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How Retailers Can Set Up Their Customer Service Team for Success This Holiday Season

The explosion of e-commerce sales has put more pressure on online customer service teams, as they reckon with a higher volume of queries. But the holiday season is expected to raise the stakes further, as more shoppers turn to online — possibly for the first time — and tensions are heightened by seasonal demands. In order to succeed, retailers will need to ensure their customer service can withstand these new pressures.

“This holiday season will bring many new challenges, especially as fewer people will shop in-store and more will rely on e-commerce and services like ‘buy online, pickup in store,’” said Brad Birnbaum, CEO of CRM platform Kustomer. “Customer service will need to work hard to replicate an in-person experience by making every interaction personal and, if possible, proactive by anticipating a customers’ needs even before they reach out.”

Many retailers prepare for the higher volume of customers by hiring additional staff, including for customer service teams. However, the training required for these temporary hires can strain resources further, so training might need to be targeted to specific areas in order to be more efficient.

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This is where technology and automation can help plug any holes and provide baseline support for the human team, who are then able to focus on more complicated issues. And this won’t damage the consumer experience: A recent Kustomer survey found that 67% of consumers prefer self-service over talking to a company representative. Self-service tools can range from a comprehensive FAQ section to a live chatbot solution.

“With 77% of consumers expecting their problem to be solved immediately upon contacting customer service, chatbot technology can provide an efficient and effective response, freeing up agents to handle more complicated issues,” said Birnbaum.

Customer service is most effective when shoppers don’t need to repeat themselves to multiple agents.
CREDIT: biscotto87 - Adobe Stock

Once a customer is in communication with a live customer service agent, it is important that retailers provide a comprehensive omnichannel service. Being able to access all relevant purchase information, regardless of the means of communication, will be critical now that consumers increasingly engage with many different channels for their online purchases — and sometimes several in a single shopper journey.

Birnbaum recommends solutions that allow all customer queries to be logged in a centralized platform. Not only can they speed up resolutions, but they can also improve the customer experience. Logging the customer’s inquiry in a shared database eliminates the need for the shopper to repeat their issue to multiple agents, should they need to be transferred. The Kustomer survey found that this was one of the biggest pain points for consumers; 86% said they get frustrated when they have to repeat information to customer service agents.

“If customers switch channels or need to be transferred, they don’t want the context of their previous interactions lost,” said Birnbaum. “Make sure that you are offering true omnichannel support that isn’t siloed.”

In addition to the sheer increase in volume, Kustomer predicts that likely challenges during the holiday season will be an increase in queries related to shipping, returns, out-of-stock merchandise and pandemic and safety protocols. Kustomer’s own platform is most commonly used to automate issues related to order tracking, returns and refunds, damaged items and order cancellations.

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