Today The Official Merchant Services Blog begins a special two-part series on Customer Service. A previous blog focused on how important Customer Service is for a business during the holiday shopping season. We are currently in the midst of one of the busiest holiday shopping seasons on record, according to the early sales data that has been reported. So to bolster your efforts, we’re going to highlight information and advice brought to our attention from our friends over at Software Advice.
Fellow industry blogger Lauren Carlson ran a two-part series at Software Advice dealing specifically with customer service and the holidays. It’s an insightful series that begins with offering advice on how to prepare your customer service department –– namely your help desk –– for the rigors of increased business from holiday shopping.
And What Are Those Tips?
Carlson’s article was timed for the lead up to Black Friday, but much of its advice is still extremely relevant to merchants facing the rest of the season. After all, the questions that get asked at your help desk aren’t going to subside until after the holidays. Or as Carlson says, the guidelines she gives “if done, can prevent potential chaos and better prepare your agents to handle the spike. This translates to happier customers during the holidays, who will turn into repeat customers once the wrapping paper has settled.”
The first tip given is to create a holiday specific FAQ list. Carlson states that the types of questions a lot of help desks get hit with during the holiday season can vary from the normal questions that get asked the rest of the year and as such, suggests brainstorming and coming up with a list ahead of time to prepare. Due to timeliness, that may no longer be a viable option for a lot of merchants. But by now, you may have a pretty good handle on the varying questions that you were hit with on Black Friday and all through Cyber Week. Which brings us to the best advice found in the first tip: “Post the simpler questions up on your site to avoid spending time on those calls.”
This can be done to enhance the e-commerce experience, getting it out to your customers and providing them with both information that they need, and a click through into your site. Or this can be done just for your own help desk’s internal sanity, having a quick reference guide on hand for when they are barraged with these questions that make your list. As Carlson states, this type of list “will enable agents to resolve a majority of issues on the first call.” And it will be useful for the duration of the season, preventing your staff from having to scramble to find answers even as it gets to be late into the shopping season.
Cross-training to Stay Prepared
The next tip Carlson offers is to cross-train your staff. She cites Matt Trifiro, Senior VP of Marketing at Assistly who explains that cross-training your employees can help you reduce the need for hiring seasonal staff. Carlson says of cross-training: “Much like athletes cross-train to improve the whole body, companies can train every employee – from receptionists to accountants – to be a support agent, improving support across the entire organization.”
This is a great tip for merchants looking to weather the holiday shopping blitz but not go through the process of training seasonal help that they have to let go a short time later. It’s also a quick way to deal with support issues that may have just now cropped up well after Black Friday. Host Merchant Services itself utilizes that same philosophy in its own customer support structure and finds that it does help a business be more responsive and more effective at handling support issues year-round.
Carlson maps out the plan for cross-training your staff, suggesting that a merchant should equip all their employees to answer basic questions customers may have. Then Carlson says merchants should set up an escalation procedure for situations that require additional steps or expertise. This will create a smoother flow for service during the high traffic times of the holiday shopping season.
Communication Has Many Channels
The next tip Carlson gives revolves around communicating when your business is on its own holiday. A lot of Merchants, such as restaurants, have a different set of hours as the actual holidays approach. Carlson suggests merchants should communicate clearly and consistently with their customers about any downtime or time where the business is unavailable during the holiday shopping season. And in 2011, there are quite a lot of avenues in which to communicate this information: “Alert customers on every possible medium (website, Facebook, blog, Twitter, voicemail) of your seasonal hours and availability. Communicating this clearly will help avoid confusion and, more importantly, dissatisfaction.”
This information also applies to any other Merchant needing to reach out to its customers –– including adding extra service hours during holiday shopping like a lot of retailers do. Social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are amazing tools available for customer interaction and can help you keep your customers up to date on all the latest developments your business goes through during the holiday shopping season.
Support Your Support Agents
The final tip Carlson gives for merchants to prepare their customer support help desk for the holiday shopping rush is to have a plan in place that will offer support for those who are your support agents. Carlson states: ” Help desk and support center employees will be very busy and likely very stressed during the holidays. Savvy companies will invest a lot of energy into supporting their agents via rewards, bonuses, in-office R&R, etc.”
Having something concrete in place that defuses stress and gives your support team some focus or incentive can help your business navigate through the increased stress and tension that holiday shopping can place on a business. This falls in line with Host Merchant Services’ own partnership protocols in the e-commerce section of its services –– where the company’s goal is to take the stress and burden of merchant services off of the business and onto the the merchant services provider. This enhances the overall partnership by making it less stressful for both partners. The same applies to customer service, especially during a time when the increase in business can exponentially increase stress.
Even though Black Friday has passed, this increased stress will continue to build. So it’s definitely not too late to consider implementing some sort of program or incentive to give your support staff both a tip of the hat for its hard work and a goal to strive for that will keep them going through the rest of the holiday rush.
Lauren Carlson offers some rock solid advice for customer support during the holiday shopping season. Many of the tips are easy to implement and do not take a lot of added time investment to get working. Host Merchant Services is always looking for useful insight on customer service to pass along to merchants. Quality customer service helps build long-term relationships with your customers, and can keep them coming back to you long after the holiday shopping season is over. Tomorrow The Official Merchant Services Blog will take a look at part two of Carlson’s series.