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2021 Holiday Season Survival Guide Part 3: Customer Service

As we inch closer and closer to the holidays, by this time you should have your inventory beefed up, your holiday sales planned out with a corresponding marketing calendar, and your warehouse primed to handle the increased demand that is just a few weeks away.

But there’s one more thing we need to touch on as part of our 2021 Holiday Season Survival Guice – customer service.

Since COVID-19 turned the world upside down, one trend that we all have noticed is the lack of employees to staff restaurants and retail stores. Many businesses have adjusted operating hours and are even closing on certain days of the week due to staffing shortages.  However, in the eCommerce world, our stores are open 24/7/365 so we need to be able to keep going regardless of the situation.

If your customer service department is a bit overwhelmed now, let me give you a heads up – you will be in the weeds come Black Friday! Bringing in additional Santa’s helpers now to handle the additional phone, email, and live chat volume you’re going to receive is a must.

With about two months to hire and train some additional part-time or seasonal customer service staff, you should have them up to speed to assist just in time for holiday orders to start rolling in.

When it comes to hiring, we can all agree that finding people to fill openings is challenging right now. So, if you think you will need three additional staff members, you may want to consider hiring five to give yourself a buffer in case some decide to quit or they need to be terminated. By overstaffing now, you will prevent yourself from being short-staffed when you need help the most.

Once your customer service department is staffed the way it should be, make sure everyone is on the same page with your policies and procedures. You don’t want customers receiving conflicting information regarding returns, shipping dates, etc that can lead to a negative customer experience.

Speaking of policies, try not to let them get in the way of making a sale. Return policies should be simple and easy to understand. Don’t make the customer jump through hoops to return or exchange an item. Complex return policies are a big source of negative reviews, so don’t open yourself up to that by overcomplicating the process.

While we can’t be Amazon and have the flexibility they have with returns, we shouldn’t be Scrooge either. A bad return experience will lead to that customer never ordering from you again, while a good one will result in a customer who comes back time after time.

Shipping policies need to be crystal clear around the holidays – especially with cut-off dates. Carriers are still and will continue to be, overwhelmed with packages and this holiday season is going to be, well… challenging.

Be cautious when establishing “order by to receive by” dates for holiday deliveries. Consider padding dates just to be on the safe side this year to avoid disappointment. Remember, even next day, second day, and 3-day air packages are not guaranteed to arrive on time!

Make sure you publish your shipping calendar on your site in a prominent location and all your customer service reps have a copy and are familiar with the cut-offs and are prepared to offer accurate shipping information to customers.

There’s no doubt that this year’s holiday season is going to be a challenging one. But by planning ahead, staffing well, and preparing as best as you can, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the added order volume.

Be sure to check out the other parts of our Holiday Survival Guide, which include shipping and site search.

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