We are now two weeks into November and even closer to Black Friday, the traditional start of holiday shopping. Once a phenomenon primarily in the United States, it is now “celebrated” in countries around the world. It’s also no longer confined to retail, with companies across industries offering deals and incentives to customers to boost sales of products and services in the last quarter of the year.
The significance of Black Friday has been deteriorating, though. Over the last few years, some companies have started to take advantage of Christmas creep to offer deals throughout November and December to chalk up more sales during this competitive time. This year, some retailers even started their markdowns in October. And with so many more companies selling online, this has also diminished Cyber Monday.
Suffice it to say, however you measure when the holiday shopping period actually kicks off, it’s a stressful period–pandemic notwithstanding–and it’s getting longer in duration. As pointed out in part 1 of this article series, more shoppers are predicted to purchase online out of modicum of safety. And though try as they might, there will be issues from these transactions that require assistance from customer service.
Last week focused on getting self-service in order to help stem the tide. While this helps address many common issues, there will always be customers whose problems are too complex or they simply prefer assistance from a live agent. While many companies may feel their agents are ready, take a moment to consider these tips for how to take some strain off customer service agents and turn holiday stress into success for both customers and staff.
- Prepare to flex – policies and procedures exist for consistency and to protect the company–in normal times. In the midst of a pandemic and economic hardships many face going into the holiday season, this is not the time to have customer service agents acting as the Grinch. Give agents the latitude to make the call when serving customers in situations that warrant it.
- Train continuously – if COVID-19 has taught the world anything, it’s that things can change rapidly. Staying on top of the latest information is paramount to keeping agents successful, so learning should not end after the initial product, service, tools, and skills training new agents receive. Bonus: by keeping agents up-to-date with the latest information, customer issues get addressed faster.
- Schedule off-time – working with customers can be exhausting work. Customer problems might require lengthy troubleshooting. There’s pandemic-related pressures hanging over everyone. Stress means emotions can run hot at times for customers and agents alike. Provide agents with non-customer-facing time during the day. Fill it with other activities, such as training, creating new knowledge articles, or online community moderation.
- Provide effective tools – ensure customer service systems are simple to use and the interface is streamlined to make their work easy. Minimize the scrolls, clicks, and required data entry field. Consolidate systems so they aren’t searching across screens to assist customers. Take advantage of embedded AI-powered tools that suggest answers to help them serve customers faster.
- Offload common tasks – mundane tasks should be eliminated from the agent’s daily life. Machine learning can perform jobs like sorting, prioritizing, and assigning cases. Ensure customer self-service (chatbots, knowledge bases, communities, and automation) offer alternate channels for customers that then allow agents to focus on higher priority work. (And ensure self-service solutions are up-to-date, as discussed last week.)
- Set clear and attainable goals – even during high volume, stressful times like the holiday season, objectives should be based on what agents can control. Their goals should roll into what the overall customer service team hopes to attain. For example, if customer service is focused on CSAT or NPS, set agent targets that align to delivering quality service. Don’t tie objectives to circumstances they have less impact on such as queue wait times, which are a resourcing issue controlled by management.
- Coach, coach, coach – hold regular feedback sessions with agents to review progress against objectives. If achieving their goals requires additional knowledge or training, provide them with the time necessary.
- Give recognition – share individual agent successes with the entire customer service team. This is a feel-good moment for the recognized agent as well as a great “learn by example” moment for others.
None of the items on this list are a “one and done.” Companies must keep a vigilant eye on customer service throughout the holidays and address business problems that prevent delivering the highest quality possible. That might be by making incremental improvements in tools and technology to simplify agent work, adding new content to self-service channels as new solutions emerge, or delivering more agent training if a large gap in skills or knowledge exists.
Once the holiday period comes to a close and more time is available, perform a backwards glance: how did things go? Identify and make plans to address the larger service gaps (with agents, policies, technology, etc.) that might have emerged and could not be easily addressed during this time. After all, another holiday season is on its way.
For customers and agents alike, the pandemic only adds an additional layer of stress to the holiday period this year. That doesn’t mean it needs to be utter chaos. Consider these tips as well as the previous article to navigate the coming weeks. Doing so can help reduce agent stress and set your customer service team up for success.