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Online holiday shopping has grown exponentially in the last few years, with $284 Billion (yes that’s billion) dollars spent in only five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday in 2019.
This year, online shopping isn’t simply en vogue, it’s an absolute necessity. Many brick-and-mortar stores and older or technology-resistant consumers will turn to the world wide web for the first time this holiday season. That means your team needs to prepare for delivering exceptional experiences in the face of higher demand, new queries, and dwindling customer patience.
Brian Cluster, industry strategy director at Stibo Systems, explains “The reality is that even when the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, consumers will continue to increasingly buy online or mix internet and in-store purchases.” The new practices and technology put in play during the pandemic aren’t going to disappear any time soon.
For many companies, this holiday season is the first large-scale test of these systems. Inevitably, there will be unforeseen challenges where your team needs support. But it also means you can explore how to expand your business with these new tools now that you’ve gotten down the basics.
So, you’ve set up a great e-store and your payment system is primed. Now, what about your team?
Here are six ways to get them ready for high volume holiday shopping:
Live chat, social media, email, phone and the like make it easy for customers to reach you. What isn’t easy, though, is having to manage a whole bunch of open tabs just to stay on top of incoming queries. Even more frustrating is that customers can end up with different agents responding to them on different channels, despite the fact they’re addressing the exact same question.
Reduce hassle for both customers and agents by combining all your channels together into one system that shows customer activity history, order information, and a holistic view of previous conversations. Your team will be able to provide better responses while eliminating the need for customers to repeat themselves.
Even beyond the holiday season, a unified view of communications will decrease handling time and provide agents with much-needed context about your customers.
This year especially, careful staffing planning is required to ensure new shopping methods, whether that’s online or in-store, are properly supported.
Your team should evaluate peak online activity, order and pickup times, and abandonment rates to determine when to schedule team members for digital communications. It should also be easy for customers to identify when your team is available and how to get help during offline hours. Chatbots, for example, can stand in to gather customer information and support self-service by suggesting help center articles. When a bot can’t resolve a query, the customer’s information can be saved for follow up with an agent when they sign on.
More importantly, companies offering ‘buy online, pick up in-store’ (BOPIS) for the first time will need to keep a close eye on digital activity. According to an Adobe study, BOPIS increased 195 percent YoY in May due to the pandemic, and it’s going to be a huge part of holiday shopping, too. Drawing on order information, schedule additional employees for fulfillment and pick ups and make sure you know which team members are willing and able to pick up shifts on short notice.
The other schedule to keep in mind is shipping. Salesforce predicts that last-mile delivery will run out of capacity: other reports, at the time of writing this blog, suggest it already has. So, your shipping cut off dates might need to be pulled forward, and you may need to provide your team with new guidelines for handling any shipping-related issues or queries.
Adaptive scheduling can help your company provide great customer service without compromising on the labor budget during the holiday season, and beyond.
Online shopping doesn’t have to be impersonal, nor does it have to be personalized based solely on customer data. Human-centric, collaborative channels closely mimic the in-store experience while allowing your brand to stand apart.
Collaborative channels include voice, video, and cobrowsing. Although they are more commonly used for escalating support conversations, they also offer a unique opportunity to provide a digital concierge service.
Using video early on in conversations helps build trust and show customers that they have an agent’s undivided attention. Video also quells customer aggression by highlighting that there is, in fact, a human behind the screen.
Cobrowsing is particularly useful for increasing cart size and reducing abandonment rates. Agents can use it to highlight deals or make tailored product recommendations, as well as walk customers through the checkout process.
The added benefit you can reap all year round? These high-touch, visual experiences deliver a 7.6 percent increase in customer retention to boot.
Your best support agents, who are great with troubleshooting and technical questions, may not be your best service agents when it comes to helping customers find the right product or package. For everyone’s sake, take note of your team member’s strengths and weaknesses and offer them opportunities to take the queries they enjoy.
Employ chat routing to direct customer queries to the right teams and agents. You could start by using a chatbot to identify which department a customer needs, then ask further questions to determine exactly who they should speak with. You could even get as granular as setting rules for your resident eyeliner enthusiast who is exceptionally good at increasing cart size in cosmetics, or you can opt to keep things simple by only delineating between support and service (or other sales functions).
By enabling employees to do some job crafting around their duties, it naturally increases their motivation, leading to better productivity and customer satisfaction.
Bots greatly benefit business throughout the year, but can be especially helpful during the holidays—think about applications like handling “where is my order?” (WIMO) queries, return policies, and product suggestions.
If you spun up chatbots this year, it’s a great time to re-evaluate their training. It’s likely your team has identified additional questions and processes that could be automated by a bot. For instance, in the Acquire Platform, reviewing Suggested Questions can provide all sorts of ideas around what customers are searching for.
If your company prides itself on helping customers find the perfect gift, consider building out a bot that asks a series of questions to help identify relevant gift ideas. You could begin by asking “Who are you shopping for today?” and add progressive questions based on the customer’s answers.
As an added bonus, this information can be stored to their customer profile for use in future marketing campaigns.
Allow your team to spread the joy through surprise and delight initiatives, no permission or approval required. These initiatives could include anything from exclusive discount codes and coupons or expedited shipping, all the way through to free gifts.
It’s a good idea to create best practices for using these tactics, but ultimately, you should let your agents make the call. Encourage them to use these powers to lift their own spirits and reward kindness over placating aggravated shoppers. After all, ‘tis the season of giving, and that has the power to make a real impact. One study from Claremont Graduate University even found that customers who receive a deal are 11 percent happier.
So, it’s a win-win for you and your customers. And, if all goes well, this can extend into a regular policy that increases customer and employee retention.
COVID-19 has impacted everything from how we keep in touch with friends and family to how we learn at school. And it’s likely changed how we shop forever, too.
The next few weeks will be a true test of the phygital experience, but, whatever happens, unifying communications, empowering and scheduling staff appropriately, and adding new channels will all go a long way in creating lasting benefits for your customers, your business, and your employees.