It’s the most wonderful time of year for many businesses—and the most overwhelming. As sales and vacation time usage spike during the holiday season, so do customer service inquiries. If your business isn’t prepared to meet holiday support needs, your customer experience will suffer, which can affect not only your Q4 sales but also your brand reputation.
How do you anticipate holiday support needs when this year is turning out to be just as unexpected as the last one?
Start Decking the Halls by Planning for Calls
It’s beginning to look a lot like fall, but the holiday shopping season starts early this year. In the United States, for example, Google searches for “holiday gift ideas” in August surpassed 2020 levels, and 59% of consumers said they plan to shop earlier than usual this year before desired items sell out.
While smart shoppers are getting a head start, many businesses are still playing pandemic catch-up. Quartz explained that shuttered factories, COVID-19 outbreaks in manufacturing hubs, backlogged ports, and truck driver shortages have all wreaked havoc with global supply chains.
As a result, “the annual holiday shopping surge promises to … worsen today’s shipping delays, stockouts, and higher prices.”
In the United States, USPS, which struggled to deliver packages on time last holiday season, has temporarily slowed its delivery schedule and permanently raised prices, according to CNET.
What does this all mean for customer support teams? A lot more incoming calls. According to Aircall’s 2021 eCommerce Customer Service Experience Report, the most common reasons people seek customer service are to:
- Get delivery status updates (51%)
- Process returns or exchanges (41%)
- Address billing concerns (41%)
More delivery delays and price hikes mean more customer queries, so now is the time to prepare your team and your technology for holiday support needs.
Take a Look at Past Years’ Trends
In another year of uncertainty, it’s tough to predict exactly how this holiday season will unfold. However, you can learn a great deal from recent data.
“To get a sense for what things will be like at different parts of the year, you have to think a few months ahead,” explained Ian Maclean, Aircall’s Head of Customer Care. “Think about what you need to do to be prepared for the holiday season. When you take that time up-front to prepare, you’re setting yourself up for success.”
Call analytics, industry research, and other data-based projections can help you identify the following:
Peak call times
Try to identify your peak times so you can staff accordingly. When are tickets most likely to be created? When did most phone calls or messages come in during previous holiday seasons?
Most consumers have used email (68%), phone (64%), or website chat (51%) to contact customer service in the past six months, according to our 2021 e-commerce survey. Determine which channels your customers are most likely to use when reaching out so you can ensure those channels are readily available and well-monitored.
Frequently asked questions
Knowing what your customers are most likely to call about makes it easier to train your team and provide them with resources, so they can resolve customer issues quickly and on the first call.
Review data from past holiday seasons to get a more complete picture of what you need to do to meet holiday support needs this year.
Identify Holiday Support Needs Through Collaboration
Data can help you determine what to expect this holiday season. Team leaders can help you understand what that means for their departments and what they need to thrive during the busy months ahead.
Work with these managers to determine seasonal staffing needs. Do you need to hire new employees or temporarily relocate people from other departments? Do you need to outsource support?
For Ian, it’s critical that he starts the planning process well in advance of the coming need.
“For the Global Support Team at Aircall, we focus on hiring in the spring so we’re ready for the busy seasons in fall and during the holidays,” he says.
Also, consider whether you need to upgrade your communications technology to help customer support teams work more efficiently. For example, with cloud-based call center software, you can leverage smart call routing and IVR that guides callers to the correct agent on the first try. You can also support remote workers (which can help with staffing challenges), create a callback queue so customers don’t have to wait on hold, and enable SMS business text messaging.
Streamline Training and Onboarding
Whether you’re onboarding seasonal employees or training existing teams on new technology or processes, now is the time to get everyone up to speed.
“For existing team members, we’ve been focused on building courses in our internal learning system to reinforce our processes,” Ian says. “It’s a good time to remind everyone how we do things, so everyone—including both new and existing employees—is on the same page.”
So where do you start?
Build a thorough onboarding program
The more information and training you provide, the faster new employees will be able to hit the ground running.
Create holiday-specific training opportunities for current employees
Updating them on current processes, challenges, and products will help them feel more confident when answering customer questions.
Update your internal resource center
Spell out everything that employees (new and old) need to know about your company, products, and services. This way, they can look things up quickly rather than tracking down a manager when they have questions.
Record calls for coaching purposes
Call recordings help team leaders give specific and tactical feedback to improve employee performance, and thus the customer experience.
Empower Your Customers
Make sure your customers know what to expect during the holidays. Whether it’s higher prices, delayed shipping, or limited stock on popular items, setting expectations up-front can help you avoid disappointing and frustrating customers down the road. This is also a good time to update your online resources—including FAQs, how-to guides, and any other information customers might need.
If you have the right technology in place, you can also automate some communication. For example, with chatbot integrations, customers can get answers to simple questions and even complete purchases without ever speaking to a live agent. Or you can use SMS to send delivery updates or product availability notifications. This lightens the load for human agents so they can spend more time assisting customers with complex needs.
These call center solutions and communication strategies can help your business anticipate and meet holiday support needs—and they’ll set your team up for a happy new year.
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