How Retailers Can Ensure Winning Customer Care This Holiday Season

The retail world is preparing for the season of giving and shoppers are continuing to turn to ecommerce as a convenient alternative to crowded stores throughout the holiday season. The pressure is on for online retailers as customers are more emotional than ever during the holidays.

At the same time, the holiday shopping season represents a golden opportunity to create customer loyalty for seasons to come.

Throughout the 2013 holiday season, StellaService ecommerce analysts placed multiple orders, made calls, sent emails and live chats to the top retailers to measure the quality of their customer service performance during the holiday crunch time. We also polled consumers in August 2014 to understand expectations specific to the holiday season. It’s no surprise to find that just 5% of consumers would shop again at a retailer that gave them bad customer service during the holiday.
Based on our findings, we’ve identified a few key learnings to ensure retailers don’t make the same mistakes twice as we’re approaching this year’s holiday season.

This year, customers will be more likely to send an email than place a phone call. In fact, 53% of the consumers we polled preferred the convenience of email support over chat or phone. Unfortunately, email has the lowest rate of issue resolution of all channels, so the need for retailers to step up the quality of email service and ensure agents are resolving customer concerns is clear. Nailing customer support over email is a key differentiator for retailers in the coming months.

Also, chat is emerging as a great option for both retailers and consumers.

According to Kevin Gardiner, Director of Store Operations for Macy’s, the retailer is already prepared to rely heavily on chat support for the coming holiday season. “We are staffing up based on what the customer wants, and customers seem to prefer chat because of the immediate response,” Gardiner said.

Macy’s is not alone in noticing that the use of chat support has outpaced email. Over the past year, the average time to reach a live agent has dropped to just 40 seconds. But speed is just one part of a bigger picture. Issue resolution via chat still remains lower than phone. Being quick to answer your holiday shopper won’t cut it if you can’t provide a quality interaction. Thorough and timely training can take your chat support from quick, yet unremarkable, to a memorable convenience for customers as they focus on checking items off of their holiday shopping list.

Customer service representatives that haven’t been thoroughly trained run the risk of delivering the kind of poor service that will drive holiday customers away and into other retailers’ opens arms. StellaService found that 23% of holiday customers contact customer support with product questions, so training in product and policy knowledge is essential. Another 21% of holiday shoppers will get in touch simply to question shipping or return policies. So remember: hire early, hire fast and train slowly to gain customer loyalty and keep them coming back all year long.

The smallest service effort during the holiday rush can make or break the customer experience. What’s more, retailers often forget that investing in customer support can directly translate to actual sales. We found that most service agents don’t offer to take customer care to the next level and walk customers through the sales process, even if the opportunity presents itself.

StellaService Analysts note when an agent offers to complete a transaction. A very small group of customer service agents actually do so – just 13% of phone agents, 5% of chat support agents and 1% of email agents we tracked offered to finalize the sale. Taking the extra time to communicate will leave customers delighted and, more often than not, translate to sales and brand loyalty down the line.

Overall, the peaked emotions of the holiday season present retailers the opportunity to be an online shopper’s hero. It’s essential to invest in customer care to retain shoppers’ loyalty and bring them back for the 2015 season. Take hold of this opportune moment by meticulously training agents and focusing on not only speed, but issue resolution and quality.

With mindful preparation, and a passionate approach to quality customer care, you’re ready to refine your ecommerce fulfillment channels for the coming holiday season. We’ll cover this in more detail in part two next week.

Kevon Hills is StellaService’s VP of Research.

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