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Holidays can be a stressful time for consumers and businesses. According to research by Freshdesk, eCommerce customer support queries increase by 75% during this time. It is especially important to do well this year as companies bank on the upcoming shopping holidays to bounce back from the effects of COVID-19.

To respond effectively to the surge of support tickets without compromising on quality, Customer Support Managers need to understand how to manage customer service during a global pandemic.

We interviewed CX Leader, Lauren Pragoff, Vice President for Challenger’s Effortless Experience to get her expert insights on support strategies for the holiday rush. Lauren and her team partner with organizations who are striving to become low-effort customer service providers, helping implement successful programs while also steering clients clear of mistakes made at other organizations.

1. How should eCommerce customer support managers adapt their holiday support strategy in response to changes in consumer behavior as a result of COVID-19?

Consumers inevitably will be doing more online shopping this holiday season. I foresee a few direct impacts on customer support organizations.

Order Tracking

Make sure you are proactively providing updates and low-effort ways for customers to track their orders either online or through the IVR.

Returns and exchanges

Inevitably, online shopping means returns. Equip your support reps to handle disappointed customers by explicitly acknowledging their “baggage” and showing empathy where appropriate—and empower them to solve issues.

I say “showing empathy where appropriate” because it’s important to note that sometimes it isn’t appropriate! Especially if it isn’t sincere. Your customers will see right through that.

Internal Policies

Now’s also the time to examine your internal policies that are handcuffing reps from being able to serve customers effectively. You’d be surprised how many policies get implemented by product or legal teams without consideration for the impact they will have on the customer experience.

For example, if you’ve ever been to a store where there was a limit on how many items you could bring into the dressing room, you can pretty much bet that decision was made by legal or corporate risk. NOT customer service.

Customer service reps are left to face the brunt of customer frustration when faced with some of these hurdles. It’s frequently hard for service leaders to make the business case to the rest of the organization to change.

One way they can do this is to ask a sub-set of reps to track how many times they tell a customer NO, and why. Do this for about two weeks, and then take a look to see if there are common culprit policies that are getting in the way of serving the customer. If so, use the data to make a case for change internally. For example, “We had to tell 200 customers ‘no’ just last week alone because of our 30-day return policy limits”.

Also read: High-Level Customer Support Trends During COVID-19

2. What should be the Top 3 priorities when preparing your customer service team to handle the holiday rush?

Not your typical holiday rush

Remember that this is not your typical holiday rush—this is a pandemic-style holiday rush. That sounds like an obvious statement. But it’s important to consider how holiday shopping will feel very different for customers this year. Millions have lost jobs, and even those who are still employed are counting pennies more closely than usual. Spending is going to feel a little more stressful than in previous years. Your staff needs to be prepared to handle conversations with customers who are in a high-anxiety mode. Now is the time to upskill your team on things like active listening, positive language, and advocacy.

“Rush” out of the Holiday Rush

Consider taking the “rush” out of the holiday rush. Many contact centres still have public readerboards that show how many customers are in the queue and how long they’ve been waiting. Unplug those immediately—or disable the desktop version for your work-from-home reps. Your reps know there’s a queue. Every customer they speak with is likely complaining about it. Don’t stress them out more with metrics that will force them to rush a customer off the phone.

Coaching Matters

Make sure your supervisors are ready to practice effective in-the-moment coaching. Our research shows this is the most effective way to boost rep performance, so don’t cancel coaching for the holidays. Just practice smarter coaching. Our research shows that coaching is not a time game. It’s quality over quantity, so even a 2-minute quick conversation can be a highly impactful way to boost performance.

There are so many things to say about what effective coaching looks like. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll suggest that your supervisors should be focused on teaching, not telling. The best way to do that is through powerful open-ended questions.

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3. When should you consider augmenting your CS team with outsourced seasonal customer support staff to help with potential overflow?

I would consider what an outsourcing provider can quickly enable that might take more time to build internally. For example, an outsourced provider might be able to bring new service channels (like webchat) to your customers with the flip of a switch.

I’d suggest that the highly complex customer issues should stay in-house. E.g. tasks that need in-depth product knowledge or will require collaboration with other internal groups, which can be difficult for third parties to navigate. This especially true if you’re only looking for short-term seasonal support. Make sure you have a plan in place to route contacts accordingly.

Thanks to Lauren for answering these questions. If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, you can follow her on LinkedIn.

Explore outsourced ecommerce customer support solutions with Boldr.