Providing Superior Customer Support Through the Holidays

Have you ever seen the movie Jingle All the Way? If not, it’s a somewhat cult-classic holiday movie starring Sinbad, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as they fruitlessly try to corral a Turbo-Man action figure for their respective sons right before Christmas. Though it is far from a perfect film, there’s one thing it nails: the utter chaos the holidays can bring

Sinbad, Schwarzenegger, and customer support over the holidays

If there’s a main lesson to take away from Jingle All the Way, it’s the importance of planning. Both characters are in the bind they are because they failed to plan properly. They simply assumed things would work out, but the holidays threw them a curveball. 

Anyone who’s worked in customer service during the holidays knows the chaos of the season all-too-well. Being a support agent is already a challenging job and the increased volume and demands of the holiday seasons tend to make it even more challenging. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can do what Arnold and Sinbad didn’t. You can plan ahead. 

In order to help you control the chaos, and keep things running as smooth as possible, we’ve put together a list of four things you can do to help you provide great customer support even during the hectic holiday season. Read on to learn more.

Invest in your team

There are plenty of tactics you can employ to help keep everything running smoothly during the holiday rush. However, none of it is possible if you don’t properly support your team. With that being the case, they’re the most important asset you can invest in. 

As we mentioned above, the holidays tend to add even more stress to an already challenging position. In order to offset the additional responsibility, you should consider a few different things to keep your team happy and healthy.

  • Encourage balance – When the queue is overflowing, and the backlog is growing each day, it can be tempting to work through tickets as fast as possible. However, that usually does more harm than good. Responses are rushed and agents get overwhelmed. It’s a true lose-lose situation. So, be sure you’re letting your team know the priority is to offer great support while also not burning out. You might even consider making specific queue shifts to make sure no one person is overworking. 
  • Be as flexible as you can – In a lot of organizations, it’s common for the holidays to be a blackout period for support staff (meaning they can’t take time off). Though there may be no way around that, you should be able to offer some level of flexibility. Maybe it means they can choose when they start and end their days. In fact, research shows flexibility is one of the most sought after benefits for modern job hunters
  • Say thanks – It’s not always common for customers to thank the agent they work with, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be recognized. The plain and simple truth is working in customer support does tend to feel pretty thankless. However, those in leadership positions can offer validation to all the hard work agents put in. You may be surprised how far a thank you goes. 

Cover all your bases

Each year there seems to be a growing list of ways customers want to contact you. Whether it be email, social media, phone, or chat, there are now more ways than ever for customers to get in touch with you. And in order to provide a great customer experience you need to be ready to respond on any one of those, and more, channels. 

One of the best ways to offer consistent service across platforms is through your help desk software. Many options available today allow you to integrate multiple platforms so there’s one shared inbox for all your requests, no matter where they come from. 

When you do that you eliminate the need to check multiple sources. Another thing to consider is prioritizing messages from different channels in your help desk software. Though all customer requests are important, the expectation of how quickly someone responds changes based on the platform the customer is contacting you from. 

For example, someone getting a response in 30 minutes to an email is a great customer experience. However, if someone tweets at you, data shows the most amount of time they want to wait is 30 minutes. Though you can’t totally abandon customers on other channels, you do need to be aware of the different expectations to provide the best experience possible.

Finally,  consider updating your SLAs for the holiday season. It’s a much better experience for a customer when they know upfront something may take longer than usual. Think about the number of retailers who mentioned possible delays in shipping, or list dates you need to order by to ensure delivery by a certain date. Take a page out of their book and apply it to your support strategy.

Automate what you can

Just as with any other time of year, it’s not uncommon for multiple customers to contact you with the same question. In those cases, you may be able to apply some version of automation to help them get a response quickly, while also reducing the burden on your staff. Though we tend to think of automation in terms of high-tech investment, there are other ways to do it. 

For example, if you don’t already have a robust catalog of canned responses, that could be a good place to start. Using a tool like TextExpander to design shortcuts for those canned responses can save your team a lot of time.

From there you could look into other solutions like using tags in your help desk software to generate an automated initial response to a certain type of request. For example, if someone sends a message mentioning “billing” in their subject line you might have an auto-response with a link to the billing section of your knowledge base. 

You could also consider investing in AI or a chatbot to help with some of the more low-level requests. Self-service options actually tend to be very attractive to customers as long as they’re usable. In fact, research shows 40% of customers prefer to use a self-service option instead of contacting support. 

Bring in reinforcements 

Each year we all see ads at different shops advertising for seasonal help. These are workers brought on with the expectation of only working for a few months to help cover the additional workload of the season. Most of the time we tend to think of seasonal workers in a retail environment, but other industries can use a similar approach. 

Though you could put out an ad to hire seasonal workers for your company, depending on the space you work in, it might not be the best solution. Mainly because along with the additional salary costs, there’s also the recruiting costs you incur by hiring directly. With that in mind, think about working with a quality outsourcer. 

By utilizing an outsourcer not only should you reduce the recruiting cost, but your onboarding costs should be lower, and the ramp-up times may well be shorter, too. No matter the case, bringing in outside help allows you to accomplish two key things: 

  • Having more people means you’re able to process requests faster. That’s a big deal for your customers. Research done by Forrester found 77% of people said that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do.  
  • Outside help can handle more basic cases, which frees up your core staff to work on more complex issues. Having more time means they’re able to focus and get those issues solved faster, which also raises the overall bar for your customer support. 

For any outside help, just be sure you properly vet them prior to bringing them on. If they aren’t able to match your quality standards, the extra help won’t count for much. 

Conclusion

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. Being able to keep up with increased demand while also continuing to provide top-notch support requires a plan. Be sure you’re putting measures in place to take care of your team’s well-being. Employee burnout isn’t good for anyone.

From there, make sure you’re covering all the places customers may contact you from and look into solutions to make those interactions as easy as possible. And if there is an opportunity to implement some sort of automation, take it. 

Last, don’t be afraid to bring in outside help. Seasonal workers and outsourcers can be great assets when demand increases. Though there are any number of approaches you can take, the main focus should be on efforts that not only take the customer into consideration, but your team, too.

When you’re committed to everyone’s success, you increase the chances of your own. 
Want more tips on providing great customer service? Learn how TextExpander helps teams deliver fast and effective customer support across all channels.

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