3 Steps to a Scalable Customer Service Strategy for the Holidays

In August, we published a Pocket Guide to Smarter Staffing During the Holidays to help retailers prepare for the holiday surge. If you missed the guide when it launched, now’s the perfect time to pick it up for tips on how to provide immediate response times and seamless paths to resolution without doubling your holiday workforce. In fact, since we published the guide, we conducted research for our newly released State of Customer Service Automation 2019 report, which is packed full of data insights based on 71 million chatbot interactions. Based on our findings, we’re updating our advice for retailers as they prepare for the holidays.

Invest in messaging

Messaging is growing in popularity with consumers, making it the most impactful channel for retailers. It’s easy to see the appeal: Messaging fits seamlessly within consumers’ day-to-day lives, allowing them to have an ongoing conversation without both parties being available in the moment. That’s a huge plus considering our latest research found long hold times are the biggest annoyance for customers. In fact, 62% of respondents reported this makes them dread the experience.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that our latest research also found that 83% of consumers would make messaging their primary means of contacting customer support if they could be guaranteed an immediate response. (That number was 76% in 2018.) Another bonus for consumers — because messaging allows for conversation histories, customers never have to repeat themselves or start over with a new agent.

The channel is just as compelling for retailers. Messaging is less expensive and enables faster response times than taking phone calls. In fact — when paired with automation — messaging makes it easy to deflect tickets to messaging and reserve phone and live chat for escalated, urgent issues. By making messaging a priority, you can more readily handle spikes in ticket volume without adding lots of seasonal agents. It’s more cost-effective too — research shows that messaging costs $1 per interaction compared to $3 per interaction for live chat.

Make the most of AI

Knowing that the holidays trigger a surge in customer service issues, we also studied how retailers used automation to manage issue spikes in November and December 2018. Even as they handled a massive influx of tickets, retailers maintained — and even slightly improved — CSAT. And the majority of these retailers were using essential automation tools like time-based responses and automated routing.

These benefits can be supercharged with the addition of AI to intelligently classify and prioritize tickets. You can use AI-powered segmentation to drastically speed up time to resolution by ensuring time-sensitive issues are resolved in real-time, while VIP customers are pushed to the top of the queue for live assistance. AI can even route issues to the agent best equipped to handle a given ticket type, or to a bot, based on predefined workflows.

Leverage frustration-free automation

If you’re savvy enough to embrace messaging, you’ll want to go a step further and adopt chatbot-enhanced messaging. Our newest research found that twice as many consumers this year compared to last are willing to interact with chatbot-enhanced messaging. Plus, we found that time to first response (TTFR) is nearly instant with chatbots. No wonder brands offloaded more issues and volume to bots between Q1 and Q2 2019. Even as total issue volume increased by 24%, bot interactions increased by 51%.

In our latest research, we closely studied the experience of one retail brand calling heavily upon bots to handle the surge in customer service issues during the 2018 holidays. They handled a 300% increase in volume with only 20% more agents and achieved a high CSAT in the process.

That said, it’s wise to find the sweet spot and only use automation when it enhances the experience by saving time. We call this balance ‘frustration-free automation’ and a perfect example is using bots to handle routine issues, such as answering frequently asked questions.

Chatbots can also collect information upfront, offloading your agents while they handle more pressing issues but equipping them to immediately resolve the issue once they’re able to address it. Bots can collect basic information (e.g., ID, purchase date, order number, payment method, etc.) much faster than humans, and can map those details to the customer profile so that the information is easily accessible for the agent.

Our State of Customer Service Automation 2019 research found that when bots assist agents, the result is more productive agents. Just as critical, we found that CSAT was 6.83% higher when agents and bots work together, compared to the average overall customer service CSAT. In other words, you don’t need to scale your agents to handle higher volume and satisfy customer expectations!

Get holiday ready now!

With the busiest shopping season of the year fast approaching, now’s the time to put in place strategies and tools that will enable you to smoothly handle holiday spikes without breaking the bank. Download The Pocket Guide to Smarter Staffing During the Holidays and The State of Customer Service Automation 2019 report today so you’ll be prepared to make the most of the 2019 holidays!

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