Holiday Ideas & Strategies

Make Customer Service Your Most Valuable Asset This Holiday Season

David Feng / 13 min read
holiday customer service

While the holiday season is a great time for friends and families to get together, it’s a double edged sword for many growing businesses.

On the one hand, it’s an once-in-a-year opportunity to run promotions, launch new campaigns to acquire new customers, and ramp up for a long running revenue train to start the new year.

On the other hand, the holiday season is also cause for pain and headaches when it comes to inventory management, high-volume shipping, advertising cost planning, and of course, customer service.

When it comes to customer service, businesses that are in the thick of tons of marketing and sales activities can easily become disoriented and, for the lack of a better term, distracted.

Much like a school of piranhas engaged in a feeding frenzy, customers are more alert, more touchy, and much more anxious when it comes to buying and waiting for their online purchases.

This makes online businesses prone to customers’ negative feedback and god forbid, negative reviews.

Not only do businesses need to be better understand customer mindsets during the holiday but they also need to be better prepared.

And yes, this is much easier said than done.

So rather than providing a short list of warnings, we’re here to dissect common patterns during holiday season customer service and what you can actually do to not get distracted and disoriented.

To make this article the only thing you need to read this holiday season on the topic of customer service, we’ve gone ahead and read some of the most useful articles already written by other outlets, accumulated a few key statistics (you really only need to know a few), and distilled the best practices down to their core essence.

Let’s get started.

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Customers know you’re busy (and they don’t care)

According to Deloitte this year, we’ve already seen the ecommerce industry grow by roughly 20% compared to last.

That means more businesses popping up, more marketing activity, more customers buying online, more sales, more everything.

But this still doesn’t account for the significant lift in customer service volume during the holiday season.

After looking at data from 100 medium sized online commerce businesses that use Re:amaze to help customers via email, social media, and live chat in 2017, we found that on average, there was over a 75% increase in average daily customer service volume between the months of October – December compared to the months of January – September.

holiday customer service daily volume

holiday customer service monthly volume

This is very much in line with what other outlets are seeing as well.

For example, according to Live Chat Inc., on average, websites receive 63% more website visits during the holiday.

Their data also suggest that the number of tickets (live chat only) rise about 67% during the same time frame.

If you take into account customer conversations from social media and other channels, 75% sounds just about right.

That’s borderline DEFCON 3 status and can seriously impact every aspect of your customer service operation.

If you look at other customer service statistics around customer satisfaction, this puzzle really begins to fall into place.

  • According to Accenture, 66% of customers change their loyalty when they face bad customer service.
  • The Economist measured that 47% of customers want fast replies to their questions, issues, and feedback.
  • In 2017, The State of Global Customer Service Report measured that 72% of worldwide customers now expect a customer service agent to know their contact information, product information and service history as soon as they engage and without being asked and that 60% of global consumers have stopped doing business with a brand due to a single poor customer service experience.
  • And here’s the kicker, in the 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report, 54% of the global average now have a higher expectation of customer service than just a year ago.

And of course, we made a list of runner-ups in terms of data.

  • In the past 5 years, the use of home delivery via online commerce doubled (Transcosmos).
  • 80% of shoppers go online to either research or buy (Transcosmos).
  • 55% of shoppers around the world have a more favorable view of businesses that respond to them over social media (2017 State of Global Customer Service Report).
  • 78% of shoppers believe that great customer service quality can only come from businesses that hire happy people (Deloitte).
  • Over $20 Billion worth of goods purchased between November and December will be returned.
  • The good news? The average holiday shopper spends around $935 online during the holidays. Most average order values can be increased by at least $25 during the same time frame.

What does this tell us? Simple.

  1. The competition to offer better products, better experiences, and better customer service is heating up.
  2. There are more customers than ever before who might shop on your online store.
  3. The holiday season is more intense than ever before.
  4. Customers are more demanding than ever and rightfully so.
  5. You need to do more if you want a bigger slice of this even bigger pie. Now is not the time to get disoriented or distracted.

The right way to think about holiday season customer service is to not think about customer support volume or the sheer number of bodies you need to throw at the problem (although some might call it a good problem to have).

Instead, focus your attention on existing staff, processes, and tools you currently have in your possession.

10 Crucial Steps to Successful Holiday Customer Service

While many “do this better” guides will suggest things like hiring part time employees or finding new tools, now is not the time to get even more encumbered by things like training or learning new things.

You need to know what currently works and how to make that more efficient and effective.

1. Organize your existing resources.

The first thing to come to terms with is that no two businesses are the same.

You might sell the same products and compete in the same industry but your team culture, workflows, and work ethic are unique.

Taking a templated approach to customer service won’t work because it’s outside your wheelhouse and even minute degrees of departure from your current workflow can be cause for stress and frustration.

Instead, look to yourself and your team for what they think will and won’t work.

If you use a dedicated helpdesk or just regular email for handling customer support, look for successful trends in the past months or years for what has worked and what hasn’t.

In most cases, successes come in the form of organizing customer inquiries efficiently, routing them to the right people, escalating issues when the time is right, and getting back to customers quickly for closure.

Make sure everyone on your team is familiar with the tools they’re currently working with and give your staff opportunities to ask questions regarding those tools ahead of time.

For example, make sure you have a system in place for tagging conversations, moving conversations from one folder to another, assigning specific roles to specific people, and triple checking that the tools you’re using are paid for so you don’t run into suspended accounts or inaccessible logins.

holiday customer service conversations

The automated tagging, smart assignments, and move features in Re:amaze Helpdesk and Live Chat.

The goal of this exercise is to maintain or even improve the speed and accuracy in which you reply to customer inquiries.

If 47% of customers want fast replies to their questions, issues, and feedback, it’s crucial that your current access to resources can deliver.

2. You’re only as effective as the tools you use.

Keep auxiliary apps and tools that co-mingle with your customer service tools top of mind.

  • If you use a loyalty/rewards app, make sure the integration is running 100%.
  • If you use an email automation platform for your holiday email newsletters, check to make sure the backlinks and support addresses are all pointing to the right inboxes of the email addresses you collect.
  • If you use a helpdesk platform, ensure your emails, social media channels, and other potential inlets for customer messages are operating.

You get the idea.

The same idea applies to any 3rd party vendors you rely on for successful transactions.

This includes payment processors, 3rd party ecommerce fulfillment services, shipping and tracking providers, and other apps you rely on for customer support.

Keep in mind that now is not the time to shop for new tools.

We also don’t recommend making any unnecessary updates or upgrades to existing tools as that often leads to additional learning and/or commitment.

If what is working now is comfortable to your team, stick with it through the holiday season and only make adjustments to fill obvious gaps in resources.

Pro Tip

Reach out to tools and apps your use and ask them for their holiday customer service hours as well.

This is to prevent the off chance if their service affects your ability to support your customers.

3. Polish up your appearance for experience.

This is one of the easiest things to forget during the holidays but if your customers’ experiences mattered during the rest of the year, it’s even more important now.

It’s necessary to think about appearances in a holistic sense of the word.

That means unifying the customer experience from the point they land on your website to making purchase and from reading your FAQ to receiving an email or web message reply from your customer service team.

Oftentimes merchants will make changes to their storefront without appreciating the impacts it’ll make to their customers’ experiences deeper into the purchasing and loyalty cycle.

For example, if you run an email and Facebook campaign for a Buy One Get One Free offer on a collection of products and customers are redirected to a unique landing page on your storefront, it’s important that landing page is communicating the offer front and center.

Similarly, your FAQ or knowledge base should be populated with an additional article describing the details and eligibility requirements for this offer.

If we go deeper, your customer service team should be armed with a reply template that talks about the details of the offer and perhaps even include a link to that specific FAQ article.

holiday customer service faq template

Quick FAQ article insertion and BigCommerce customer data integration in Re:amaze Helpdesk and Live Chat.

holiday customer service faq page

Embedded storefront FAQ articles powered by Re:amaze Helpdesk and Live Chat.

The same concept applies to any superficial adjustments you make to your website, product landing pages, ad artwork, and perhaps even your email templates during the holiday season.

Changes should be universal so you can 1) offer a universal experience and 2) unload the burden of hunting down information off of your customers.

4. Brush up on your messaging.

We can’t talk about how to do holiday customer service right without going into messaging.

This is not just about communication in words but also tone.

Tensions are high and emotions run wild during the holidays and these raise the level of sensitivity in customer sentiments.

We recommend getting together as a team to establish best practices when communicating with customers during the holiday.

These best practices should be established early and can be improved upon over the coming months to make next year’s holiday season much easier.

The key to thinking about messaging is to list out all potential customer issues, questions, and feedback.

Come up with a scalable way to communicate as much information as possible in a single response without turning it into an essay.

The theory behind this concept is to minimize the number of back and forth responses between a customer and a customer service agent in order to save time and offer more accurate responses simultaneously.

This methodology can be combined with specific helpdesk features such as response templates (also known as canned replies), macros based on things like BigCommerce’s dynamic variables so your agents don’t need to manually search for order numbers or order status, searchable and insertable FAQ links, and even advanced automated workflows.

holiday customer service dynamic variables

Response templates built using BigCommerce Dynamic Variables to quick reply to customers.

If your helpdesk supports triggered messages, you can fine tune the triggers to send relevant proactive messages before customers even ask a question.

The goal is to focus on the fact that 72% of worldwide customers now expect a customer service agent to know their contact information, product information and service history as soon as they engage and without being asked.

If you can help customers quickly by replying with the right message, your holiday customer service will be a breeze.

5. Set expectations now.

Poor customer experiences usually arise out of the lack of clarity and transparency into your customer service department.

This cannot be allowed to happen during holiday customer service.

Communicate ahead of time the changes that will take place during holiday hours.

Your availability and response time changes will help customers understand that lots of things are in motion and your delayed response times is NOT an indication of the lack of care.

The way you set expectations can also open up opportunities to convey other information such as your updated FAQ site.

If you’re offering extended return windows, let customers know ahead of time as well.

This exercise can be combined with the one above to help streamline your entire customer service strategy.

If you currently offer live chat support, it might make sense to start introducing office hours and include holiday office hours as an additional threshold.

Live chat requires dedicated resources, and with the increase in volume over the holidays it might make sense to limiting live chat hours to only certain hours of the day.

Again, this is not an excuse to undercut your customer service quality but a way to set expectations so customers aren’t caught off guard.

Pro Tip

You can always under promise and over deliver, which is much better than not doing anything at all.

6. Leverage automation to fill in the gaps.

Nowadays, every technology platform offers some sort of automation. Even email.

And while automation shouldn’t be used to the extent of replacing human communication, it can be very helpful in performing repetitive tasks or handle the proper sorting, categorizing, and routing of customer issues in a support context.

If you’re unable to complete any of the exercises above, automation becomes an even more integral part of your holiday customer service strategy.

When customers write in about shipping:

  • Can your automation system automatically respond with an FAQ article?
  • Can your automation system reply back immediately to set customer expectations?
  • Can your automation system ensure important customers or inquiry types are routed to the right department or person?

If you’re using plain-Jane email and disparate social media channels for customer support, look into the types of automation they provide.

For example, most emails will have email forwarding, search filtering and auto labeling.

Most social media platforms like Facebook will offer Messenger Bots, etc.

holiday customer service facebook bots

Your Facebook Page can support a variety of chatbots. In this example, ManyChat is the primary bot for receiving messages and Re:amaze is the secondary receiver.

Work with your team on implementing either the most barebones automation workflow or create new ones to help support human agents.

Again, use what you have but now might not be the best time to implement disparate automation system just because it’s something nice to have.

Automation requires long term planning and regular maintenance in order to stay relevant and coherent.

7. Remove any unnecessary barriers to communication.

Remember the statistic on social media? Here it is again:

55% of shoppers around the world have a more favorable view of businesses that respond to them over social media.

Make sure your social media channels stay active during the holidays and announce all service related information in a timely and transparent manner.

If there’s a delay due to a winter storm, share that news on Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram.

Customers appreciate honesty and will give you a break for something that’s entirely out of your control.

You’ll create positive resonance for your brand if you can show customers that your entire team is on top of what is going on and actively working to help them.

Another way to remove barriers to communication is by implementing a self-sufficient, self-serve alternative.

In most cases, this will be your FAQ or knowledge base.

Customers are already trained to receive service on their own terms – anytime, anywhere.

Customers book Uber rides, check in for flights, and even check out at grocery stores online.

So, why wouldn’t they expect the same convenience from your customer service team?

In fact, according to 2017’s Global State of Customer Service Report,

“90% of [its] respondents say they expect brands and organizations to offer an online portal for self-service.

And when customers are not able to resolve issues on their own, over half of all respondents say it’s because there is too little information online.”

Your self-service FAQ can be a great tool to build customer knowledge of your products and brand but it’s also great for SEO.

If you haven’t had a chance to build this out, now’s the time to free three birds with one stone.

8. Declare holiday customer service as a team sport.

Any business owner invested in its success will tell you that customer service is a revenue center and not a cost center.

Granted, you need to have the right culture and people in place to make this a reality.

The good news is that culture and people are two things you can control and foster.

Whether that’s defining what customer service means to you and your customers or hiring happy people who are able to go above and beyond to help others, it’s all something you can start working on now.

Because customer service doesn’t affect just the customer service team, everyone should at least understand the basic process and mentality for supporting customers.

It’s not a requirement that everyone needs to reply to customers but working as a team to help fast track customer questions, feedback, and concerns is a must.

For example, if your helpdesk offers an integration with Jira, a popular issue tracking and project management tool, you can instantly give your developers access to active customer conversations.

Need to have your marketing team be more in touch with customer service?

Offer them access to your customer messaging dashboard so they can be the ones to fine-tune automated messages to match the campaigns they’re working on.

What about your sales team?

A CRM integration with something like Pipedrive can easily turn customer inquiries into active leads.

The moral of the story is that customer service is a team sport in the sense that it requires the effort of non-customer service people to unlock its full potential.

During the holiday season when there is a 63% lift to website visits, this can be a goldmine for many businesses.

Not only does it mean more revenue but customers are still being helped in a very efficient manner.

9. Ensure adequate coverage.

Holiday coverage is usually a tough one.

People can be more or less checked out by mid-November and the lack of bodies will mean an even tougher time for customer support.

This is why it’s important to work out everyone’s schedules as a team as early as possible.

People shouldn’t be expected to be at the office regularly during the holidays so be flexible around work from home options and even work at odd hours.

You can even consider hiring seasonal workers.

Keep in mind that this will depend on your local hiring laws and you, as the business owner, should brush up on any HR related regulations like overtime and wage changes.

If Cindy is an early riser, have her come on for a few hours in the morning and rotate over to Josh who’s usually a bit more free around lunch time.

Make customer service a game of relay instead of a full-on assault on any one individual’s time.

If someone is more willing to work on a weekend in order to trade a day in the office, be open to that because after all, tis’ the time to be generous!

Holiday coverage can also be strategized around above-mentioned issues like automated workflows and setting expectations.

As long as your customers and staff are in sync about what is about to happen, you should have no problems coming up with a scalable schedule.

10. Reward your team for a job well done.

When all is said and done, your holiday customer service experience should be a rewarding one.

If you’re able to make it through back to back holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, New Year’s, and of course Cyber Monday and come out on top with making great customer experiences, it’s a significant marker of resilience and growth.

You can now build on top of this great learning and execution exercise to make future years’ holiday customer service even more successful.

But remember, your success is the result of a team effort so don’t forget to reward your support team with what you see fit.

In the past, we’ve seen companies offer holiday bonuses, real-world rewards, and even gamifying the entire experience.

You can also have a nice off-site get together in the new year to celebrate.

The possibilities are endless.

Executive Summary

You and your team should now be at a good place when it comes to holiday customer service.

10 Holiday Customer Service Strategies to Implement in 2018:
  1. Organize Your Existing Resources.
  2. You’re Only as Effective as the Tools You Use.
  3. Polish up Your Appearance for Experience.
  4. Brush up on Your Messaging.
  5. Set Expectations Now.
  6. Leverage Automation to Fill in the Gaps.
  7. Remove any Unnecessary Barriers to Communication.
  8. Declare Holiday Customer Service as a Team Sport.
  9. Ensure Adequate Coverage.
  10. Reward Your Team for a Job Well Done.

Like we mentioned in the introduction, there’s no one size fits all template or plan when it comes to your business operations or customer care solutions.

We encourage you to experiment, discuss, and collaborate on what works and learn from what doesn’t.

Customer service is the actual lifeblood of your business because what’s more important than making a new sale is to impress that customer so he or she can make more purchases and refer you to their friends.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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