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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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      Make Your Website Merry and Bright with These 10 Holiday Marketing Ideas


      The bright and cheery season is finally here!

      String up the twinkling lights, bust out your ugliest sweater, and get to work decking out your website.

      via GIPHY

      Wait?

      Work during the holidays?!

      Yeah, I do sound like the Grinch right now. But getting festive for Festivus (and all the other major end-of-year holidays) can actually give your website more chances to unwrap extra visitors.

      If your cup of ideas isn’t running over, we’ve got you covered. Our gift to you? Ten great ways to freshen up your website for the holidays. Batteries not included.

      Before You Get Started

      Before you delve too deep in creating new holiday campaigns, take the time to look at the results of your holiday promotions from last year. Hopefully, you already did this when you were prepping your website for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But if not, let’s refresh!

      Let Your Goals Guide

      First, take a moment to reflect. What are your company goals? And what do you need to get out of the holiday shopping season: more sales, leads, or subscribers? Every action you take, including fun holiday marketing campaigns, should drive toward those goals.

      If the campaign you’ve got in mind won’t help you achieve your goals, put that idea on the naughty list.

      Review Last Year

      Which promotions registered with customers last December? Which ones fell flat? Before you put fingers to keyboard, take a look at last year’s results and build from there.

      Plan Out Sales in Advance

      Run the numbers to find out what deals you can afford to offer during the holidays. Then use this information to help you choose which holidays ideas to implement on your website.

      Analyze Your Channels

      You need to know how you’re going to spread the word about your holiday campaigns and promotions. So ask yourself: Do you have an email subscriber list? How strong is your social media presence? Is one platform stronger than the others? Have you ever used PPC?

      Scout Out the Competition

      What have your competitors done for the holidays that you could tweak for your specific audience? Make a list. You can even look to big brands for ideas (lots of inspiration coming your way).

      Got all that? Okay, on to the ideas!

      10 Holiday Ideas to Brighten Up Your Website

      1. Make Sure Your Website is Ready for the Season

      First things first, let’s get technical to make sure your website is geared up and ready for the season.

      You can do this by checking with your hosting provider to plan for any surges in traffic. If you need to upgrade for more resources, do it before the holidays hit. That way, you won’t run into issues when all those visitors come knocking on your website’s door to get your holiday deals.

      Next, make sure your payment gateway can handle more transactions. You may also want to consider upgrading your services to accept more forms of payments and double check your security features. The gifts of convenience and security are the type of holiday cheer your customers will appreciate.

      Need a baller payment gateway for your website? Here are 10 can’t-miss options.

      Finally, optimize to reduce your site’s load times. I could give you a mile-long checklist for this, but you’re busy — I get it. Instead, try these ten speedy-site tips, and then test your site’s performance with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

      Now, you’re ready to roll!

      2. Dress Your Website up for the Holidays

      Your customers are used to your website’s regular look, and that’s great — for most of the year. When the holidays roll around, though, consider giving your site a little extra sparkle.

      Take caffeine juggernaut Starbucks.

      Everyone is used to the company’s white-and-green siren, but come November 1, Starbucks’ cups get a little more festive.

      Obviously, your website isn’t a paper cup. So when it comes to zhuzhing up your homepage, a lot of jingle can go all the way. Let’s look at a brand that does holiday cheer well: Bath and Body Works.

      As soon as visitors hit the website, they are greeted with twinkling snowflakes and a giant, festive banner image. Even their promotion code is cheery: SNOWFALL.

      One word of warning (and good, old-fashioned marketing advice): know your audience.

      When you opt to make your branding more holiday-themed, pay attention to how your customers receive it. If you’re worried, solicit customer feedback, run some A/B tests, or hold a focus group.

      You don’t want to catch any flack — like Starbucks often does — for being too much this way, not enough that way.

      3. Use Your Email Marketing List

      Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in making sure your website is perfectly festive. However, it’s vital to remember that many customers won’t see it — unless you email them with a link and a good reason to return to your homepage.

      Long-time readers and first-time commenters alike will probably remember that we’ve gone in-depth before on why website owners need to get serious about email marketing.

      It’s the single-most-effective marketing tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention. You want a slice of that pie!

      WordPress users! Learn how to build your own email subscriber list directly on the platform.

      Most of all remember that your subscribers opted into your email list for a reason: they want to hear from you! Don’t forget to wish them well this holiday season and share your good news.

      After all, who doesn’t love a killer sale like this offer from Legacybox?

      4. Make ‘Em Laugh

      Sometimes the best way to get your website visitors in the holiday spirit is to make them laugh.

      Of course, how you do this is largely up to you and what works for your brand.

      JibJab allows visitors to personalize hilarious videos and send them to friends and family. Each year, the site offers a series of customizable holiday cards that are bound to make their customers laugh, share, and repeat.

      Kmart is another brand that has used humor to increase sales during the holidays.

      While the Jingle Joes might not “resonate” with everyone, the use of humor is a good way to stand out during a very competitive shopping season.

      Lastly, don’t be afraid to go dark. Like real dark.

      For a lot of people, getting together with family for the holidays isn’t a friggin’ Hallmark movie. HotelTonight took all those bad feels and translated them into this dark-comedy dream.

      You don’t have to be a hotel booking website to pull this off either. Get creative and think about your specific target audience. The world is your air mattress — erm — oyster.

      5. Put Together a Holiday Gift Package

      No matter what products or services you offer, you can group them together during the holiday season and offer a holiday combo on your website.

      Dollar Shave Club nails it each year. 

      As you can see, the shave kit is exactly like the ones they offer every other month of the year.

      So what’s changed?

      Only the context! The Elf on the Shelf signals holiday hijinks are afoot without the brand having to do any repackaging of their product.

      This time of year, people like to see holiday promotions. Even if you are selling the same old thing, dress up the way you promote to match the season.

      6. Drum Up Interest

      Almost everyone has a hard time waiting for the holidays (even if you can’t wait for them to be over, amirite, Scrooge?). But as a website owner, you can use all that anticipation to drive hype for your business.

      Take H&M. The brand created a short trailer to tease its 2017 holiday collaboration with Nicki Minaj.

      I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of all things H&M and Nicki Minaj, so even before the final campaign dropped, I knew I’d be checking out H&M’s latest gear. #MarketingSuccess

      Of course, if you don’t have the budget to hire a mega-watt celebrity to headline your holiday campaigns (pssst, have you heard of micro-influencers?), then you can always build hype the old-fashioned way: with a countdown!

      Ellen famously does the “12 Days of Giveaways,” and it’s hugely successful. Hitch your sleigh to that idea by doing 12 days of promotions, deals, even blog content — anything that will resonate with your customers.

      There is nothing naughty about leaning into the sense of urgency and excitement that comes with the holidays.

      7. Promote Your Expertise

      If there’s one thing for certain about the holiday season, it’s this: people gain weight. Yeah, your pants aren’t lying; holiday weight gain is real. And so is the motivation to lose the weight come January 1.

      Don’t worry I’m going somewhere with this.

      If you are a brand that holds a special level of expertise on a holiday-related topic, then the time is now to jump in and start sharing.

      For example, if you are a doctor, wellness coach, purveyor of health supplements, or self-styled weight-loss guru, then focus your content on how people can stay healthy during the holidays.

      Need an example? It’s like that one time we talked about tech-themed horror movies for Halloween. Look for a niche that you have expertise in and find a way to tie it to the season.

      Content win!

      8. Get Real With Your Followers

      Not like Drunk Uncle real. I mean genuine. The holidays are a great time to share what your brand is really about.

      Take Samsung for example.

      Their “Unwrap the Feels” video captures the spirit of the holidays by showing a collection of darling families gathering together. It’s so darn charming, that by the end, you might get a bit misty-eyed — and want to purchase some of Samsung’s magical family-bringing-together products.

      You don’t have to pull heartstrings to win hearts, though.

      If you are getting jolly around the office, let your customers in on the fun. Chances are they’ll be interested in the team that keeps their favorite products on the market.

      When you hold an office party or volunteer for a charity project, make sure you share the real, unfiltered you with your customers.

      9. Give Back to Customers

      When it comes right down to it, the holidays are about giving back. There is no better time to focus a little less on the bottom line and a little more on making the world a better place. For instance, you could make a donation to a charitable organization or sponsor a company-wide day of service.

      DYK? DreamHost is currently matching up to $10,000 for donations to Charity:Water.

      Looking for a viral way to spread joy to your customers? Host a giveaway or contest on social media.

      Last year DreamHost gave back to our customers with “The Dreamiest Website of the Year Awards.” Customers were able to submit their websites for a bevy of awards. The winners got swag, cash, and bragging rights. It was a fun way to thank the people who keep us in business.

      10. Welcome Visitors to the New Year

      After the hype has died down, take some time to ramp up your content production. Why? Because once the merriment is over, your customers will be thinking about the next big thing: the new year!

      Come January, DreamHost customers are looking for help building a brand new website to kickstart their resolutions, whether they’re starting a blog or a business. Think about what your customers will want to do next year and start creating content to help them do just that.

      The new year is a fresh start for everyone. Stay on top of your content strategy by preparing in December for a big rollout of fresh ideas in January.

      Give your website a home for the holidays. Sign up for DreamHost today!

      Stick a Bow on It, You’re Done

      There you go! We hope you’ll enjoy (and use!) these 10 gift-wrapped holiday ideas to connect with your customers during the holiday season.

      And we want you to get in on this too!

      Tell us: how have you decked out your website in years gone by? And what are you trying for the first time this December? Spread the good cheer with us on Facebook or Twitter.





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