The holiday season can be stressful for customers and businesses. We at Freshdesk understand the impact of this holiday rush, especially on your customer support team. That’s why we have put together some of the best holiday customer service strategies to prepare you for the holiday shopping window that lasts until the new year. We have also included some tips to make this time of year stress-free for your support team members while your customers try to dodge long holiday shopping queues and longer waiting times.
In this guide, you will find:
How to get started with your holiday customer service strategy
Before you jump into creating a holiday customer support strategy, it is important to review trends, metrics, and patterns from last year and the months leading up to the holiday season. So, let’s get started.
Prepare for a rise in ticket volume
There is an increase in customer support requests by 5-10 times as you inch closer to the holiday season. – Forbes
The holiday season isn’t like any other time of year when you continue using your existing customer service strategy. With long queues of customers navigating offers and trying to find the best deals, you need to empower your support team to deliver an effortless customer experience every step of the way.
The first step to preparing for the holiday rush is to assess the workload on your existing team and revisit the capabilities of your helpdesk software. You may have to take a call on whether you need to hire more team members, purchase third-party applications or deploy a new helpdesk to monitor and resolve a large number of incoming customer issues.
Answer frequently asked questions (FAQs)
92% of customers say they would use a knowledge base, and 83% say they’d use a community forum for self-service support if available. – Vanilla Forums
Delight your customers by having common questions answered and readily available on your FAQ pages or customer portals. This holds especially true for e-commerce merchants who have to ensure seamless and consistent customer experiences across service centers and web portals for every customer shopping during the holiday season.
The best way to get started is by scanning through the type of queries asked last year. Are they around pricing, shipping, inventory, and returns? Review the knowledge base articles that got the most views. You should also check and update company policies that may get affected due to the holiday rush. We recommend you create a few canned responses to manage similar customer queries.
Communicate using preferred channels
By 2023, messaging will be the number one B2C communication channel, making up 61% of total interactions. – Hubtype
Customer needs and preferences tend to change during the holiday season. For instance, for most of the year, customers are comfortable using self-service to have their queries resolved. However, during the holiday season, they prefer to dial a phone number to talk to a customer support agent, or they might share negative reviews on social media platforms for a quick response.
In this case, being available on all support channels might seem the easiest thing to do, but it might not be as effective a strategy. Look at the ticket volume trends during the previous holiday season and identify the support channels that receive the maximum queries. Based on this insight, turn off the least preferred support channel and train your team on handling support requests on the most preferred channels.
Top 5 tips to navigate holiday customer service with ease
54% percent of customer service leaders state that growing the business is the top priority for 2022, followed by improving operational excellence (45%). – Gartner
Here are some hacks that will help you improve your support operations during the holidays.
#1 Focus on your staffing needs
Holiday season requires all hands on deck, but you do not necessarily need to hire full-time employees. You can hire temporary support agents or outsource your front-line effort to an external agency. Analyzing your historical data can help you underline your staffing needs for the season.
For example, e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart, which have perfected the art of staffing, hire seasonal employees to manage holiday customer support. As a result, having carefully considered the extra hands they may need this time, Walmart’s hiring for the 2022 season slowed to about 75% of the number of hires last year. Some other big retail companies that follow suit include Target, J.C. Penny, and Best Buy.
If you’re planning to hire customer service representatives, here are a few resources you may find useful.
#2 Set the right customer expectations
When customers evaluate the support offered by your customer service team, they rely on the expectations you’ve set to decide whether or not the service you provide is good. You’d think that not setting these expectations might be an easier way to deal with this situation, but that will only lead to bigger problems. As human beings, our evaluation becomes easier when we have something to compare with. When you don’t set expectations, customers will create their reference point, which might be your competitor’s service or product.
About 56% of customers say a brand’s customer service often doesn’t match the image they portray. – Freshworks
So, when you say your first response time to support tickets is 3 hours, you are setting the expectation of a 3-hour reply time. And when you fall short, customer satisfaction gets a hit too.
Here’s what you can do to set the right customer expectations.
- Underline your SLA (Service Level Agreement). Let your customers know about your business hours and how long it would take to get a response from you.
- Tell your customers if they are talking to a bot or an agent. As per the EY report, about 87% of consumers say that a transparent source is important when making a purchase decision.
- Train your support team to handle queries across different channels. Customers tend to share negative reviews on social media, which may escalate quickly.
- Revisit and update your company policies. Make it easy for customers to exchange or return their purchased items and claim refunds via appropriate channels.
- Don’t forget to keep tabs on how your customers feel by monitoring their feedback.
- Make sure your team has a complete view of all customer interactions and can prioritize requests to maintain customer satisfaction.
#3 Offer proactive customer support
In the previous section, we discussed setting the right expectations with your customers. In this section, we will talk about proactive support, which gives you the opportunity to exceed those expectations. Offering proactive support helps you build a pool of loyal customers and brand advocates. As a result, your customers go the extra mile to spread the good word about your brand. You can attract new customers and enhance the customer lifecycle by offering proactive support. This reduces retention costs and creates brand stickiness, and your customers will stay with you for a longer time.
69% of consumers globally have a clear preference for brands that offer proactive notifications and services. – Freshworks
For example, at Toyota, when a worker notices a problem, they pull a cord that hangs over the car manufacturing line, and it is stopped. Only when the problem is fixed does the assembly line resume. This was a brilliant solution to ensure that defective cars never reached the customers.
Similarly, Amazon adopted the Andon Cord for the products shipped to its customers. When Amazon receives repeated complaints of the same defect in one product, the support agent pulls the Andon Cord to investigate the inventory and to stop sales of the product on the website. And until the issue is fixed, the product will not be available for buying.
So, here’s how proactive customer support will help you delight your customers during the holiday season. Start by investing the popular touchpoints in the customer journey. Some of the questions you should answer include:
- Where do you see your customers hitting a roadblock often?
- Does that trend change or amplify during the holiday season?
- What support channels do they prefer?
- What are some common questions you receive during the holiday season?
The key to being proactive is to anticipate the needs of your customers. Responding to and resolving customer issues is as important as recording those issues and looking for any emerging problems. Find a way to have all these issues recorded in one place. Seek out customers to collect feedback. This is a great way to identify potential bugs or problems that other customers could be facing. Equip yourself with the information you need to fix the problem. This will help you reach out to customers and reassure them that you are getting these issues fixed.
Soaring query volumes, increasing customer anxiety, and the need to adapt to a remote work environment have increased the threat of agent burnout and churn.
1 of 3 business leaders is prioritizing investments in new-generation digital platforms to help support and sales teams work better.
If you are still using email to support your customers (and I hope you are not), consider moving your support operations to a helpdesk that can help you improve your workflow efficiency. A helpdesk can help you do all sorts of magical things. But if you already are using one, here are a bunch of things you can do using helpdesk software.
- Save a series of tasks as a scenario to be quickly executed with a click. A logistics problem pops in? A click of a button can tag it as a logistics issue and assign it to the delivery team.
- Integrate all your software, your CRM, your invoicing tool, your order management system, etc., and pull all your customer data to one place, so your agents don’t waste time digging for information.
- Get timely customer feedback and learn how your service or website experience has been. This is necessary to find out what worked, what didn’t, and how to prevent bad experiences from occurring again.
- If you added more agents to your team, you can use day passes for seasonal hires. These support reps do not require access to the complete set of features in the helpdesk.
- Set separate SLAs for the holiday season. Your team needs to work on tighter deadlines. The standard set of SLAs might not be as useful during the holiday season.
- Customize your support portal with festive themes to make visitors feel the holiday spirit and want to continue shopping on your website. These are essentially tiny changes that will not have any impact on the internal setup of your helpdesk.
- Set up a knowledge base for self-service. In fact, at Freshdesk, we noticed that our users deflected up to 40% of tickets after setting up a knowledge base. It also saves time for your support agents when customers find help by themselves.
#5 Automate where you can
Now that you understand the benefits of using a helpdesk, make automation your friend. It’s a great way to streamline your support process, save time and reduce friction between your agents and customers, reducing your response time.
The first thing to do is to identify what aspects of the process you need to automate. We usually call them thankless tickets. These usually include repetitive issues or issues that can be resolved using a knowledge base or a bot. While you are at it, always keep your audience in mind. Existing or repeat customers who know their way around the website or product might not need as much assistance as first-time customers. For example, if you automate the check-out process for a first-time customer, the chances are it will leave them frustrated.
The next step is to bring all your support channels together into one collaborative channel. This solves obstacles that arise from information silos. Use a help desk that allows you to take an omnichannel approach to customer support issues. Test the automation before you roll them out to your customers. Apart from keeping you up to date with the customer portal software, it also allows you to fine-tune the automation to perfection.
Here’s a quick list of things you can simplify for support teams using automation.
- Save your agents time by letting them use canned responses and insert solution articles in replies.
- Send out automated reminders to your customers, asking for information. You can run periodic checks on overdue tickets or set up reminders and escalations to nudge your team to resolve tickets faster.
- Deflect tickets using chatbots. With AI-powered chatbots, you can build your chatbot that offers automated solutions for complex workflows, including refund, replacement, and cancellation requests.
Customer service is not just for the holiday season
Every business needs a foolproof holiday customer service strategy, but a robust strategy is not restricted to the holiday season. Ensure your support team has all the resources needed to deliver quick and effective solutions to customer issues throughout the year.
If you don’t have a customer service strategy yet, we hope the above tips and tricks help you navigate through the chaos of the holiday rush. Once you’re all set, we would love to know the kind of hacks you use for the holiday season. Let us know in the comments below!
Updated on November 17, 2022.