you need to raise subscription prices or whether a package is delayed, your customers will benefit from the additional information. Other than that — try to get ahead of issues as much as possible by ensuring you remain in the know on major company updates (e.g., product shortages) and communicating in a timely manner to customers.

Ben: Forecasting as best you can is critical. If you have reliable historical data, you should be able to accurately predict what you need from your support team and tech stack.

Leaders should also set the right customer expectations. If you feel your SMS response time might increase to one hour, communicate the “what” and “why” with your customers. This should prevent frustration with your “antsy pants” type customers.

Leaders should also have a strong service recovery program. Look — mistakes and issues are going to occur. Having great teams and great processes to fix situations as they arise will ensure that you don’t lose customers or see a decline in loyalty.

5. With the Economic Downturn, How Should CX Leaders Be Thinking About Holiday Staffing?

Eliza: Turnover rates at contact centers are high — some as high as 45%. No matter how well you staff, losing seasoned and tenured employees will put a dent in your organization. Take a look at your turnover rates, and see if there are any glaring trends you can proactively address — like helping representatives avoid burnout and outlining career paths for them.

Ben: Again, make sure you are forecasting as accurately as possible. No one wants to be in the position where you are overstaffed if sales are not where you expect them to be. Ensure you are getting all the information you need from your marketing/ops team to understand upcoming promotions, expected sales, and the predicted impact to support. Do you hire to the average expected volume or just the peaks? Make sure to have these conversations so everyone is aligned with what you can support.

Delight Your Customers This Holiday Season

At the end of the day, you can’t look into a crystal ball and foresee the obstacles that might come your way. However, some things are within your control. With a bit of preparation (aka making a list of to-do’s and checking it twice), you can set up your team and customers for a very merry holiday season.

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