The holiday season can make or break the year for many retailers. Deloitte predicts that U.S. retail sales for the 2014 holiday period will be around $986 billion.1 And, according to Forrester, online spending in November and December will add up to 30% of all US online retail for the year.2
For retailers it really can be the most wonderful time of the year. But the holidays amplify everything for retail brands both on and off social media: pressure, potential for profit, and the importance of effective customer care.
It’s essential for brands to set up a solid social customer care strategy for the holidays, ideally before the shopping season swings into full gear. Here’s a look at some of the challenges of the season on social, and how you can set your teams up for success.
"Only 62% of companies respond to customer service queries in under four hours."
The busiest time of the year on social media
Customers spend more money during the holiday period, which also means they expect more in terms of customer service. Even before midnight on Black Friday, many customers are after around-the-clock service on social.
And whichever holiday you’re talking about, the closer it comes, the more customers get vocal about it on social. Last-minute stock shortages or delivery woes can make social channels seem like a steady stream of unsatisfied customers as major holidays approach.
Our latest study looking at social media response times showed that only 62% of companies respond to customer service queries in under four hours. The 38% of companies leaving customers hanging for over four hours will only have more headaches during the busy holiday period.
How can you keep your customers happy for the holidays?
During the holidays, it’s important to make customer care a priority. First, ensure your client service teams are fully staffed for the holidays. Also consider increasing the hours they are available to customers. Not all brands need to have someone available 24/7 on Twitter. However if you’re an airline company, say Jetblue (who are widely celebrated for their attentive social service), customers want might response at any. Expectations are also highly dependent on culture–in Scandinavia, it’s probably not necessary to respond to a customer late on Christmas Eve. In the US however, clients with complaints might be miffed if they didn’t receive a reply.
Set your teams up with the right tools
For this period it’s also crucial to make sure that your teams have the right tools in place for social listening. No matter what channel customer issues come in through, it should be picked up on immediately and routed to the right person in order to set up a timely reply.
Aim for empathy in your customer care
When dealing with last-minute holiday gift or travel issues, a little compassion goes a long way. The holidays can be stressful, and people dealing with customer care should be prepared to respond with empathy and equipped to do a lot to help fix clients’ issues. If your teams go the extra mile to solve a customer’s issue in the busy holiday period, the payoff in customer loyalty will be worth it.
Amazon learned the hard way how upset customers could become when deliveries that were “guaranteed before Christmas” didn’t arrive on time for the big day last year.
Even though the issue was mostly due to winter storms, Amazon took a lot of the heat for the late deliveries. The biggest culprit: The fact that they had “guaranteed,” delivery before the 25th. Making this kind of promise can be a big draw for customers, but it can also harm your reputation if you fall short. In the end, Amazon managed to smooth the issue over by issuing $20 gift cards to the affected clients. The customer care lesson to keep in mind this holiday season–don’t make promises that rely on third parties or cooperative weather.
Keeping things in perspective
Social customer care, like the holiday season itself, can be stressful and rewarding at the same time. I think best mindset might be to think like you’re hosting a nice Christmas dinner: plan ahead for whatever you can, and try to take care of the little things before people start showing up. Then, once they do, realize that perfection is impossible, and if things go wrong, improvise, apologize, and if you can have some fun.
1Deloitte Forecast: Retail Holiday Sales to Increase 4 to 4.5 Percent
2Forrester Research Inc. US Online Holiday Forecast, 2014 Online Sales Will Reach $89 Billion This Holiday Season (pdf). 3 November 2014
Cover photo credit: Christmas Bow, Flickr user Origami 48616