7 tips for excellent holiday customer support in retail

January 07, 2022 Windstream Enterprise 6 min

Editor’s Note: The holiday season and the retail industry go hand-in-hand, but this year may be different than usual. With an emphasis on digital retail service, customers are looking for increased customer support that doesn’t require walking into a store—and often doesn’t involve dialing a phone number, either. Implementing a chatbot or even offering better live support can make it or break it for customer retention. Cloud-based solutions, like CCaaS and UCaaS, provide you with the secure digital innovation you need this season.

Summary: Fueled by ongoing pandemic concerns, the shift from in-person to online shopping continues this season, which changes the way that all-important customer service is delivered. Leveraging the right digital solutions can have a huge impact on sales as well as customer satisfaction and retention.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for retail especially. Lucrative, yet chaotic, the holiday season calls for even better customer support than usual. 

That’s because of the expected surge in sales volume and an increased sense of urgency—customers want to resolve any issues with their purchases well before the New Year’s party. Nothing better to keep you on your toes as a business. 

So, to help you prepare, we share seven tips for superior customer support and experiences during the holidays: 

1. Prepare for omnichannel support  

You’ve probably planned around the holiday season already: e.g., how many seasonal workers you need to hire, how much stock you should order, and more. But do you have a plan to support shoppers?

They’re likely to blend in-store and digital purchases and require support across more channels than you think.

And we’re not just talking in-store, we’re also talking online. People will still flood to physical stores to do their shopping, but, after the pandemic, many of them have become digitally savvy, too. This means they’re likely to blend in-store and digital purchases and require support across more channels than you think.

This can only mean one thing: you need to go omnichannel (if you haven’t already done so). Interactions across social media, live chat conversations, in-store purchases and more should all weave together into the same customer profile, so you can offer more helpful support.  

For example, imagine a customer buys something from your store and then sends you an email to complain that the item is broken. By having an omnichannel support platform in place, your team instantly has access to important information, such as if the customer bought the item with their loyalty card, or if they purchased a similar item in the past. This will help you have more contextual and personalized conversations—and faster resolutions.

2. Implement a chatbot (or two)  

The number of customer support calls goes up exponentially during the holiday season. And the majority of these inquiries are fairly simple, which means they don’t have to be answered by a human. 

Chatbots are “on” 24/7 and they can answer routine questions in seconds. Unlike humans, they can also support multiple people at the same time. They can even proactively pop up to ask website visitors questions, using triggers (e.g., when a customer keeps looking at the same product for some time). 

And a simple chatbot can be actually easy to implement, even when you want to quickly prep for the approaching season. You can just teach your chatbot to answer the most commonly asked questions or integrate it with your help center so it can pull up answers automatically. Even if you have a chatbot on the clock year-round, it’s a great time to re-train it with new questions that have come up in the previous months.

3. Offer live chat support  

Live chat support is quickly becoming the bare minimum for retail and e-commerce platforms. Many people will have urgent and complex requests that chatbots can’t solve, but at the same time, they may not feel like waiting on the phone for someone to answer, while listening to shopworn Christmas carols. 

So, live chat will ensure you don’t leave customers hanging when they have a question—and you can also help them complete the checkout process, find the products they want or ask important questions. 

4. Provide self-service options  

Most people today will look for an answer to their question themselves before contacting your business. And they’re actually doing you a favor in this aspect: imagine if your team had to resolve every single holiday question or request no matter how simple it might be. 

So, having self-service options is a win-win. If you don’t have an FAQ page yet, create one as soon as possible. If you already have one, take a look at your analytics data: are there keywords or questions customers type in that you haven’t answered yet in your help center? 

Luckily, knowledge base software is usually easy to implement. You can brand it in your business’s colors and design, add and edit articles and FAQs quickly and more. If you also have a shopping app available, it’s easy to add access to an FAQ that people can browse even in-store. 

5. Use the power of social media  

Keeping track of what’s happening on your social media channels in the midst of this flurry of activity can seem overwhelming and that’s why a large segment of retail businesses tend to overlook this aspect altogether when dealing with the holiday shoppers’ rush. 

However, this is exactly the time when you need to remain vigilant on social channels, as a lot of customers may be leaving comments or writing posts, both positive and negative, about their experience of shopping with you. 

Make sure you have a team that monitors feedback appearing on social media platforms, and also addresses any issues or concerns a buyer or potential buyer may have voiced. 

Social media can also be a great way to offer proactive self-service. For example, you can create a list of popular holiday questions and answers (maybe in an infographic format), and send them over Messenger, Viber or other messaging apps along with a festive design. Brainstorm ideas like this to engage customers. 

6. Train and empower your customer support team  

Customers appreciate friendly support agents. But more than that, they appreciate a process that enables support teams to be their best selves. An agent that’s overwhelmed with requests may not appear as engaging as they could. A customer who’s waited a long time on the phone may have much less patience. 

Technology can help you automate parts of the process and make other parts smoother for your employees.

So, think about workflows first: are we efficient in how we route customer requests? Chatbots, for instance, can triage requests and collect data before a human agent needs to be involved. If you have a customer experience software, you can automatically send types of requests to the right people to minimize back-and-forth. Technological trends can help you automate parts of the process (e.g., cashierless checkout) and make other parts smoother for your employees. 

And of course, the holiday season is a great time to think about people. Are you sufficiently staffed or is it possible your team will get overwhelmed and burn out? Can you do anything to increase morale, like extra compensation, perks or other? Make sure your team knows you appreciate them. 

7. Strike up better conversations  

Communicating well with customers shouldn’t happen only during the holidays. But with all the merry spirit, you can get inspired to rethink the way you engage with your customers. From the simplest communications, like emails announcing holiday sales, to more personalized messaging, such as recommendations based on past purchases, your engagement strategy can leave a lasting impression. 

When it comes to support, you need to be proactive. Tell people when your offices will be closed, either with a banner on your website or by sending an email to subscribers. Have your chatbot serve links to your return policies or just have the link prominently placed. Communicate any delays or issues before the customer realizes anything is wrong (e.g., you can automatically send text messages when shipping is delayed). 

All these initiatives can help make your conversations with your customers more productive and pleasant.

Stay on top of your support game  

Holidays present an opportunity to attract customers and drive-up sales—but it’s also a defining moment for customers. If you don’t service them properly during the holidays, they’re likely to remember even after the festive period is over. 

That’s why you need to approach customer support thoughtfully and make sure you’re taking care of customers year-round. Take a good look at common e-commerce challenges and create a plan to level up your customer service. 

This article was written by Nikoletta Bika from Retail Customer Experience. News Features and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

Learn how Windstream Enterprise can help your retail store provide secure and advanced customer experiences.

Key Takeaway
Communicating well with customers shouldn't just be a focus during the holidays. A well-rounded support system will help provide the kind of rewarding experience that will keep them coming back after the festive season is over.

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