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  5. How to Help Your Customer Service Team Succeed During the Pandemic Holiday Season

The holiday season has never been easy on customer service teams, with call volume being even 65% higher than usual.

This year the holiday shopping experience falls under the shadows of a global pandemic, posing additional challenges but also opportunities to win over a completely new segment of customers. Support teams will play a big role in the process, as customer expectations remain high regardless of the situation.

Let’s take a look at the challenges and ways to overcome them this season.

How busy is this season going to be for customer service teams?

It seemed that the economic uncertainty that hit customers around the world would make this season slower for businesses, but according to the PowerReviews Holiday Consumer Survey 2020 — overall spending level will be in line with previous years: Almost three quarters (73%) said it will either stay the same or increase this year.

Widespread store closures and stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic made customers switch to online shopping, which resulted in a 44% growth of that channel compared to the previous year.

For online stores, it means that there is an entirely new segment of customers who switched to online and might not have become loyal to any business yes. And it’s on your CX team to win them over.

How customer behavior changed in 2020 and how to make the best of it

Consumer expectations remain high as they switch to more mindful shopping. According to the Global Customer Experience Excellence research 2020, customers will pay extra attention to these factors while making purchasing decisions: price for value, personalization and individual approach to each customer, and the environmental and social practices of a company.

While customers are looking for sustainable, cost-conscious brands, they still expect personalized and fast communication with businesses, with 90% of consumers regarding resolution as their most important customer service issue.

With the holiday rush bringing 65% more traffic, how is your company supposed to bring personalized but also speedy support?

Dealing with increased case volume during the pandemic holiday season

How do you ensure fast resolution time, personalized support while being mindful of employees safety and well-being?

Hire temporary staff

Increasing headcount is a straightforward way to prepare for the increased traffic. If you have good training practices and materials in place, the onboarding should be easier, especially if your employees work remotely. Listening to a customer story with empathy might be what makes a shopping experience memorable.  But it obviously comes with drawbacks: high cost, difficult to scale, fluctuating quality of support, problems with scheduling, and management.

Use automation

Introducing automation to your customer support is a good way to find savings without sacrificing experience. Virtual agents can help you serve customers whose first priority is resolution time.  Additionally, they free up your live agents’ time, so they can provide personalized customer service, in a timely matter, to those customers who need the extra human touch. Live agents have the time and headspace to help customers who might be anxious to shop online for the first time, and need extra reassurance.

Of course, virtual agnets have their drawbacks too, like with any tool,  there is a learning curve both for customers and employees, and you need to strategically approach what processes should be handled by automation, and what’s best left for humans.

You can read how to implement voice bots to stay within budget and keep your customers happy in our Human approach to customer service automation article.

Whatever way you choose, customers want to be able to communicate the way that’s most convenient for them. Which means you should consider providing omnichannel support and let customers communicate with you via phone, live chat, email, social media, and text. Each one of those channels can be automatized to a greater or lesser extent.

Prepare for questions customers frequently ask during the holiday season

A better-prepared team is a happier team. You can adjust scripts and procedures your customer service reps use, so they can qucikly resolve the most popular customer queries.

To figure out the questions specific to your business, look at the last year’s transcripts, and see what issues came up most often. If you don’t have the transcript, ask your support reps, they are in the frontlines and will have the insights you need.

We also prepared a list of questions that you can be sure to expect based on the 2019 eCommerce Customer Service Experience Study

Returns, exchanges & cancellations

Oh, the sweet joy of buying gifts. According to Oracle survey from 2019 — 77% of consumers plan to return some of their gifts and nearly 20% expect to return more than half. It’s a safe bet that you will get a lot of questions like these:

  • How do I return an item?
  • How long do I have to return an item?
  • I would like to return a gift that was sent to me. How do I do that?
  • What is the status of my return?
  • How long does it take for me to get a refund?
  • I printed out my label and misplaced it. How can I retrieve it again?
  • I am returning an item purchased with a gift card, how does that work?
  • How do I cancel or edit my order?
  • Can I exchange my order instead of returning it?

Delivery status 

With the delivery chain being heavily disrupted by the pandemic, customers will be even more anxious about their parcel being delivered on time.

  • What are your shipping options, prices, and timelines?
  • What’s the deadline for guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery?
  • What is my delivery status?
  • Can I change the delivery address after my parcel has been sent?
  • Are you prepared for any delivery disruptions caused by the virus?
  • What measures do you take to ensure delivery safety both for customers and delivery workers?
  • Do you offer curb pickup?

Billing & payment 

  • Can I change my billing info after the order has been processed?
  • Can you include a gift receipt?
  • Do you accept international credit cards?
  • Do you charge sales tax on any item?
  • What forms of payment do you accept?
  • Can I pay with multiple Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or pre-paid Gift Cards?
  • How do I use promo codes?

Account updates

  • How do I change my password?
  • I don’t remember my username, could you help?
  • How do I change my preferred delivery address?
  • How do I change my personal information?

Product information and advice 

These are the questions that are specific to your offer, and your reps know the answers to them well. If you hire temporary staff, it’s important to write these down so they can quickly find the answer. Does this come in red? Will I fit it into my 3-door car? Are there matching pillows to this bed cover? What’s the warranty?

Another part is giving advice, something that customers desperately need around Christmas. Best price for value, what’s suitable for a certain age, what’s the cheapest, what’s most popular among a certain group of people, etc. This is where you can connect with customers, and make them feel like your there not only to sell but also to help.

Most of these questions have standard answers. And if the agent has the right answer at hand, they can close the case in a minute. Virtual agents can take the burden of soliving a lot of those cases but also handle certain processes like returns. So your team has more time to build meaningful relationships with customers.


Try AI voicebots for customer service

  • The overall spending this year will be similar to the last year’s, but there’s a 44% increase in online shopping this year — a new segment of customers is there to be snapped if you do things right.
  • To turn those holiday purchases into long-time loyalty, you need to make sure that your CX team shows that you’re trustworthy, have a personal approach to each customer, and value your customers’ time.
  • To be able to cover the increased demand you need to hire temporary staff and provide them with a safe work environment or try out modern automation tools like virtual agents or chatbots.
  • Whether your team consists of only live or live and virtual agents, prepare scripts that will help your team solve customer problems quickly.

If you’re curious about how AI virtual agents can change the customer experience for your business, schedule a call with our team here.

Do you want to innovate your customer experience with AI virtual agents?