Despite being around for less than two decades, Black Friday is as ingrained in the holiday lexicon as pumpkin pie and mistletoe. Cyber Monday, its more recent relative, has also enjoyed a quick climb by catering to those who’s ideal shopping experience involves skipping the lines and searching for deals from the comfort of their own homes.
However, for online retailers all over the world, relaxation is the last thing they expect during the holiday season. eCommerce businesses describe a surge in traffic that is unseen during the rest of the year. For the US, the National Retail Federation reports that many retailers complete a third of their yearly sales between November and December alone.
With these yearly cycles, online retailers have to be prepared. More customers mean an increased need for customer support. But many eCommerce store managers are still caught off-guard every single time.
While you can’t control every factor, having a strategy to address (and optimize) your eCommerce business for the holidays can be the difference between a stressful shopping season, and a successful one.
Here is our holiday ecommerce support guide to help you stay on top of the upcoming rush:
Get the right people
Your team is your most important asset. This is why when you’re making hiring decisions it’s vital to bring in people who will help your team thrive. While this is tough enough to do with your full-time fleet, there is one especially neglected segment – seasonal support workers.
While often brought on a part-time or remote basis for extra holiday support, seasonal customer support workers are a crucial part of the team and need to be treated as such. Apply the same level of training that full-time employees receive to your seasonal staff, especially since they’ll be dealing with higher than usual traffic.
If an online business has been around for longer than a year, then it has likely experienced an entire year of seasonal spikes. Use that data to inform hiring needs for the season and anticipate the rush before it hits.
“Don’t be afraid to scale over the holidays, and always prepare to scale before you need to. You want to make sure you have enough customer support agents set up and ready to handle your holiday business.” –Rob Statsky, Director of Customer Success, Aircall
Many teams make the mistake of waiting until the middle of the shopping season to start bringing on new team members. That often fails because it doesn’t factor in time for onboarding. As a result, response times rise, time to resolve issues skyrockets, and support staff are frustrated and demoralized.
Always scale before you need to. Having to slow down your team to help with training, onboarding, and ramping up during the busiest time of the year is detrimental.
Provide the right training
Once you have your agents on board, you’re going to want to make sure the team is trained to handle the increase in online sales and support requests.
“It’s one thing to have enough phones, but if you don’t have enough agents setup, trained and equipped for success, you’ll ultimately lose money and have a worse customer experience” –Rob Statsky, Director of Customer Success, Aircall
The customer on the other end of the line will not have any idea if they’re talking to a ‘full-time employee’ or a ‘seasonal employee.’ However, bad service is bad service, and poorly trained employees will affect your brand reputation, decrease customer loyalty and lead to a drop in revenue.
So how can you train team members and keep them accountable?
Conversation reviews are a great way to help your team provide excellent and consistent customer experiences across the board. They’re also an efficient way to train the entire team on things that work (or don’t work).
Conversation reviews use call recordings to coach both new team members and veteran support employees. By listening in on an especially great call – or even a not so great call – you can train them to handle complex situations without the stress of real-world stakes.
“It’s important that we’re giving people an opportunity to mess up in a safe space until they’re confident enough to go out on their own,” Colleen Ruggiero, Director of Client Support, Yext
Conversation reviews are not just limited to calls. They work across all platforms that you can use to communicate with a customer, including email, chat, and social media. Learning from previous conversations can help replicate results and keep your team on the same page.
An additional benefit to conversation reviews is that they can be simple or complex as your team needs. From smaller one-on-one training to more detailed scoring and tracking, reviews are versatile, accessible, and easy to implement.
Every business has different policies, and that’s never more clear than when the holidays hit. From order fulfillment to returns, your team has to be prepared to handle questions across the board. But the key to policy training is to keep it simple and make it accessible.
TIP: Organize your training documents in an easily accessible area for all new hires. This will cut down on the situation of multiple people creating several different training docs that are not in sync with each other.
All teams train differently, but all new agents need time to adjust and learn the policies in place. Focus your training on your most important and relevant holiday policies: shipping, promotions, and returns. This will prepare them to quickly respond to the most common situations that creep up.
Unfortunately, less common and more complex situations will still arise. Confusion about a certain marketing campaign, problems with your ecommerce site, fulfillment strategy and other issues can be too nuanced for new members to take on. That’s why it’s just as important to train on policy as it is to train on how to escalate problems. That can mean having a group of subject matter experts, managers, team leads, or any combination that works best for your team.
Funnel these harder-to-solve issues to those who are best equipped to handle it. This way your team can streamline the process of getting back to customers in a timely way.
Quality Assurance (QA) is an underutilized–and often underrated–aspect of customer support, especially during the holiday season. Teams that are already struggling to hire and train often deprioritize their QA efforts, while teams that are in a position to take on the challenge can feel like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when the holiday rush rolls around.
But that lapse can end up costing a lot in the long run.
QA for eCommerce support teams is important year-round. It sets an agreed-upon baseline for good customer service and trackable metrics. It encourages teams to focus on training new hires as well as brushing up seasoned employees. Lastly, it helps set standards that are transparent and achievable.
With a solid QA process, you can help your entire team understand exactly what a good support looks like, so they can jump into the holiday rush equipped to perform their best.
Get the right eCommerce support tools
When it comes to having the right tools in place for your online store, your eCommerce tech stack should not be neglected. As the infrastructure behind your processes, it’s vital that your technology can support your team. eCommerce infrastructure is built on three components: documentation, communication, and organization.
Tools for documentation
More and more online shoppers are leaning towards self-service and prefer companies that give them that choice. Having self-service options frees up time for your support team that’s already dealing with the seasonal spike in tickets. Additionally, it empowers customers to solve their own issues, on their own time.
Look for opportunities to:
Build (or expand) your online FAQ/knowledge base
Add video aids to customer resources
Make customer resources easy to locate
Tool we suggest: Helpscout
Tools for communication
While your knowledgebase or FAQ can reduce the pressure on your support team, sometimes your customers will want to communicate with a live agent. While brick-and-mortar retailers have the opportunity to be available in person, online retailers have to work harder to make sure their communication is top-notch. Your phone, live chat, or email will be where the majority of customers turn to when they need to connect with a live person.
Because of that, it’s essential that these channels should be able to withstand an influx of requests without causing headaches for your team. Dropped calls and lost tickets make for a bad customer experience, and the last thing your business wants is to ruin someone’s holiday.
Make sure the systems you’re using to communicate with your customers are able to scale and support a growing team while maintaining great customer service. Keep an eye out for tools that are:
Easy to learn and use so you can train and onboard new members quickly
Easy to add and remove users so you can scale up and down as needed
Connected to your other tools so you can improve efficiency while cutting down on mistakes made through manual and repetitive workflows.
Tool we suggest: Aircall
Tools for organization
While communication and self-service is important, things will quickly fall apart if your support team is unprepared to handle the requests that are coming through. That’s why organization is vital in your holiday eCommerce toolkit. Knowing how to prioritize your incoming support tickets is essential to making customer support as smooth as possible.
Whether you’re using a helpdesk, CRM, or a group of excel spreadsheets, you need to have a method to tag, organize, categorize, and assign your support tickets that works for your team. It’s a good idea to look out for tools that have:
Integrations: Selecting helpdesks and CRMs that integrate with your phone, chat, and email tools means a faster, more efficient workflow.
Analytics and data: Having information available at your fingertips will help support managers make informed decisions quickly.
Tool we suggest: Hubspot
Having the right tools, team members, and training is key to getting ready for the rush that eCommerce retailers experience during the holidays. Is your team prepared for the biggest shopping season of the year? Take our eCommerce Readiness support quiz to find out!
Published on January 2, 2024.