As Trump Considers the Holiday Shopping Season, Data Shows Retailers are Already Ahead of the Rush

Holiday shopping

… At least where customer service is concerned.

Last week, President Trump unexpectedly delayed new tariffs on many Chinese goods until after the holiday shopping season in order to allow American stores to stock up for November and December sales. He isn’t the only one anticipating an economy-boosting holiday season. Retailers expect holiday sales to increase at least 3.9 percent over last year’s season, and in the wake of Trump’s announcement, the S&P 500 rose 2 percent during morning trading. 

The holiday sales spike won’t just affect the stock exchange and retailer’s bottom lines; it will also have major ramifications for retail customer service teams. New proprietary data from Helpshift shows that last year, customer support tickets increased 47 percent during the holiday season, while Cyber Monday had a 55 percent increase in ticket volume from past holiday seasons (167 percent higher volume than non-holiday periods). This fall and winter, we expect sales and accompanying ticket volume to meet or exceed last year’s numbers.

As ‘back to school’ sales die down, retailers will need to prepare for a record-setting holiday season, with accompanying spikes in customer service queries. 

Lessons from last season: 2018 data provides insights to act on 

Despite steep increases in customer service ticket volume during the 2018 holiday season, data from Helpshift shows that by leveraging asynchronous messaging, automation and AI; retailers saw significant improvements for time to first response and resolution time during the holiday season spike. Retailers who use modern technologies to scale their customer service operations saw their average time to first response improve by 13 percent during the 2018 holiday period compared to the rest of the year. Likewise, time to resolve a query improved by 9 percent, and time to first response improved by an additional 10 percent during Cyber Monday.

This may seem counterintuitive — how does an increase in ticket volume lead to efficiency improvements? 

The answer lies in three key areas that retail customer service teams are increasingly investing in. These strategies allow teams to scale alongside increases in ticket volume, and enable high levels of ticket deflection and automation during anticipated seasonal spikes: 

1. Robust self-service options

Last year, many retailers not only jumped on board with customers’ preference for self-service, but also built out holiday-specific FAQs and self-service routes. For instance, many retailers experience higher volumes of questions around shipping speed, gift wrapping, and returns during the holiday season. Offering suggested answers to questions on these topics helps to deflect a significant percentage of queries when customers seek support. 

state of customer service automation

2. Automated technologies, particularly chatbots 

The vast majority of tickets can be at least partially automated. In fact, 45 percent of retail tickets can be fully automated, while 25 percent can be partially automated — leaving under a third of tickets that require a fully dedicated agent. By leveraging bots for initial information collection and knowledge base article suggestions, retailers can provide every customer with an instantaneous time to first response — often with a much faster resolution time than customers would otherwise get with a human. 

3. Shift from legacy channels such as phone and email to messaging-based support

In order to truly leverage bots and AI, brands need to move from legacy support channels such as call centers and email toward messaging. While some queries truly do require a live agent on the phone or through live chat, the vast majority of issues can be solved via bots or through asynchronous messaging with an agent. By pushing customers toward this channel, brands can benefit from modern-day technology such as frustration-free automation and AI-powered ticket routing

By relying on these three strategies, retailers are able to anticipate common queries and leverage technology to efficiently answer them. As we enter a holiday season with sales forecasted to surpass last year’s, it’s imperative that retailers use every tool at their disposal to provide excellent support without breaking the bank. 

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