holiday package
Happy holidays ... however you celebrate. PHOTO: Ben White

It will be a tougher holiday season than most for companies to maintain good CX. Supply chains are tight due to components for electronics or certain raw materials for other goods being unavailable, a scarcity of assembly workers shortage of truckers and other supply chain employees among other factors.

As a result, goods from robotics to toys are taking longer from order time to delivery and more are just unavailable than during a typical holiday shopping season, so it’s more than just the person trying to buy the hot toy of the year for a child who is likely to be disappointed that the planned gift is unlikely to be available on time (if at all) this year.

It also means that customer service agents will need to deal with more irate customers than during a more normal holiday shopping season.

Below are five recommendations for preparing for these issues.

1. Empower Customer Service Representatives

Omaha Steaks sought to get ahead of potential challenges by hiring thousands of additional agents and arming them with tools to take the guesswork out of getting products delivered on time, said Nate Rempe, chief operating officer. “It doesn’t matter where customer issues originate; we fix them by empowering agents to take needed actions to make situations right.”

The company has worked with FedEx partners to get first-hand holiday delivery insights, Rempe added. “We arm our customer service team — and in full transparency our customers too — with key ‘delivered by’ dates. Customer agents are empowered to help individuals and corporate gifting teams easily place individual and large orders. We’ve empowered our service teams and incentivized customers to receive a $30 reward card for delivering early.

Rempe added that the company’s CSR teams strive for first-call resolution, with agents empowered to adjust delivery dates, refund or replace orders — whichever the customer prefers.

Related Article: Call Centers vs. Contact Centers: Understanding the Key Differences

2. Provide Full Agent Support

With the start of this year's holiday season, the retail industry faces a potentially overwhelming volume of inquiries with fewer voice agents than in previous years, said Virgil Wong, HGS chief digital officer. Call centers still have time to provide additional training for agents to effectively manage their increased loads, maintain high-quality interactions and generate positive sentiment.

“Especially when hiring seasonal agents, call centers must provide new hires with direct access to senior agents and their established knowledge and experience,” Wong added. “Dyadic learning, as a goal-directed teaching method between two individuals, works particularly well in call centers. This personalized performance training helps agents with faster turnaround times, thorough follow-ups, sales-centric strategies, better objection handling, consistent messaging, and adherence to customer experience standards. Mock drills offer critical practice time before going live on the floor — and can occur alongside refresher drills for agents who fall behind on their targets and scores.”

With the tight labor market and supply chain challenges, this year's holiday season is a particularly critical time to apply best-in-class strategies in your call center, Wong said. Personalized training and a rewarding employee experience will further drive the growth of your business with better retention and customer lifetime value.

Related Article: Why Enterprises Are Turning to Contact Centers in the Cloud

3. Improve Agent Training

Agent preparedness is a critical challenge for the 2021 holiday season, said Michael Parker, Cresta CMO. “You can only ensure the customer knows you care and you are in that customer’s corner. Agent ramp time and attrition issues still exist. But now is the time to ensure the best interaction in an expectedly challenging season.”

Critical to that CX is the importance of the human touch, Parker added. While chatbots have removed fundamental interactions to improve service, efficiency, and costs, you can’t remove the human agent entirely. Direct calls are up from 40% in pre-pandemic to almost 60% of interactions currently.

Parker recommended that companies stress empathy in their agent training. If the agent can empathize with the disappointed customer, it helps diffuse issues early, and providing for better CX and trust.

Related Article: 5 Skills Contact Center Employees Need Beyond Empathy

4. Inform Customers of In-Stock Status

“One way to minimize customer frustration at the store is to enable shoppers to check what products are in stock before they visit, a physical store, said Cate Trotter, Insider Trends, head of trends. Every retailer that operates stores should be offering this function as standard on their website. This way there are no wasted special trips. Similarly, if an item is in stock locally customers should be able to reserve it online for collection from the store.

“By having a picture of all stock across all sites and warehouses, if a product is out of stock in one store staff can see if it is stock at another and have it shipped to the customer from there,” Trotter said. “Likewise, an online order can be fulfilled from stock at a store if a warehouse is empty. Store staff should be able to access real-time information about stock levels in their store. This means that when a customer asks if something is available, they can be given an accurate answer, saving time for both staff and shopper.”

Retailers should also educate their staff on their product range so that they know which products can reasonably be a substitute for others and help make recommendations should the customer’s first choice be out of stock. This approach can turn upset customers into happy ones when they find their perfect alternative gift.

Another way to minimize disappointment is to focus promotion on items that are in stock rather than this year’s "hot" products.

As an example, Trotter pointed to sportswear brand Asics, which ensures that its supply chain and marketing teams meet regularly so that it makes sure that it is promoting what it has in stock. This not only means that customers can actually buy what they see in ads and on social media, but it helps to minimize expensive overstock.

5. Set Expectations Early

Marketers should set expectations with their customers as early as possible, letting them know that shipping delays are expected industry-wide, recommended Brooke Burdge, Attentive senior vice president of marketing.

“Releasing gift guides, offering alternative gifting options, and updating FAQs can nudge consumers to place their orders earlier than usual, Burdge added. “We’ve seen some brands, who are already facing shipping delays, rewarding customers with additional loyalty or rewards points as a ‘thank you’ for their patience — a strategy we expect to see more of this holiday season. Other brands have leaned into their founder or a representative of the brand to share a written message explaining changes in a real, authentic manner.”