Prepare your call center for the holiday season rush.

Preparing Your Call Center for the Holiday Season

Nicholas PriceLast updated on January 2, 2024
5 min

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This year has been…uncertain, to put it lightly. But one thing your call center can count on is that this holiday shopping season will be unlike any other in retail history. The last thing you need is to be unprepared when the holiday rush begins.

The good news is, the more you know about the most recent changes in consumer shopping habits and trends, the better you can set up your call center for success.

The first step is to learn more about your target customers. Generational info, income status, geography, and/or gender will provide clues toward customer’ expectations for things like:

  • Wait times

  • Preferred communication channels

  • Response times

  • A desire for self-service tools

This data helps prepare your call center to deliver an excellent customer experience when inquiries start arriving.

Getting Prepared for the Right Types of Incoming Calls

Do you know why your customers call in? Cloud-based phone system features like call recording will clue you in to why customers are contacting you and how you can set up your call center to resolve inquiries faster. Survey software that connects to your phone system will also tell you what customers need so you can staff your call center with the right talent.

Last year, Aircall joined forces with a third-party research team and surveyed 750 U.S. shoppers that had placed a customer service call after making an online purchase. The insights from the 2019 eCommerce Customer Service Experience Study should shed some light on how to prepare your call center for the holiday season.

The survey indicated the top six reasons why customers need support:

  1. Returns and exchanges 59%

  2. Delivery status 48%

  3. Billing 42%

  4. Cancellation 31%

  5. Product information or advice 31%

  6. Account updates 17%

Using these results, you should prepare half your customer service staff to answer questions focused on returns and exchanges, delivery statuses, and billing issues. A smaller number of call agents should be experts in handling cancellations, giving product information, and supplying information about customer accounts.

Setting Up the Right Communication Channels

Thanks to software integrations, you have many interconnected communication channels at your disposal. However, your customers will inherently prefer some over others. Aircall’s survey indicates that customer preferences largely have to do with their age and how easy various communication channels are to use.

If you’ve ever used an automated phone system, you may have felt like your problem would be best handled if you could just talk to a person. The survey showed that 60% of online shoppers feel the same way. In fact, the phone is one of the most popular communication channels along with website chat.

Here’s how the statistics for preferred communications channels pan out:

  • 69% phone or website chat

  • 60% email

  • 20% knowledge base

  • 17% mobile app

  • 15% customer reviews

  • 12% social media

  • 11% text messaging

  • 3% Video chat

These percentages reflect how easy it is to use channels like the phone, chat, and email. These three communication channels are fairly as popular across all age groups. Your customers in the 60+ age group are 27% less likely to use chat. People between the ages of 30 and 44 tend to prefer chat tools over phone calls.

As you compare this data with your target customers, be sure you’re using the right channels. If your target audience includes the older set, you should also be aware that this age group tends to have higher incomes. The pandemic has shifted their lifestyles, preventing them from eating out, taking large vacations, and going to the theater. They’re the most likely to spend more money this year and they largely prefer phone contact.

Younger customers like phone contact too, especially when time is of the essence. In fact, 70% of all customers preferred phone contact when they had an important issue, or they needed to have it handled quickly. An even higher percentage, about 91%, said they strongly preferred brands that offered multiple customer service options for online shoppers.

Response and Wait Times During the Holiday Season

Your customers prefer communicating through a variety of channels, and you need to offer several while providing good customer service on all. A cloud-based phone system and software integrations make that possible with less effort and expense.

Customers don’t like to wait in line at stores, and they don’t like to sit on hold or wait a long time for a call back either. Aircall’s survey indicates that 94% of customers expect a response within 24 hours by email. With regard to wait times, there was no difference in the age groups when it comes to how long customers were willing to wait for assistance. About 60% of customers expect to be helped within the first two minutes. About 29% were even less patient, willing to wait for up to one minute, and 11% would simply drop off the call if they had to wait for five minutes or longer.

Rather than wait for help, about 2/3 of customers said they preferred brands that offered self-help options for simple problems or questions. Software integrations for your call center can help you create a knowledge base where customers can go to get questions answered automatically, freeing your call agents up to handle more complex calls.

Prepare for Handling Returns with These 7 Tips

Finally, with the holiday shopping season starting so early this year, your call center can only truly be prepared for the holiday rush when they have a clear process for handling exchanges and returns. Returns will likely also begin earlier this year and when you handle them well, it will improve the loyalty to your brand.

Prepare your call center with the following 7 tips for handling returns:

  1. 1. Be open and upfront about return policies and procedures.

  2. 2. Put the customer first.

  3. 3. Process refunds quickly and easily.

  4. 4. Be flexible on refunds whenever you can be.

  5. 5. Track your returns to identify problems with merchandise or marketing.

  6. 6. Provide omnichannel support.

  7. 7. Watch out for fraud.

Your phone system and software integrations will go far in helping you deliver the best customer experience. Remember to use the phone for issues that are urgent, complex, or sensitive. Email is the best channel for responding with simple requests that you can answer quickly. Most people are willing to wait on hold a bit longer as long as you can solve their problem in the end. Customers today prefer dealing with customers that give them at least a few communication options. Finally, if you’re worried about biting off too much, start with phone, email, and chat since they’re the most popular channels and add more later on.

Published on October 22, 2020.

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