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Turning the holiday season customer service chaos to advantage

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Shutter_M)

For businesses this time of year can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there’s the opportunity for increased sales; on the other there’s the challenge of dealing with an increased volume of customer enquiries and issues.   

A Zendesk survey from Christmas 2016 found that 9 out of 10 UK consumers purchased their Christmas gifts online; a third of whom encountered issues or queries which caused enquiries to shoot up over 40%. These complaints and queries obviously have to be dealt with and failing to do so can lead to many consumers feeling disgruntled, irritated and dissatisfied. Some of whom may even turn to social media to voice their unhappiness, potentially damaging the reputation of the retailer.   

According to analysis we conducted around Black Friday, Customer Service related tweets nearly double over peak shopping periods. According to our analysis, neutral or negative customer service related tweets, increased by over a third (36%) during the 5-day period around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The most common complaints were down to missed deliveries, being put on hold, call-backs that never came, issues with ordering and being told something was in-stock when it was sold out. The most common words for customer service queries and complains over this period were ‘service’, ‘wait’, ‘delivery’, ‘order’ and ‘call’. The top hashtags included #customerservice, #poorservice # blackfriday #badcustomerservice and #disappointed.   

Often, hiring a bus load of customer service staff to handle the increase in customer service enquiries for the holiday season is just not feasible for many businesses. So how do they cope?    

Let the data guide you 

Looking back and learning from the past provides vital intelligence to figure out the best way forward. By using the data gathered from interactions during the same period in previous years can help businesses understand some of the typical things that customers enquire about.   

This knowledge can often provide a list of generic enquiries traditionally asked at this time of year such as: What are your opening hours? How long do deliveries take? Providing this information online and making it searchable will help customers to find the answers on their own, often referred to as self service. Self-service is hugely popular with time poor consumers, seeking to do things on their own terms. According to research Zendesk has conducted, 73% of customers prefer solving problems on their own.   

These enquiries can differ from business to business so by mapping your own data you can quickly identify the patterns and trends. If you’re able to surface this data quickly, you can even use it to enhance the customer journey or service on the fly. Seeing common queries and issues raised by consumers will allow you to address problems with your site, products, service or point of sale immediately, before they impact further sales in this time-critical period.   

By focusing on what you can automate and customers can self-serve you’re increasing the speed at which your customer service can operate. For most consumers, valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service. And it’s not only the customers that benefit. Just think what customer service teams can do with the time they get back. These highly trained professionals can spend more time responding to more complex enquiries, or creating more information online to enable more customers to self-serve. 

Start early, invest in a knowledge base 

A Gartner report, estimates that CIOs can reduce customer support costs by 25% or more when proper knowledge management discipline is in place. Furthermore, a substantial knowledge base results in a 35% reduction in the time it takes to train a new customer support representative. This means not only a reduction in the volume of queries but also faster on boarding for any seasonal staff you are required to recruit for more complex queries or customer service management   

But for many businesses, starting a knowledge base from scratch or even improving what is currently in place can be daunting. With preparations focused on making the most of the Christmas period customer service and support can sometimes be an afterthought. However it’s not as challenging as it seems, and the payoff can be substantial.   

Building your self-service operation is a matter of centralising the know-how that’s already in-house. You know who your subject-matter experts are. They walk customers through pain points and complex issues, lending personalized expertise from each tier. They’re your project management team, often spotting potential roadblocks before you hear about them or customers experience them. They’re your sales associates who, in the course of managing your customers, field wish-list requests from your key accounts. These touchpoints are a wealth of customer and product information.   

Your agents write knowledge base articles all the time—they just exist as internal responses to open tickets instead of self-service content. In fact, your agents might be writing way more than they need to as they respond to repeat queries coming in day after day. Analyzing your tickets, which are teeming with data, is a great way to start. The responses agents write in tickets can, should, and often are converted into knowledge base articles in a few simple steps. 

Humans and robots working hand in hand 

A knowledge base isn’t only an effective tool for training new recruits. It can also open up the possibility of adopting artificial intelligence (AI) in your customer service approach. More than just a chatbot, AI used for customer service can improve the customer experience provided by many companies.   

AI can work right alongside a support team as a bot. Using machine learning and content taken directly from a knowledge base, a bot can find answers tailored to each customer’s question accurately and reliably. If a complex query cannot be solved by a knowledge base article, the query can be looped back to a human agent to continue to resolve. Automated bots can free up agents’ time so they can focus on what they do best—solving complex problems and building better customer relationships. 

Customer relationships are always going to be complicated but using self service, knowledge base and AI solutions to untangle some of those wires will help to combat issues quickly and easily. 

On the Christmas and January sale battlefield a competitor is only a click away and emotions run high. Customer expectations around service have skyrocketed and social is quickly becoming the first place that customers turn for answers. Hiring a bus load of customer service staff to handle the holiday increase is just not feasible for many businesses so they need to take a proactive approach. Good customer service is a game changer in loyalty and repeat business. By capturing the experiences that have gone before, using knowledge effectively and implementing AI, brands can not only improve things for the customer, but also spread a bit of Christmas cheer for customer service professionals.    

Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP EMEA at Zendesk 

Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock

Prelini Udayan-Chiechi
Prelini Udayan-Chiechi is VP EMEA at Zendesk.