Customer service technology can help retailers automate some customer contacts, while providing data that can optimize results from all interactions.

Laura Bassett, director of marketing, customer engagement and vertical solutions, Avaya

Laura Bassett, director of marketing, customer engagement and vertical solutions, Avaya

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest days of the year for bargain hunters – particularly online which last year broke records with cyber shoppers spending $12.8 billion during the five days from  Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday last year.

Now is a crucial time for retailers to ensure they are ready for the onslaught. Here is a list of top tips for handling customer service during the holiday shopping madness:

Be ready for the influx – test and update web pages, social channels, apps and phone systems

In this increasingly interconnected world, the influx will be multichannel – phone, online, mobile, in-store. You need to make sure each of your channels is ready:

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  • Test and review your web presence – make sure your website is easy to navigate and emails are properly routed for specific inquirers or issues.
  • Vet and update your social channels to make sure they are on brand – as much as you want to attract new customers, you don’t want to confuse and turn off repeat customers.
  • Sense check if you are operating in all the channels you should be – don’t have a mobile app? Don’t have designated social responders?  An online automated shopping chatbot assistant?  Maybe you should.
  • Last, but not least, make sure your phone system and voice self-service (Interactive Voice Response/IVR) are current and optimized to properly direct calls for key seasonal inquiries.
You can’t be everywhere at once – but you can make it seem like you are.

Furthermore, make sure your customers know all the ways they can reach you, get them excited to try these new methods that improve both their experience and your workload:

  • Do your customers know about your mobile app? Can you offer an incentive to get them there?
  • Is there an online FAQ that can help answer simple questions?  Is it also available via search/phone/mobile?
  • Are there blogs or forums where they can learn more? A social media page where they can follow you and ask questions?  And expect a transparent, truthful response?

Put AI and chatbots to work

You can’t be everywhere at once – but you can make it seem like you are, that’s the beauty or artificial intelligence and chatbots. The world of customer service has changed, where it used to be human-to-human as a first interaction, now more often than not, it is a human-to-machine interaction, well before you or someone in your business personally becomes involved. This means you need to make sure your AI systems are working to the best of their ability to meet your needs and your customers’ demands.

As part of ensuring your communication channels are ready, enable online channels with a chatbot that can help answer simple questions and elevate customer issues if needed. Leverage an AI solution on your social channels to monitor interactions and automatically detect and measure sentiment/tone, enabling the ability to identify and reach out to disgruntled customers, quickly elevating them to engage directly with an agent or expert as it relays vital context to those frontline resources.

Take action on data analytics

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By “data analytics,” we mean customer journey analytics: data collected across all lines of business to support a powerful, real-time visualization of the customer journey. Almost 60% of companies agree that analytics improves the customer journey, yet 64% have no big data analysis capability that combines data from all knowledge sources (from across the entire enterprise, not just inside the contact center), according to a 2017 survey by Dimension Data.

Customer journey analytics enables organizations to quickly locate and alleviate problem hotspots that impact the customer experience (something that only 24% of companies today can do, according to the same survey). Those insights empower retailers with an inherent understanding of how customers are using a combination of channels. This information can be crucial when preparing for a frenzy of festive shoppers; it helps you identify and troubleshoot pain points before they blow up on the big day.

Empower your agents – It could get ugly!

Are your customers deciding between your product and another, wondering about free returns, wondering about price guarantees?  Do your agents know how to deal with a customer who is so frustrated they are ready to explode?  You must train, inform and empower your agents to listen and (re)act: offer refunds, discounts/incentives and have the confidence to answer difficult questions. Encourage in-house information sharing: if one of your agents is asked a tricky question and has a good response, have a knowledge bank where they can share the information, or have it available online directly to customers.

Lastly, regardless of what we have been trained, the customer is not always right, but they are crucial to your success.  Your agents should be confident to act calmly and offer options to resolve the situation through alternatives that are fair for both parties.  In the end, your agents need to understand how to balance the cost of losing a customer and the potential bad PR related to this, versus resolving the situation on the spot and the positives that might bring. This can be where data analytics become very useful, being able to see the journey a customer has taken to get to your agent can empower them to make the best choice in the heated moment.

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And as a final point… Don’t back down!

Stand your ground.  The holiday season only begins with Black Friday and Cyber Monday – and I’ve got news for you, it doesn’t end with Christmas; in fact, post-season can be just as – if not more – important. Your team needs to be prepared for the influx of refund and exchange requests. Post-holiday audiences also provide opportunity for continued sales efforts and social opportunities as customers are interacting with new products or services they’re been gifted or introduced to over the holiday season.

Avaya is a provider of contact center software and services.

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