Our global supply chain is a marvelous mechanism, finely tuned and optimized for speed and efficiency. Yet despite being resilient, it can’t wave a magic wand and instantly overcome port delays, a shortage of truck drivers or factory shutdowns. Over the recent holidays, supply chain troubles triggered unhappy customer responses, and the resulting increased workload for CX agents and account reps did not bring about holiday cheer.

Holiday seasons always have backorders, bottlenecks and sold-out hot products. 2021 topped them all. We all hope 2022 sees great improvement, but in the off chance it doesn't, these supply chain pain lessons and tips will help us all get future holiday experiences right, for our customers and our teams. 

To start, it is critically important to set expectations now and create policies and tools strategically for what lies a mere 46 weeks away. While it may feel early to start preparing, resist the urge of putting this off.

Set Realistic Expectations With Your Customers

  1. Communicate with customers ahead of time to set their expectations. Your company should be talking with suppliers and shippers during 2022 to size up supply chain issues and adjust order timing. We recommend under-promising and overdelivering.
  2. Assuming the supply chain still has bottlenecks, make sure customers know you anticipated them and have been working to minimize problems.
  3. Plan and schedule your social media messages and alerts, to keep them informed about inventory, supply chain surprises and return policies. Don’t wait until Halloween is over to begin.

Related Article: Are Supply Chain Shortages Damaging Your Brand's Customer Experience?

Prepare Your Customer Service Teams

  1. Perhaps the most important action is to obtain firm commitments starting in September and October for overtime and extra shifts from your teams, for the holiday and post-holiday peak loads. 
  2. Get a robust staffing plan approved by September because you’re going to need it.
  3. Examine your team’s goals to make sure they motivate retention and performance.
    • Eliminate upselling requirements for the holiday season. After waiting on hold, customers get impatient listening to upsells. Don’t make your agents endure that pain.
    • Plan to let agents focus on issue resolution. Empowering them to push lesser priorities to the side should bolster your CSAT results. 
    • Adjust QA scoring for the holidays, especially if you end up short-handed. CSAT suffered in 2021 across holiday-centric industries, and it wouldn’t be fair to penalize your team for what’s beyond their control. First-contact resolution (FCR) might be a more suitable metric.
  4. Prepare your team for customer meltdowns over supply chain delays. The 2021 holidays brought more adversarial customer attitudes, from airlines to ecommerce. Arm your team with guidelines and limits that protect them, and examples of what they can say, such as: “There are two human beings on this call, and one of them is helping you solve this problem. If you are impolite, I will have to end the call.” When employees know you trust and empower them to end discourteous contacts, they may feel better able to tolerate difficult interactions.

Related Article: What Customer Experience Looks Like in the 2021 Supply Chain

Prep Your Customer Service Technology and Policies

With the lessons of 2021 fresh in your mind, update tools to help customers solve problems themselves and boost the FCR score.

  1. Review your FAQs, scripts, knowledge base, website updates — and update them periodically.
  2. Adjust policies as needed.
    • Give your teams more authority to resolve issues on the spot. Create policies for items that never arrive and late items. Will you refund, allow order changes, or replace — and under what conditions?
    • Consider supply chain pain in your policies this year. For example, let customers cancel items if their gift is in short supply and won’t arrive on time.
  3. Consider technology requirements.
    • How successful were your auto-responders, IVR and other resources to alert customers to the busiest days/times to avoid long hold times?
    • Where did chatbots perform well for you in 2021, and where did they simply irritate customers?
  4. Create opportunities for employees to win in their marathon stretch in November and December. Obtain a budget for employee contests to boost productivity.

Related Article: Customer Service Friction: A Double-Edged Sword

Learning Opportunities

Remember the Post-Holiday Peaks

As you are probably seeing right now, it’s NOT over when it’s over. Holiday workloads can last well past Christmas, so have your 2022 team primed to work more overtime. Build an “all hands on deck” attitude throughout the year, and sustain it.

Manager should ratchet up their 1:1 interactions with employees and keep watch for burnout. Encourage vacations during the off-peak, run contests to boost the fun quotient, and single out those who help the team with rewards and recognition. As the workload builds up next fall, try gift cards for food delivery services and other time-savers to show your appreciation for your teams' efforts.

If you end up short-staffed, let the entire team know you may draft them to work with customers. Your trainers, leads, QA and traditional support staff can all pitch in to ensure frontline success in 2022. Make it clear that there should be no additional requests for time off prior to January 15, 2023 or whenever your crunch time ends.

We’d like to refine and improve this holiday checklist for CX. For that reason, when you think about 2022, we invite you to reach out and share your ideas on making the holidays more successful for your frontlines.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.