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      How Your Online Business Can Nail Customer Service During the Holiday Rush


      The holiday season is upon us once more, and that means many things for your business. On the one hand, you’re about to enter the most lucrative period of the year. However, you’ll also be considerably busier than usual, and will likely need to deal with a much higher number of customer support queries.

      To make sure your support can cope with the holiday rush, you’ll want to plan ahead. Strengthening and preparing your support team is key to helping them provide assistance for a huge influx of stressed customers. If you do that, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of the season more effectively.

      In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s particularly important to provide quality customer service throughout the holidays. We’ll also offer some tips for how you can prepare your business and support team in advance. Let’s get started!

      Why Customer Service Matters Most During the Holidays

      If you’re anything like us, you’re getting busier by the day preparing for the holiday season. However, this isn’t just a time for buying gifts and eating good food. It’s also the most critical period for businesses, as many companies make the bulk of their yearly sales during the last few weeks of the year.

      However, to make sure your business takes full advantage of this period, you’ll need to plan ahead carefully. There are plenty of ways to ensure that you’re ready for the holiday rush, and one of the most crucial is making sure your customer service will function flawlessly.

      Of course, providing high-quality customer support is always necessary. During the holiday rush, however, you will most likely be inundated with even more support queries, questions, and confused customers than at any other time of the year. And because of high stress levels, you’re also more likely to end up dealing with some frustrated and potentially antagonistic customers.

      This might sound intimidating. By preparing in advance and making a solid plan, however, you can ensure that your customer service will remain top-notch even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Not only will this help your customers, but it will be a huge benefit to you and your customer service agents as well.

      10 Ways to Prepare Your Customer Service for the Holiday Rush

      If you’re wondering: “When should I start to prepare for the holidays?”, our answer is right now! It’s never too early to start planning for the year’s final month, but having a plan in place at least before the beginning of December is highly recommended.

      With that in mind, we’re going to guide you through some of the most important steps you’ll want to take. Here are 10 things you can do prepare your customer service before Santa arrives!

      1. Analyze Last Year’s Data

      A perfect place to start your planning is to look back at the previous year. This will involve examining the volume of calls and messages you received, finding out what the most common pain points were, and trying to understand where your service may have been lacking.

      Having this data at hand will be a huge help when formulating a plan for the upcoming rush. You’ll be able to improve in areas where you’ve struggled previously, and you can also preemptively provide information for the most common customer questions. In turn, this will cut down on the number of queries your team has to field.

      How you go about doing this analysis will naturally depend on your toolset. If you’re using software like Zendesk or Awesome Support, you can just view the statistics and queries from previous years. You should also liaise with your support and marketing teams, as they’ll be best equipped to tell you where you need to focus your attention.

      Here are some vital questions you’ll want to be able to answer:

      • How much larger is the volume of support queries you receive during the holiday shopping period, compared with the rest of the year?
      • What are the most common questions customers have?
      • How are most people choosing to contact you — via email, phone, chat, or some other medium?

      Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. However, these answers will help you immensely throughout the rest of your preparations.

      2. Decide Which Support Channels to Focus On

      It’s essential that you know where to focus your attention during the holiday season. At first glance, it might seem like the best route to use every conceivable method of contact, but this can lead to spreading yourself too thin.

      Imagine that you have to simultaneously juggle phone lines, live chat, emails, and social media, in addition to updating your content and dealing with orders and shipping. In this scenario, you’ll likely see most — if not all — of those channels suffer in quality. This is especially true if you only have a small support team.

      To avoid this problem, you’ll need to consider which channels of communication to focus on. The best way to start is by looking at which channels are most commonly used by your customers. As we mentioned in the previous section, looking at earlier years’ support queries will give you a good baseline to work from. However, you’ll also want to consider which channels are most popular during the rest of the year.

      For example, if you find that your customers are primarily calling in or using your contact form throughout the year, it’s fair to assume that these will be the busiest channels during the holidays as well. Knowing this will let you assign more people to handle those channels, and avoid keeping customers waiting.

      3. Prepare for Quick Scaling

      The truth is that no matter how well you plan, the holidays are never completely predictable. This means you’ll need to have a contingency plan, in case you need to scale up or down with little notice.

      For example, what if you face twice as many support requests as you anticipated? You’ll need to be able to assign more time and manpower to deal with them, while also keeping the rest of your operations afloat. In this scenario, you might consider hiring remote seasonal workers to help out.

      This is something many companies do to handle the increased volume of work during the holidays. Hiring temporary workers gives you the freedom to change the size of your team at almost a moment’s notice. For example, you could use a service like PartnerHero to outsource some or all of your customer support work during this period.

      Naturally, you’ll need to ensure that these seasonal workers have all the assets and information they need, which is something we’ll discuss later on. With the right preparations in place, they should be able to slot into your normal operations with little friction and help you deal with almost any unexpected situation.

      4. Keep Your Customers Informed

      Arguably the most significant way to avoid customer frustration is to manage their expectations. If your support is changing during the holidays, you need to make that clear as early as possible. They’ll need to be aware of when and how they will be able to contact you.

      It’s also smart to let customers know how your other operations are likely to alter. For example, will returns take longer to process, and will they need to wait a bit for responses to their emails? By letting them know what to expect, you can keep them informed and minimize the risk of frustration or hostility.

      One strategy you can use to your advantage is sometimes referred to as “underpromise and overdeliver.” The idea is that you prepare customers for potential issues that may arise, but then work to avoid those problems anyway. This lets you exceed their expectations.

      Overall, our recommendation is to be honest about what customers can expect and to make any changes clear through as many channels as possible. That includes on your website, social media, and even your email list. This will ensure that the bulk of your customers know what to expect.

      5. Use Automation to Your Advantage

      When the season gets going and you find yourself swamped in tasks, every second will count. To make sure you can use your available time most efficiently, you’ll want to consider automating tasks whenever it’s possible to do so.

      For instance, you can create an automated workflow using software like Help Scout. This can be set up to redirect customer queries to the person or team best suited to deal with them. Not only will this save time on your end, but it will also keep waiting times down for your stressed customers.

      Workflows also let you handle plenty of other tasks automatically, such as tracking products to let you know right away when stocks are low. You can then deal with the potential issue before it becomes a full-blown problem.

      There are plenty of other ways you can use automation during the holidays. One of the best strategies is to set up an AI-driven chatbot that can help you deal with the most common questions. This can dramatically cut down on the amount of time the human members of your team need to spend on customer support requests.

      6. Implement a Triage System for Support Queries

      In addition to automating parts of your support system, you can also optimize it by introducing a triage process. This involves sorting tasks and support queries into categories depending on their urgency. You can then prioritize more urgent matters first, while non-emergency tasks can be dealt with later.

      Implementing triage into your customer service will let you focus your attention on what matters most at any given time. The most pressing and time-sensitive tasks can be dealt with right away, minimizing the risk of making your customers feel frustrated and hostile.

      An easy way to do this is to simply categorize each customer query according to priority. If an issue needs to be dealt with immediately, you might label it as “critical,” while if it needs to be looked at within 1-2 hours it could be labeled “urgent.” Issues that can wait a day or two, on the other hand, can be noted as “low priority.”

      However, you need to remember that you’ll still have to actually deal with all requests. If you find that you’re never getting around to handling low-priority tasks, you may need to consider scaling your team up temporarily by assigning additional personnel.

      7. Update Your Content and Knowledge Base

      Earlier, we discussed the importance of keeping your customers informed. However, this extends beyond just letting them know about changes to your schedule. By making sure that all of your content and assets are up-to-date, you can save both customers and yourself a lot of time and hassle.

      For example, if you provide a knowledge base with information about your products and services, you can use it to answer most of the most commonly asked questions during the holiday period. In many cases, your support team can simply refer customers to relevant knowledge base articles, answering their queries quickly.

      For this to work, you’ll obviously need to ensure that you provide as much documentation and information as possible. It also needs to be thoroughly updated, to ensure that you don’t cause additional confusion among your customers.

      If you need to set up a knowledge base, you can use a plugin such as Heroic Knowledge Base. If you already have one, on the other hand, you should perform a content audit well before the holiday rush kicks in. This can also involve reviewing similar resources, such as your FAQ page.

      8. Learn How to Help Stressed Customers

      The holidays are intended to offer relaxation and fun, but we all know that it can also be a thoroughly stressful period. As such, you’re likely to deal with a few customers who are particularly difficult, frustrated, or even outright antagonistic.

      Naturally, you’ll need to prepare in order to help them out and avoid angering them further. Dealing with difficult customers is a delicate task. The most valuable advice we can offer is to train your support team to stay calm and professional at all times, no matter what a customer might say.

      In addition, here are some ways you can approach particularly challenging customers:

      • Listen. If the customer feels like they’re being deflected or ignored, they’re only going to get angrier and less responsive.
      • Be quick. Naturally, your goal is to be as a fast as possible with all support queries. However, it can be worth prioritizing more stressed customers, to avoid further incident.
      • Treat them like people. We discussed the value of automation earlier, but in tough cases, it’s better to take a personal approach. Make it clear to the customer that you’re handling their issue and care about their frustration, so they don’t feel like they’re being treated as a nuisance.

      In short, by listening to the customer and being prepared to meet them halfway, you can usually solve even the most heated of issues.

      9. Prepare to Provide Compensation to Customers

      In some situations, you may need to compensate customers. Especially in the most volatile or challenging cases, a simple gift can help to smooth things over immensely. Some customers might even demand this kind of treatment.

      Providing compensation can help to soften even the most upset customers. It can also win back some goodwill. Your goal is to ensure that the customer considers using your business again in the future, despite their current grievances.

      Naturally, you’ll want to be very careful about how and when you compensate customers. In some cases, such as when they’ve received a faulty product, you may be legally obligated to provide a new item or a refund.

      However, you can also provide compensation if a customer has had a particularly difficult experience, either with your business or your customer service. This could be in the form of a small gift, a coupon, a discount, or anything else that’s convenient but useful to the customer.

      10. Take Care of Your Support Team

      Finally, while it’s obviously necessary to take care of your customers, you shouldn’t ignore the people on your own front lines. Beginning on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the holiday rush is a stressful experience for everyone, especially those who have to field questions and requests from wound-up customers.

      Depending on the size of your business, you can take care of your support team in several ways. Naturally, you should make sure they have everything they’ll need to do their jobs without incident.

      However, it’s also nice to reward your support team further, to show your appreciation for all their hard work. Even something as simple as the occasional gift, like seasonally appropriate sweets and drinks, can do a lot to raise morale during this hectic season.

      Holiday Shopping Made Easy

      The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, but it can be hard to feel merry if your customer service is strained. By preparing well in advance, you can put a plan into place, train your team, and inform your customers — providing effective and efficient support as a result.

      Do you have any questions about how to handle customer support during the holiday rush? Find us on social and let’s start the conversation!





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      10 Easy Social Media Tips for Your Hard-Working Small Business


      Whether you sell routers, pillows, shared web hosting, or car washes, your customers — and potential customers — are on social media. Not only do you need to be there too, but you also need to be there in the right way.

      Jumping into the world of likes, snaps, pins, and tweets can feel overwhelming. But if you know the basics, you can build a social media brand that supports your company the same way a loyal employee does. Follow these 10 rules as you start this journey.  

      1. Limit Your Platforms

      From Twitter to Snapchat, there are a lot of social media sites and apps out there that everyone seems to be using — plus another dozen you’ve probably never used or even heard of. However, being active on social media doesn’t have to mean using every social media platform there is. Choose just two or three and learn to use them expertly, rather than floundering your way through them all.

      To determine which two or three to pick, figure out where your business’ audience already is. One way to find out is by surveying your mailing list. You can also check Google Analytics to see which social media sites most readers use to find your website by looking under Acquisitions → Social. A third way would be to watch where your competitors and other influencers in your niche spend their digital free time.

      Once you’ve narrowed down your social media targets, it’ll be a lot easier to focus on offering quality content for your audience. (Plus, since you’ve only got a few places in which to learn the ropes, you won’t have to worry as much about making embarrassing social media snafus! Not that you ever would. We believe in you.)

      2. Plan Everything

      Although many people are attached to their phones, they are hesitant to actually use them for calling a stranger. Nowadays it’s much easier, often preferable, to post a question to a company page or feed. And if your company is too slow to respond, it will most definitely make you look bad.

      Social media, however, can suck up a lot of time for busy small business owners. That’s why we recommend picking one day a week to schedule all of your posts in advance and then checking in daily to review comments and answer questions. Schedulers like Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social all allow you to sync multiple social media accounts and plan your posts in advance. You could also use If This Then That to apply a rule. (For example, “If I add a new item to my Etsy shop, automatically post a photo of it on my Instagram.”)

      Also strategically choose when you’re going to post. Morning is better because then you’re on the clock when questions and comments come in — as opposed to when you’re driving home in the evening.

      3. Curate Content

      Scheduling a week’s worth of social media in advance might seem daunting if you’re worried about where all that content is going to come from. But you don’t have to do it alone.

      Chances are you already see a lot of share-worthy content online that is extremely relevant to your business. For example, if you run a grocery for people with food allergies, you probably read a lot of articles about food and health in the news. Perhaps you’ve read relevant blog posts from chefs or health advocates. These types of content may come from other people, but as long as you give credit where it’s due, there’s no reason you can’t share these links.

      Sharing other people’s work isn’t just a useful way to provide content to your audience — it’s also just a nice thing to do. When you promote other people’s work (with attribution) on your social media accounts, it’s likely they’ll notice and perhaps even return the favor. Get into the habit of bookmarking helpful missives from other people so you can schedule them into posts.

      4. Be Pretty

      Taking Picture

      Gone are the days in which you can use boring or low-quality pictures. People expect professional businesses — even small ones — to have a social media image to match.

      While a slightly blurry photo may slide on Snapchat, that same picture will not translate well on Facebook viewed on a desktop, and it can subtly damage your reputation.

      A couple of options: watch tutorials on how to take good shots with your smartphone. Or track down someone with a nice camera who can spend a few hours taking pictures of your office, candids of your employees, and stylized products.

      If you decide to DIY, take multiple shots, pay attention to lighting (natural light is usually best), use the rule of thirds, and remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.

      5. Write Killer Captions

      As important as it is to have good images, a strong caption will take your photo to the next level. Review the following tips for making your captions captivating.

      Tell a Little Story

      You could introduce your new sales manager with a simple “Here is so-and-so” or you could share her experience selling Girl Scout cookies. Which one would make a lasting impression? Cookies. Always.

      Watch out for Repetitive Info

      You don’t have much space to capture readers’ attention, so carefully choose your words. Use the “location” tool if available so you don’t have to repeat that info. Avoid using the same word twice and be succinct.

      Always Proofread

      Reading your captions slowly and out loud will catch a lot of embarrassing typos. You’re just one “s” away from turning “assess” into a social media blunder.

      Avoid Clichés

      “And they’re off!” “We had so much fun today!” “We’re over the moon.” If you don’t see these phrases on social media posts every day, you’re not on it enough. Just kidding. But start to think of using clichés like filing your taxes — an annual event.

      Captions Just Want to Have Pun

      See what happened there? While you generally want to avoid clichés, you do have permission to take one, tweak it to make it relevant, and voila: you’ve just entered a whole new level of caption writing. Use this site to find the idiom that’s right for you.

      Run Captions by Someone Else

      Something that’s funny to one person could be offensive to another. And when social blunders happen online, people take note.

      Quality Is Way Better Than Quantity

      If you’re showing up too often in people’s feeds, you’ll look too eager and possibly annoying. Composing thoughtful posts or tweets twice a week will fare better than hastily sharing two every day.

      6. Harness Hashtags

      Who would have guessed that the symbol formerly known as the pound sign would have a mid-life crisis and rebrand itself as a hashtag?

      These little guys are A-list characters now, and using them correctly can help your business reach a wider audience. Obsessed with the venture capital world? Search for #VC on Twitter, for example, and you will find hundreds of thousands of posts to peruse — and lots of infographics too. Instagram now lets users follow hashtags specifically instead of individual accounts.

      Using popular hashtags for your field can help potential customers find you, but, like anything that should seem simple, there are a few dos and don’ts for this catchy form of communication.

      Do:

      • Use popular hashtags to garner a broader interest. Instagram, for example, quantifies how many others are using a particular hashtag  (Search function > tag tab). Say you’re in the business of selling bow ties. The most-popular hashtags are #bowtie, followed obviously by #bowties. Scroll down, and #bowtiesarecool, #bowtietuesday, and #bowtieready are other top options. Using all these hashtags will help you reach people who are obsessed with this form of neckwear. 
      • Include your company’s name and nickname in your hashtag list.
      • Jump on the #TBT bandwagon. #TBT, also known as Throwback Thursday, has more than 413 million TBT hashtags on Instagram. Read this article for more marketing tips related to this retro movement.
      • Try using hashtags to make people smile. If you’re selling socks, try something like #nostinkyfeet or #happyfeet.

      Don’t:

      • Use too many. Unless someone is really patient — or married to an employee — he or she won’t read through a long list of hashtags. Put the most relevant ones at the beginning and the funniest ones at the end, the two places people are most likely to read.
      • Create long hashtags. Since they are harder to read without spaces, limit them to four words.
      • Use hashtags that beg for bots to follow you. Remember that quantity is nice, but real, live people are best. And begging for followers is not professional. Avoid hashtags like #followme, #like4like, or anything else that could be considered pandering. 
      • Forget to proofread. Some words without spaces can be read different ways.

      7. Know — and Engage — your Audience

      Figuring out your demographic is an important step as you understand your audience. The more specific details you know about your customers, the more effective your social media messages will be. An easy way to start is to review the questions and exercises presented here.

      Another tip is to build suspense. Got a new product coming out soon? Tease it a few times before you introduce it at a specific time on your accounts. If your company is hosting a conference, highlight individual presenters via social media the weeks before registration goes live.

      You could also try hosting a contest or a giveaway. We all love the idea of getting something for nothing. One popular contest strategy is to give people extra entries in exchange for tagging a friend, who may end up following you. Check out a few more tips here.

      Instagram App on Phone

      Be sure to take advantage of the polls functions on Instagram and Facebook. They offer quick and painless ways to get into the minds of your customers. Or flat out ask a question in one of your posts. If you haven’t noticed by now, people are more than willing to share their opinions online.

      You can also get help from your fans. Gently encourage the people who already love your business to make it a point of discussion on social media. The easiest way to do this is to make your website effortlessly shareable. You can use the Social Bookmarks or Shareaholic plugin for WordPress to add one-click share buttons for a variety of different social media sites to each post and page. Since images improve shares, you can also use a plugin like WP Facebook Open Graph Protocol to ensure that your posts automatically include a featured image when posted on Facebook.

      8. Keep a Social Eye on Competitors

      Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Obviously, copying everything your competition is posting is bad business. But looking at other accounts can also spark creativity. (And in reality, there isn’t a ton of originality on social media anymore, just everyone doing the same thing a little differently.)

      Ask yourself these things about your competitors — and other top brands on social media. What hashtags are they using? What kinds of posts are generating lots of comments or shares? What pins are getting lots of saves?  

      You can also look at the people who are interacting the most with your competitors — and follow those people too. If they are taking the time to converse about the field, there’s a good chance they will engage with you too.

      Beyond social media stalking, you could even try following or liking your competitors’ posts. Just because they’re rivals doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. Who knows? They may even like you back.

      9. Show Personality

      If you make people snooze, you’re going to lose — followers. Brainstorm with key people to conceptualize the image you want to present, but keep in mind that social media is all about fun. It’s an escape for people, and you want to be subtle as you promote your company — and even post things that aren’t self-serving.

      To get your creative juices flowing, consider these ideas and read the success stories of some other bigger businesses.

      Highlight Your Employees

      That guy who wears flip-flops year round? The woman who brings in a new scented candle each month for her desk? Share their stories, and you’ve got an opportunity to connect with followers.

      Showcase Your Customers

      Same idea here. Who was your first customer? Who was your last? Who’s your youngest? Who comes to your store every day at 2:15? It doesn’t have to be super unique — it just has to make people smile. Then, as people start posting and tagging your company, you can share their posts (assuming they’re positive and have high-quality images), and you’ve just scored some extra content in minimal time.

      Use Holidays to Your Advantage

      You know the main ones: Halloween, April Fools, Christmas, etc., etc. But then there are hundreds of other, slightly unofficial holidays that people go crazy for, like Star Wars Day (May 4), National French Fry Day (July 13 this year), and there’s even a Programmers Day (September 13 this year). Use this list and start brainstorming how you can use these “hashtag holidays” to influence your social media accounts. Don’t forget to tag these posts with the correct holiday name to reach a wider audience.

      Share Inspirational Quotes or Fun Facts

      Creating a simply-designed quote or a meme is another way to connect with your audience. Sending out happy vibes is always a good idea, just make sure you’re sourcing the right person and sharing accurate stats.  

      10. Product Promotions

      Always Link Up

      The product you’re touting needs to be a tap or a click away or else people will lose interest quickly. Including links on some social media platforms can be a little trickier than others. Instagram, for example, relegates links to bios and stories, and Snapchat has only recently allowed clickable URLs. But the extra seconds that it takes will pay off in the long run.

      Offer Discounts

      Who isn’t hunting for a good deal nowadays? Sharing discount codes or free shipping for followers will keep them bonded to your business. Forbes reported that 72 percent of Millennials search for a coupon before making an online purchase. Another survey said 71 percent of consumers follow specific brands on social media with the purpose of getting coupons.

      Connect with Influencers

      Influencers — the lifestyle accounts with large social media circles — live up to their title, and most thrive off of collaborations too. By connecting with an influencer and offering a free product in exchange for social media promotion, you’ll not only get a personal endorsement (the marketing equivalent of gold), but you’ll also get a potential new audience from their followers. Here are more details on what to expect if you dabble in influencer marketing.

      Purchase Ads

      We know, we know. We’ve spent the last 2,000+ words talking about how you can do this yourself. But hear it out. A lot of these social media platforms can figure out who might be a potential follower/customer/friend based on things like bios, web and app usage, and other algorithms. (If you’re really interested, read this article on some ways Facebook collects data on its users — fascinating and a little creepy too.)

      If you’re serious about taking this to the next level — and especially if your target audience is on the younger side — then spending money on social media ads can help. Chances are these ads will go much further than any email newsletter will.

      Although social media is used all over the world, it doesn’t mean you have to have deep pockets to jump into the game. The ads can be targeted, and these platforms offer a variety of pricing options. Check out this detailed social media advertising guide — broken down by platform — complete with steps on how to buy and create your ads.

      So now you’re armed and ready with enough information to make your head spin. But just remember: social media is an escape for most people. Enjoy the creative outlet and the ability to connect with your customers in a whole new way. There will be a little rush when you get that first retweet, guaranteed.





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      Is VMware Cloud on AWS the Right Solution for Your Business? (Video)


      There has been a lot of excitement around the VMware and AWS partnership. The new service is touted as a way to leverage VMware’s software-defined data center technologies with the scalability, security, and cost effectiveness of AWS. But is it an ideal hosted cloud solution for all businesses? Not necessarily.

      In this episode of SingleHoppy Hour, Ryan Hunt and Josh Williams, VP of Enterprise Sales and Engineering, break down the current VMware on AWS solution, as well as its best use cases. Which scenarios are ideally suited for it, and which would be better served on a Dedicated Private Cloud platform?

      Watch the video below to see what they have to say.

      Navigate this episode by topic:

      • The value proposition for VMware on AWS. (1:10)
      • What type of customer should be interested in this offering, and why? (2:03)
      • Why it’s not a great fit for everyone, as well as the barriers of entry. (2:55)
      • Do users have the ability to tie in other AWS features such as, Redshift and Lambda. (5:33)
      • If this first iteration of VMware on AWS doesn’t fit your budget, what are the alternatives? (7:34)
      • What’s missing? Managed services. (8:47)
      • Will it aid in IT enablement? (11:56)
      • What’s the future of VMware on AWS? (12:55)

       

      Cheers!



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