Top 4 Tips for the 2018 Holiday Retail Season


The most wonderful time of the year officially begins with a turkey feast and ends with wishful New Year’s resolutions — this period includes the all-time favorite holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But for retailers, the most wonderful time of the year is already here. With the holidays fast approaching, retailers are busy preparing for the time when customer support volume rises by as much as 42%. This spike may seem unusually high, but it makes sense when most retailers bring in 20-40% of their annual sales during the weeks leading up to Christmas. This is indeed a wonderful time for retailers as they have an influx of new customers, but it is also the busiest time of the year as they get inundated with the accompanying surge of tickets with questions about returns and exchanges, shipping and tracking information, and product questions.

When ticket volume surges without advance preparation, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, walls can quickly come crumbling down with first-reply times and CSAT scores seeing the biggest dip ever. It doesn’t help that emotions are heightened with customers feeling extra stressed and acting more difficult than usual as they try to find the perfect gift for their loved ones. And nobody wants to be that guy who delivers poor customer support and ruins someone’s holly jolly spirit only to make headline news with that angry tweet that gets retweeted a million times over.

So how can you smoothly sail through this holiday season? Here are four tips that will give the edge you need to keep customer satisfaction high and help make this the most wonderful time of the year for your customers and company.

Tip 1: Make recommendations

People tend to shop differently during the holidays. Unlike other times of the year, there’s a strong sense of urgency to meet deadlines and people are often times shopping for others. This makes them highly receptive to other people’s opinions — with more than half of online shoppers making a decision based on retailer recommendations (58% for men and 51% for women). So be sure to go the extra mile during the holiday season with helpful customer support whether it is offering product information to help make a purchase decision, offering free shipping, or a free gift with purchase. Holiday shoppers will oftentimes turn into year-long shoppers if they have had a great experience with your brand during this most wonderful time of the year.

Tip 2: Scale your support team without increasing headcount

The natural tendency for most companies is to add more agents to quickly increase support coverage and manage the high volume of tickets. Adding more agents to the team can come in many forms: adding part-time seasonal agents to your core team, outsourcing a portion of the tickets to a third-party BPO (business process outsourcing) firm, or getting other team members at your company to pitch in and help out. You may have tried one or more of these methods in the past, but ultimately they all focus on increasing the number of agents working on the tickets. With this type of approach, you run the risk of mistakes from people who are not fully trained or well-versed in delivering an excellent customer experience. But what if there was a better way than simply adding more cooks in the kitchen?

For Antonio King, Director of Customer Experience at Shinesty, an online retailer selling “outrageous” clothing such as party suits and ugly Christmas sweaters, scalability is not just about adding more agents. For King, scaling can happen in different ways from optimizing workflows to automate a repetitive process like returns and exchanges or adding new technology. And that’s exactly the step King took in preparation for last year’s fourth quarter and closed out the year with a bang. Instead of increasing the number of agents, King implemented the Solvvy conversational platform powered by artificial intelligence to provide fast and effortless self-service support to eager shoppers. “I felt confident that we could handle our biggest sales season yet with just our full-time support staff, aided by the new self-service abilities,” said King. Despite 50% higher sales in November 2017 compared to same-time last year in 2016, the overall ticket volume decreased by 40% instead of following the upward trend with sales numbers.

Tip 3: Focus on responsiveness and speed

It goes without saying, but time is of the essence during the holiday season when everyone is racing against the clock to get their holiday shopping done. Of course it doesn’t help that nowadays, customer SOS calls can come trickling in 24/7 in all formats ranging from emails, SMS texts and chats, to Facebook posts, tweets, and phone calls–making it that much easier for customers to reach out. As a result, customer satisfaction (CSAT) suffers when heavier ticket volume causes support teams to resolve tickets at a much slower pace than usual. There is an obvious cause and effect relationship between response time and customer satisfaction so it is no surprise that CSAT is always the lowest in December for most retailers.

While it may seem impossible to respond to every customer immediately through a human agent, you can leverage existing content from your help center and respond immediately with an accurate response. In less than a minute, customers are able to get a response based on their specific issue, eliminating frustrating long wait times. Shinesty has a robust knowledge base built out so he wanted customers to be able to self-serve and receive immediate answers and resolutions. “Solvvy allows us to give customers their time back. They don’t have to go searching for answers, and they don’t have to reach out unless they need to,” said King.

Tip 4: Make returns easy

Giving and receiving unwanted gifts is part of the holiday repertoire as research shows that nearly two out of three shoppers make at least one return during the season. Research also shows that shoppers will change their mind about a purchase because of an inconvenient return policy — such as too narrow return windows, only store credit offered instead of a full refund, inability to return items in-store, and lack of free return shipping. Only 33% of shoppers said that the return experience was “very easy” and of those who experienced friction, 6 in 10 say that they would be hesitant to shop at that retailer again.

For King, returns is just one process he has made easy and effortless for Shinesty customers. He believes that every customer interaction should be made seamless where agents use the same consistent brand tone and voice. One thing Shinesty does to make the returns process easier is to send out a 24-hour reminder email when the returns postmark date is set to expire. “I take the time to put myself into the shoes of a consumer and ask what would be helpful. With our long to-do list during the busy holiday season, it is easy to forget return date expirations so we send a quick reminder which helps prevent what could be a very frustrating experience.” Not only is King thinking about improving customer communications to make it easier for his customers, but he is exploring applying automation to common, repetitive processes such as changing or tracking an order. Without having to contact a live agent, customers will be able to help themselves without ever lifting a finger (except maybe for a click or two).

Interested in hearing more about how to best prepare for this holiday season? Join us on September 26 at 9:00 AM PST on a webinar with Antonio King, Director of Customer Experience at Shinesty.