5 Ideas for Improving E-Commerce Customer Service During the Holidays

As orders skyrocket and shipping windows tighten during the holiday season, it’s also the most stressful time of the year to be in customer service.

Emotions run high for customers, as well. The overwhelming combination of excitement, joy, anxiety, and pressure can contribute to a state of “festive stress,” with 31% of Americans reporting their holidays are “frantic.”

For an e-commerce merchant, the clash between harried customer service teams and on-edge customers can be disastrous. It doesn’t take much to push a stressed-out customer past the breaking point.

For example, when a customer is simply trying to get through Santa’s list, having an online gift order declined could be a horrible experience, especially if the order was placed just in the nick of time.

And yet, the holiday season is an opportunity to convert gift-buyers into lifetime customers, charming them with seamless experiences and the human touch.

As a merchant, how can you avoid these customer service flare-ups that put revenue, customer loyalty, and your brand reputation at risk during the holiday season? Plan ahead. Now is the time to prepare your customer service strategy for the upcoming holiday rush of orders and emotions.

Here are some ideas for improving customer service that will help both your customers and your customer service team members have a happy, stress-free holiday season.

Customer Service Tips for Managers

Customer service excellence starts at the top. Managers in both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail stores can take steps to create an environment that promotes positive attitudes, a calm, levelheaded approach to dealing with customers, and productive efficiency during the holiday season (and year-round).

1. Work on Your Communication Strategies

Things move fast amidst the holiday frenzy. It’s best to establish the proper communication methods for dealing with everything from fraud, to customer complaints, to time-off requests ahead of time, to prevent confusion and frustration when tensions are at their highest.

To avoid misunderstandings, encourage your team members to practice their soft skills, such as non-verbal communication, active listening, and emotional awareness. Try role-playing activities to help your employees get comfortable with their communication techniques and hone their ability to stay calm even when customers aren’t.

Passive communication is critical, as well, especially in e-commerce. Customers often take it upon themselves to research your company by looking through your website, your social media feeds, and your email messages for the information they need to solve issues with product quality, shipping, and payments.

2. Foster Employee Wellness

Holiday pressures at home can bleed into the workplace and impact employee attitudes with customers. But when your team members feel healthy and balanced, they will react to irate customers and challenging scenarios with calm spirits and clear minds.

Have you considered implementing an employee wellness program to encourage this sense of well-being? These wellness programs have many documented benefits and can help employees cope better when difficulties arise in work and life. Here are some ideas for employee initiatives that target physical, relationship, and financial wellbeing, especially during the holidays.

3. Redouble Your Training Efforts

When a customer service rep encounters a problem they can’t solve, they’ll transfer the call to a superior. But having to wait on hold and speak to multiple people can be infuriating to customers.

Moreover, e-commerce transactions are becoming more complex. For example, many retailers now offer the option to buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS).  All employees who deal with customers should be prepared to troubleshoot orders that blur the lines between purely online and purely brick-and-mortar retail.

It’s therefore critical to make sure your team members have the training they need to respond to tough customer inquiries competently and efficiently – and that they are empowered with the authority to do so.

Customer Service Tips for Marketing Teams

The holidays are intense, to be sure, but they’re also a marketer’s moment to shine.

1.     Make Sure Your Messaging Is Accurate and Responsive

Well before the holidays, conduct an audit of your website and other online communication to make sure things like shipping costs, holiday cutoff dates, and your return policy are clear and easy to find. This will cut back on customer inquiries and relieve pressure on your customer service team.

Additionally, consider implementing additional customer support tools, such as live chat features on your website, to facilitate fast, automated responses to all the frequently asked questions your customer service team is likely to field during the holiday season.

Lastly, think through how you manage your online reputation. With stresses running high during the holidays, unhappy customers will be quick to take their frustrations to social media. If you’re not actively monitoring social channels and if you don’t have a plan to enable fast responses to social customer complaints, you risk taking an irreparable hit to your brand reputation.

2. Focus on Mobile

Mobile shopping today accounts for over half of all holiday e-commerce orders. But while customers are more inclined than ever to place orders via smartphone, they’re also more likely to abandon their carts.

A poor user experience, slow loading times, and website or app crashes will cause your mobile shoppers to leave your site in droves.

This year, in preparation for the holidays, give your mobile channel a makeover with an emphasis on convenience. Make it as easy as possible for customers to complete their orders. For example, customers don’t like entering a lot of information on small screens. Consider eliminating account registration requirements and implementing a one-click payment system.

Your mobile channel can be a source of fraud, as well. Look at your historical fraud rates by channel, and you may detect some interesting trends, including holiday spikes. Adjust your fraud protection tools accordingly. If you don’t have the analytical capacity in your organization to make sense of your fraud KPIs, outside experts can be valuable.

3. Be Ready for Changes in Buying Patterns

Customers don’t act during the holidays the same way they do throughout the rest of the year. Their orders are larger, they ship to multiple destinations, and they request last-minute delivery. Typically, these might be indicators of fraud. During the holidays, however, this is standard customer behavior.

If your fraud prevention tools are set to automatically decline orders based on these red flags, you risk falsely declining these legitimate orders.

False declines are a perpetual problem for e-commerce businesses and customers. False declines drive customers away, never to return, and they inspire devastating feedback on social media. According to some estimates, your business may need to complete 12 legitimate transactions to make up for each false decline. False declines can be even more destructive during the holiday season when customers have less patience for re-attempting their orders and less tolerance for feeling accused of committing fraud. To reduce the risk of false declines, consider adjusting your filters for the holidays to adapt to the out-of-the-ordinary behaviors of online holiday shoppers.

At the same time, you shouldn’t let your guard down entirely for the holidays. Fraudsters know the season is a good time to strike and are hoping to slip through the cracks while your team is inundated with orders. Card-not-present (CNP) fraud spikes by up to 20% around the holidays.

The best way to combat fraud without angering your customers is with a system that combines the latest machine-learning technology with manual intervention from fraud-protection experts. Experienced humans can adapt to holiday buying patterns with intuition and knowledge computer algorithms lack. (Learn how such a system works.)

Help for the Holidays

The holidays are most stressful when we try to go it alone. Imagine putting together a holiday meal without kitchen helpers or working through a shopping list without someone to carry the bags. The same goes for e-commerce.

The seasonal increase in volume can tax your customer service team to its limits. The right fraud protection partner can release some of the pressure by reducing or eliminating unnecessary customer complaints due to false declines.

Summer is the perfect time to talk about fraud protection for the holidays. Click here to schedule a conversation with a ClearSale expert.

Is every valid order being approved