By Bryan Phillips

Bryan Phillips

“Making the season bright for holiday shoppers is key to earning or keeping their loyalty in the coming year.” – Bryan Phillips, principal of Customer Care for Xerox Industrial, Retail & Hospitality business group

It’s the most wonderful – and most important – time of the year for retail businesses. The holiday shopping season brings with it an influx of new customers and loyal ones – and all you have to do is keep them happy. Sounds simple, but the truth is, they bring their holiday business and their holiday stress – which can be exacerbated by long customer service wait times, lack of inventory and slow issue resolution if retailers aren’t prepared.

So, how do you make sure the quality of your customer service stays wonderful during this most important time of the year?

Here’s some of our best advice based on our customer care support for some of the world’s largest brands in retailing, e-tailing, wholesale, grocery…and even travel and hospitality which also ratchet up this time of year:

Prepare for the Peak

This year, the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to be higher than average – increasing 3.7 percent over last year. For well-prepared retailers, planning for that peak actually started back on the first day of the year.

“The data and metrics from the previous season are fresh – we analyze it in detail to understand volumes, workflows, customer satisfaction, root causes and time-to-resolution of issues. We come up with a framework for next year and take action on it over the next six-nine months,” said Tamara Ricketts, a Xerox vice president who is responsible for supporting a large retailer’s customer care.

Preserve the Experience

Our Xerox Customer Care staffing ramps up by approximately 400 percent during this time of year in support of the peak shopping, travel and benefits enrollment season. This year, according to USA Today, Amazon has hired 100,000 seasonal workers; UPS added 95,000; Kohl’s, Target and Wal-mart have hired tens of thousands too. As these brands swiftly grew their workforce over a matter of weeks, they had to do it with quality: Seasonal staff must provide the same customer experience as customers get all year long.

“Preserving the specific brand experience throughout every customer touch point is even more challenging when you add the volumes and stresses of the holiday season,” Ricketts said. Customer “touch points” include in-store, online, customer support, inquiries and returns. “Effective and engaging training programs become critically important and must be developed for each role with customer centricity at the core,” she added. “This gets both full-time and seasonal staff properly primed to deliver the required outcomes regardless of tenure.”

Learn more about Xerox’s retail customer relationship management solutions.

Empower Your People

“This time of year, you simply can’t afford to have anything slowing your agents down,” Ricketts asserts.

Accurate information about products, policies and basic problem solving is critical to empowering agents to deliver stand-out service that contends as a competitive advantage. Communication plans and additional training, aligned with performance and satisfaction metrics, are critical to helping new agents understand what is needed to answer a question or solve a problem in the fastest, most personalized and satisfying way.

Read “The Four Stages of Customer Care Transformation,” and learn how innovation can re-engineer your customer service experience.

Don’t Forget to be Social

This year, U.S. online sales are expected to increase 12 percent, accounting for 10 percent of overall retail sales, according to Forrester Research. As more people shop online, they share online. This is an opportunity for engagement that cannot be overlooked by retailers. With so much invested in preserving the customer experience this time of year, retailers must have a strategy for responding to customers on social media.

“Some of our clients have invested in a strategy to monitor social channels – and they are able to respond almost immediately to requests, issues and positive (or negative) sentiments. This is a huge advantage over those who haven’t yet embraced such strategies,” says Antonio Malone, vice president of operations for Xerox customer care supporting a retail chain.

In the midst of the shopping, buying, receiving and returning, there is more than holiday spending at stake for retailers. Making the season bright for holiday shoppers is key to earning or keeping their loyalty in the coming year – and retailers can seize this opportunity by preparing to preserve a positive shopping experience when the most wonderful time of the year also becomes the most unpredictable.

Paramount to that preparation: Use this year’s data to improve next year’s speed and quality, clear communication and training for issues resolution, and time and resources to manage unknown variables.

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