Dec. 25 is the day most wedding engagements happen in the U.K., making on-time delivery for engagement rings imperative, says Jérôme Brustlein, chief operating officer at U.K.-based jewelry brand Fenton.

This is no easy feat during the busiest shopping season of the year, during the COVID-19 pandemic and during the Omicron variant surge, in addition to ongoing global supply chain disruptions. While many factors are out of a retailer’s hands, Fenton concentrated on what it could control: clear communication and good customer service to ensure it met customer needs.

The most pressing supply chain-related issue Fenton faced this year was the average three- to four-hour delays in receiving products from its South Asian manufacturing facilities, likely due to congestion and delays at airports, Brustlein says. Because its jewelry pieces are small, it imports products via air, he says.

As soon as Fenton knew that most of its products were delayed from overseas, its customer service team of seven in-house members contacted each customer to let them know that the order might be later than expected but would still arrive before Dec. 24.

“The worst-case scenario is to basically tell [customers] on Dec. 23 that it would not happen, so as a result, as soon as we knew it was delayed, we were getting in touch and letting them know of the plan,” Brustlein says.

Fenton worked with each customer to ensure they would still have the item when needed it. Brustlein estimates Fenton made updates to about 10-15% of orders, such as offering free expedited shipping or updating a shipping address to accommodate a shopper already leaving town and wanting the product to arrive at a new location.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as possible because we are a high-touch business and our AOV is so high, so we were able offer a personalized service and literally email or call customers one by one,” Brustlein says, adding that its average order value is roughly $3,000. “But that’s something about the nature of the business we are in. Someone like H&M can’t do it just because of the sheer number of orders they process every day.”

Because of the high-stakes nature of engagement ring shopping, Fenton builds in a buffer between when it estimates it will receive its products and the guaranteed-delivery date it shows customers. This buffer, as well as reaching out to shoppers, providing expedited shipping for some orders and reorganizing its warehouse staff schedules, ensuring all its products that guaranteed to arrive before Dec. 24 arrived on time.

“Most of our orders were delayed, but all of them arrived on time to the customer in spite of those delays,” Brustlein says.

Like Fenton, online retailers know their customer service teams are integral to helping customers with the numerous delays and disruptions throughout the pandemic. With the 2021 holiday season being the second pandemic holiday season, retailers now have experience with being nimble and know customers still expect great service in spite of challenges outside of their control. And, with the typical surge of orders and customer service issues during the holiday season, this is no small feat. Fenton, Pura Vida and Destination XL Group Inc. share how they managed to keep consumers happy during the 2021 holiday season.

For most online retailers, customer service inquiries increase during the holiday season. As retailers are processing more orders, consumers have a firm date when they need to receive their products and many are looking for deals. In November 2021, the volume of customer service inquiries relating to tracking order status increased 25% in November and 154% in December compared with an average month during the year, according to aggregate data from the 50-plus retail customers on customer service platform Thankful Inc. To accommodate this influx, most retailers increase their customer service staff, whether in-house or outsourced.

Want to read more? Unlock Free Strategy Membership