It’s that time of year again when every inch of your life is forcibly permeated with festive cheer and nutmeg, and chestnuts roast on a grill because you don’t have a fireplace. Those 55 days of the year, optimistically called the Holiday Season even though the actual number of holidays run in single digits, when it’s almost impossible to step into a store and make it out unruffled.
If you’re of the infographic persuasion, here’s this post in illustration form.
And for good reason; not only do 41.4% of U.S. consumers begin shopping for the holiday season during the month of November, but the total U.S. retail holiday season sales number around $94.71bn. That’s a lot of money, a lot of interactions and a lot of customer service requests just around the corner as the presents start getting exchanged.
As a provider of customer support software to about 80,000 businesses, we have courtside seats to the state of customer support during the holiday season. Typically, our customers see about 50-60% increase in support volume. A few anecdotal conversations and some digging leads to the insight that a lot of businesses deal with this increase through overtime incentives for agents and by hiring temporary agents.
However, the best strategy to deal with this increased ticket volume doesn’t necessarily involve increasing your agent count. The best strategy also involves optimizing your support process to increase efficiency. Here are some strategies you can use to deal with the avalanche of emails and calls at the end of the year:
1) Save time with automations
Still using email to support your customers? Consider moving your support operations to a helpdesk that can help you improve your workflow efficiency through automations. A helpdesk can help you do all sorts of magical things like:
- Sort and assign tickets automatically with ticket dispatch automation, such as Freshdesk’s Dispatch’r. A refund email? An agent doesn’t have to manually read the ticket to assign it. You can set up a rule to automatically assign this request to the billing team.
- Automatically close tickets and send out reminders to your customers, asking for information (we call this one, the Supervisor).
- Trigger actions based on ticket events with automations, such as Freshdesk’s Observer. If a customer indicates their unhappiness in your satisfaction survey, most helpdesks will allow you to send a notification to the supervisor.
- Save your agents some time by letting them use canned responses and insert solution articles in replies.
- Save a series of tasks as a scenario to be quickly executed in a click. A logistics problem pops in? A click of a button can tag it as a logistics issue, assign it to the Delivery team and mark its ticket status as ‘Delivery Issues’.
- 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 have to waste their time digging for information…
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Setting up automations will free agents from mundane tasks and help them focus on what really matters: customer happiness.
2) Provide instant answers and deflect tickets through self-service
Help customers help themselves by providing a self-service portal. A well-stocked help center with solution articles for frequently encountered scenarios won’t just guarantee instant answers but will also help in reducing your support load. Even if customers were to write in, with said FAQs your agents can just quickly slip in a link to the solution article and save oodles of time.
To make your kbase comprehensive, you can use Google Analytics to find out what your customers are searching for. You should also mine holiday season ticket history to see what patterns emerge and what kind of creative solutions (videos, screencasts, screenshots etc.) work best.
3) Set the right expectations with customers
Most of the time, customers become frustrated because the business does not live up to its promises. ‘One day shipping’. ‘In stock’. ‘24×7 customer service’.
When expectations aren’t clearly set, customers tend to assume and set their own expectations. You’re providing support through Twitter? On average, 60% of consumers expect brands to respond to their customer service requests within an hour. If you don’t tell your customers where they can expect answers, when they can expect answers and how long it’ll take to get said answers, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Make sure you set the right internal expectations as well, with your agents. Round the clock service might look nice on your marketing collateral, but it won’t mean anything if your agents have to drive themselves nuts to realize it. Take stock of your internal resources and zero in on channels that can help both your agents and your customers.
4) Pick the right metrics to focus on
When you present data to your managers in January, which numbers will they focus on to figure out your team’s performance? Response time? Resolution time? First response time? Number of beverages consumed during each shift? Dial back from that answer.
If your goal is to make sure that every customer receives a response in ten minutes, then your strategy should take that into account. If your target is a 1 hour resolution window, then your SLA policy should reflect that. If customer satisfaction is the goal, then your strategy should reflect that. Pick the right metrics to focus on and your agents will deliver accordingly.
5) Reward your employees
The kind of workload and stress that agents are expected to handle during the holiday season can and will break people. Encourage your agents to frequently take breaks and destress — ice cream, coffee breaks, a walk around the block — and stay calm, collected, and on top of their game.
You can also incentivize them by gamifying your helpdesk and turning every ticket into a chance to score points and climb the leaderboard. You could reward the best performing agents at the end of the season.
6) Have the team pitch in
Despite all of the hacks we just listed above, the massive workload will stretch your agents’ capabilities. A lot of businesses handle this increased workload by hiring temporary customer support reps. However, they will need to be trained on the products, services and the way the business works so the quality of support doesn’t suffer.
A strategy worth trying is getting folks from across the company to pitch in during the busy times – developers, marketers, anyone who can help out. Not only will they be able to get more insight into the customer’s state of mind but you won’t have to train them extensively as well!
You can also work out ticket volume trends from previous seasons and assign agents to shifts based on the data. If most of your tickets come in on Cyber Monday at 6.00 AM, you could assign all your best agents to that shift.
That’s our two cents, folks! What kind of hacks do you use to make sure your support strategy is optimized and good to go for the holiday season? Let us know in the comments!