eCommerce Holiday Readiness, Part One: Can Your Customer Service Handle Peak Season?

Holiday Readiness Part 1

Welcome to the first installment of our eCommerce Holiday Readiness blog series!

As we approach peak season, there are a few questions that all retailers are likely asking themselves: How is my supply chain? Will I be able to get goods to customers on time? Will my inventory hold up? Can my company provide customer service during peak season? In part one of our three-part series, we strive to help you answer these important questions and bring you one step closer to a successful holiday season.

While it’s not as obvious as a supply chain meltdown, a lack of customer care representatives can become a pressing issue during peak seasons. If you don’t prepare your customer care teams for spikes in demand and amounts of traffic higher than your annual averages, you may have trouble dealing with the influx of customer questions, comments and complaints surrounding peak season.

Of course, your organization may not have the funds or personnel to pour into a surge near the end of the year. That’s one sign that it may be time to partner with a third-party logistics provider, adding a large and experienced team for a more reasonable price than building the same kind of infrastructure in-house. Whichever approach you do take, it’s important to act quickly; losing sales due to busy customer representatives is a serious yet avoidable problem.

Important Elements of Customer Service

As an eCommerce retailer, you have a variety of customer service and care needs. If your company can’t meet these requirements at peak season – or, worse, can’t meet them now – it’s a clear sign that it’s time for action. For instance, Customer Think recently underlined the importance of being ready to answer shoppers’ questions across many different platforms and devices.

This is a simple extension of omnichannel retail – people are buying items through traditional websites, via mobile storefronts or in-person for brands that have both physical and digital stores. Customer care features must follow them into these different channels.

Being proactive is key: Present answers before questions have even been asked and strive to be as helpful as possible through social media. Implementing new self-service features that minimize customer effort for common actions is also a positive step. Being inflexible or behind the times can limit your brand’s appeal, especially at peak times when tension may be running high.

In addition to helpful outreach via social media, you should be ready to initiate live chats when a problem gets particularly tricky. Industry CMO Scott Horn told CIO magazine that the eCommerce experience is better with someone to help troubleshoot specific problems. This may take the form of an automated tool or an individual who is ready with the answers. This can, in Horn’s words, get people “past the hump” of any difficulty that may be putting up a hurdle at the last step before checking out.

Having an entire team ready to deal with customers is ideal. Live-chat agents can be equipped with data-based tools so that they know the likely trouble spots customers are facing. Depending on where the customer is in the buying process, an agent can come through with exactly the right knowledge to dispel any doubts. This hands-on attention may be just the thing to get a stalled interaction back on track.

Having a Peak Season Plan

It’s crucial to figure out whether or not you are ready to provide the above services, even when times get busy at the end of each year. If a key feature, such as live chat or support via social media, becomes slow or unavailable due to a high traffic volume, its benefits could be washed away. If you’re a smaller eCommerce retailers, the problem is especially acute, since you provide services similar to the giants of your industry, but without the staffing and budgetary might behind those corporations. If the undertaking seems too great, you may consider opting for third-party eCommerce solutions.

Whether you make a deal with a partner organization or rally more customer representatives internally, having a plan to face holiday rushes is one of the highest priority items on any eCommerce agenda. This is because, as in any kind of retail, the sales made or lost over the course of those few months at the end of the year will determine whether the company is on the right track. Asking these questions now will save you a lot of trouble down the road.

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