eCommerce Tips to Prepare Your Customer Service Team for the Holiday Shopping Season

It’s official: the holiday shopping season is here. While you’ve likely spent the last few months diligently planning the details of your holiday shopping plan — including specials you’d like to run as well as email and social campaigns  it’s time to begin implementing your strategy in earnest.

To ensure that the season goes as smooth as possible, make sure your customer service team is well-trained and prepared to handle the flood of new customers and orders. If you’re unsure of how to achieve this, follow some of these useful eCommerce tips to give you and your customer service members all the resources they need to provide outstanding experiences for each consumer this holiday shopping season.

Why Put So Much Emphasis on Customer Service?

Running an eCommerce retail business may seem like an impersonal venture because you never interact with customers face-to-face, but online shoppers actually seek out eCommerce sites that offer individualized experiences. Though there are eCommerce companies that choose to neglect their customer service experience, these businesses risk earning a bad reputation.

Even more damaging, they must rely on constantly attracting new consumers since customers will not return if they have an unpleasant experience. In fact, Small Business Trends found that 51 percent of customers will not return to a business after one bad experience.

When you show your consumers that you care about them, you build a deeper sense of trust and create brand loyalty, which is vital to establishing a base of returning customers. Your goal for every transaction is to provide each customer with an easy, seamless experience, but it’s impossible to control this every single time.

When an issue does arise, you should have a clear, detailed customer service plan, which includes how customer service members should treat consumers (even those who might be unreasonably upset), what team members are authorized to do in order to make customers happy and simple protocol for basic processes like returns and exchanges.

What Are the Benefits of Providing Excellent Customer Service?

Focusing on your customer service is an all-around great practice for your business. Much like shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, eCommerce sites that provide friendly, easy and convenient services for their customers will improve the consumer’s overall impression of the business.

According to recent research from eCommerce platform Magento, online stores with top-notch customer service experience a boost across many categories, including brand awareness, average order value, return on ad spend, customer lifetime value, employee satisfaction, customer retention and quicker revenue growth rates.

eCommerce Tips for Your Customer Service Team

Review Last Year’s Volume and Trends

Before determining the game plan for your customer support team this holiday shopping season, take time to thoroughly review trends, patterns and sales acquisitions from last year as well as the last few months. Sifting through the previous year’s data will give you some insight into how much your sales volume might increase, which will provide you with an idea of how many customer service employees you may need to handle a surge in inquiries.

Once you’ve decided how many people you should hire to the customer support team, data from the last year and months leading up to this holiday season can also determine which channels your customers are using most often to contact your eCommerce business. From this information, you can assess which channels need the most attention. For example, if it seems as though your customers are reaching out through Facebook most often, you can train your staff on how to best handle inquiries from that platform.

Add a Chatbot to Your Site

Real human customer service is vital to your eCommerce business but utilizing a chatbot feature on your site is an excellent way to offer quick customer service for simple issues. Many internet consumers love the convenience of typing out a question and getting an instant response. This method of customer service will provide your customers with an easy way to get answers instantly and prevent your phone lines from becoming clogged with callers.

Though the most common use of chatbots is customer service, this easy-to-use feature can also offer your consumers recommended products. If a potential customer visits your site looking for something specific, they can simply tell the chatbot what they’re searching for, and the algorithm will provide products that fit the inquiry. Research has continuously shown that consumers enjoy product recommendations because it cuts down their research time and improves their overall shopping experience.

Understand Your Demographic

When it comes to prepping your customer support strategy, one of the most useful eCommerce tips is to train your team members to have an in-depth knowledge of your business’s target demographic with customer-centric marketing. By fully understanding your customers’ online behavior, shopping patterns and product interests, your entire team will have a stronger sense of what your customers expect and how you can meet these expectations.

A useful way to do this is by identifying detailed, factual user personas based on specific data to create a method for handling each type of customer that frequents your eCommerce store. From this information, you’ll be able to provide a more personalized experience and be prepared to handle your customers based on their needs and wants.

Use Social Media to Provide Support

Many companies make the mistake of only offering customer support through one platform, but in order to provide the best possible experience for consumers, you should allow for some form of communication on social media as well as through your eCommerce site itself.

To guarantee a successful holiday shopping season, you should already have several social media campaigns in place, and if you plan to offer consumers the option to shop through social channels, you should also have a plan for providing customer support through these platforms.

Twitter is an increasingly popular space for people to contact businesses either through direct messages or by tagging the company in a tweet with a question. If you’ve noticed a trend in consumers reaching out to your business through Twitter, you should be prepared to have several support members working on this channel to ensure customers get quick, friendly and knowledgeable service through the holiday shopping season.

Facebook is another popular avenue for eCommerce customer service inquiries, particularly now that shopping via Facebook has become progressively common. To best prepare your customer service team for the holidays, you should develop a social media plan and put a specific group of people in charge of handling customer support strictly through these platforms.

Integrate Marketing and Support Strategies

One of the best ways to prepare your customer support specialists is by incorporating them into your marketing meetings and making them well aware of the strategies you intend to deploy for the holidays. When your customer service team is disconnected from the rest of the company, it can be difficult for them to fully understand what issues customers are experiencing and how to best rectify these problems. Involving your support team with your marketing team will also provide them with a fundamental awareness of the brand’s identity and target demographic — two essential pieces of information.

Set Customer Expectations

To avoid unnecessary issues with customers, try to make your communication as clear and straightforward as possible. This means, if clearance items are non-refundable, make that very obvious during the shopping and checkout process. If your eCommerce store only offers exchanges, be sure this is conveyed across your site as well.

You could even integrate a feature where shoppers need to check a box acknowledging that they have read this information. Make it easy for customers to find and understand your return policy, particularly if there is a strict window of time during which they can return items. The more steps you take towards informing your consumers and setting their expectations on your policies, the fewer issues you’ll experience.

A major source of complaints to many eCommerce businesses has to do with shipping costs. If shipping is not free on all orders, you should consider informing shoppers of this from the get-go. On product description pages, you can add an estimated shipping calculator, which will both inform potential buyers that shipping is not always free and allow them to check whether or not they are willing to pay the fee before adding the item to their cart.

Learn from Customer Feedback

Revamp your customer service protocols based on the feedback you receive from shoppers. In order to serve your market as best as possible, you should offer the type of support they expect. Sometimes, reviewing customer feedback will reveal issues you may not have even seen yourself, but it’s important to recognize the difference between constructive criticism and venting.

Create a Workflow and Escalation Plan

In order to help your eCommerce business run as smoothly as possible, especially during the holidays, you should design a workflow for yourself and all employees. You can use a computer system to outline your workflow, which will help to identify areas of the company that may be experiencing issues — for example, departments that are not communicating with each other or long customer hold times. Once you’ve recognized these problem areas, you can take active steps to resolve these issues before the holiday season, making the customers’ experiences more pleasant and straightforward.

Due to an increase in customer service questions during the holidays, support reps should be trained with a specific escalation plan for when upset customers contact your business. If a buyer is audibly upset, he or she will often immediately ask to speak with a supervisor in an attempt to get a quicker solution to their problem. This can be frustrating for your support agents because managers may not be available to speak, and it doesn’t give these reps much power to resolve issues.

Instead, you should develop a plan for dealing with difficult customers. Training your support team for the worst experience will ensure they are over-prepared for any scenario. Your escalation plan should include information on listening to the customer closely, asking questions to get the most accurate information and apologizing with empathic understanding without blaming a different part of the company.

Inspirational Customer Service Stories

Wistia  

The video hosting company, Wistia, has gained a reputation for using personalization tactics in their customer service policy to satisfy customers. Personalization is key to many aspects of eCommerce marketing strategies, whether you’re using it in your email campaigns, social media channels or as a form of customer support.

To provide excellent customer service, Wistia uses videos to demonstrate how to use aspects of their software, and they create personalized videos for customers. You can re-create this method of customer service by including thank you notes written directly to a customer, offering an exclusive deal just for them or sending your own personal video.

Basecamp

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the importance of analyzing user data and integrating this information into your marketing and support strategies. However, sometimes this is easier said than done.

At Basecamp, a communication app company, there is time built into their employees’ schedules to review and analyze their user data. By setting aside time for this vital activity, you can ensure that your own customer support team members are reviewing the metrics and using it to better serve your customers.  

Kids in the Game

Though there are many examples of this type of customer support, Inc. magazine specifically noticed the after-school fitness program Kids in the Game taking their customer service to the next level by rewarding return customers. People who have supported the organization time and time again receive free gifts from the company including branded T-shirts and hats.

You can easily integrate this strategy into your own practices by sending small, free gifts to customers who have made a designated number of purchases from you. You can also use a similar tactic by offering special discounts exclusive to returning customers.

With the rush of the holidays upon us, it is vital that eCommerce stores have a strategic plan to provide impeccable customer service to nurture existing customers and win the loyalty of seasonal shoppers. Providing a great user experience is one of the most important factors to build brand trust and encourage repeat purchases. This year, separate your business from the competition with a customer service team that is poised to surprise and delight at every turn.