How Retailers Can Handle Increased Customer Service Demand During Holidays
'Tis the season to start shopping. For retailers, this means delivering stellar customer service at every step of the customer journey. Salesforce data shows that 94 percent of consumers say good service makes them more likely to buy again while 80 percent will abandon a brand after three bad experiences. But rather than wait for the “three strikes and you’re out” rule to take effect, there are proactive strategies retailers can employ to not only meet rising customer expectations this holiday season, but exceed them.
At this year’s National Retail Foundation annual meeting, the need for personalized and frictionless shopping experiences emerged as critical priorities. With only 45 percent of customers saying they're “very satisfied” with their interactions with businesses, the savviest retailers understand that creating and ensuring seamless and efficient experiences can be the difference between a one-time buyer and a customer for life.
So, as the demand for exceptional customer service ramps up during peak holiday shopping periods, which strategies are best for helping retailers handle the seasonal rush without breaking the bank or disappointing customers? Whether your brand is relying on human customer service agents or it has elevated to employing omnichannel artificial intelligence agents, these best practices hold true:
1. Update your company knowledge sources.
Make sure your company documents such as help centers and CRMs are all up-to-date for the holiday rush — and be sure to update them with holiday-specific information. Tailor your FAQs to circumstances such as whether the supply chain slowdown in December will cause shipping delays and whether customers will be allowed to cancel their order without penalty if the item will miss their holiday deadline. Also, be sure to update your FAQs in real time if you get questions you may not have anticipated. An AI agent can do this faster and easier than humans.
2. Leverage historical data.
As the Boy Scouts motto says, “Be prepared.” The more you can plan for and anticipate customer needs, the more likely you'll be able to meet and hopefully exceed them. Check FAQs and agent transcripts from previous years to determine which information needs to be updated. Look at your call history data and website traffic numbers from the past few holiday seasons and see where customer volume begins to increase (and decrease). Perhaps most importantly, audit CSAT and other leading customer satisfaction scores to proactively address any holes in the customer experience. With AI, identify which automated conversations are truly successful — where the AI agent is providing relevant, accurate and safe responses — and where there’s opportunity for you to help your agent improve.
3. Keep pace with advances in AI.
One of the biggest game-changers in customer service has been the rise of generative AI. With its ability to analyze vast amounts of data, identify emerging trends, and generate highly personalized content at scale, generative AI allows retailers to deliver the customized and engaging interactions today’s customers are demanding. At H&M, for example, an AI-powered chatbot reduced customer response times by up to 70 percent over human agents and an AI-powered voice assistant helped shoppers find specific products. Another company called Tile, which sells Bluetooth finders, managed the holiday rush with one of our company’s scripted chatbots, resolving 52 percent of queries and handing off the rest to the right agents.
Retailers can decrease the load on their customer service team by utilizing AI agents to handle increasingly complex inquiries by taking action on a customer’s behalf without human intervention. This is especially important during peak holiday season when hiring temporary customer service professionals gets costly. Instead, AI agents can provide more permanent and personalized service at scale during the holiday season and beyond.
4. Ready the troops.
Prepare all your customer service platforms for the holiday shopping battle. Make sure all your support channels are connected and tested to support the influx of inbound customer requests. Give your human agents or your AI agents access to the most up-to-date data so they can efficiently resolve more complicated cases and preserve customer satisfaction. And remember, your troops will be better equipped for battle if you have the right technology to support the very high pressure season that is the holidays.
The holiday shopping season is a golden opportunity for retailers to make a lasting impression on their customers. It’s not just about making a quick sale, but about using smart strategies and smarter technology to transform a first-time customer into a lifetime customer. Anything less than a seamless, personalized retail experience from start to finish may significantly jeopardize brand success leading into 2024.
Kristal Lam is the senior director of product management at Ada, an AI-native customer service automation platform.
Kristal Lam is the senior director of product management at Ada, where she focuses on leading Generative AI and driving growth. Kristal has a strong passion for fostering diversity and innovation in the tech industry.