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How to prepare your customer service for the holiday season 

 November 6, 2020

By  Nils Rebehn

Your holiday season checklist for customer service

It has been a tumultuous year so far and the end of the year does not seem much better: second waves of quarantines are coming in or are already enforced. While we hope this will help there is one thing for sure – things will stay busy in the online world. Customers are buying more online than ever, things are transacted online more than before. Customer support will be busy. Let’s talk about how to prepare your customer service for the holiday season. I prepared you a holidays checklist for your customer service teams.

Each tip can be used for almost any customer service or customer support organisation. The size of your team or what platform you are using is essentially irrelevant. However, since we are experts on Zendesk I will mention what feature to use in each point.

1. Check last years trends (and learn from them)

One thing to look out for are the times your support has been the busiest: when have tickets been created or chats, messages and calls come in last year? Identify the peak times and staff accordingly. I will not claim to be able to give you tips for staffing in the best way – but look out for the busiest times, they are likely to be the peak times again.

The other thing to check is the most frequent topics or questions asked. As long as your product or service is the same, your customers will have the same type of questions this year around.

If you are using Zendesk, then Explore is your best friend when it comes to data. Otherwise, look out for good reporting options in your platform.

2. Have your self-service content ready

Do you have a knowledge-base or a FAQ in place? Great, make sure it’s up to date. You don’t have one yet? Get one up right now! It’s easy to start and fill with content with Zendesk. I just explained it in my other post of how small companies or startups can deliver customer service like the big players.

Then make sure it’s easy to find. Zendesk offers a web widget to put on your website. It allows customers to search for the answer to their question before sending a ticket or starting a chat.

Why is it important? Every question that is answered by the customer themselves won’t become a ticket or chat. Therefore your team can focus on anything else that comes in.

Image of a checklist
Half way through the checklist

3. Keep your first response time and first resolution time low

Those two are key metrics when it comes to customer satisfaction. People get frustrated if your first response time is too slow. The lower the response time the better. For email, it’s less than a day and social ideally less than an hour, according to some industry benchmarks.

If you are using Zendesk I would recommend the SLA feature. It allows you to set timer against certain metrics, eg. first reply time. If you set it to 8 hours during your office hours, the system will count down (and display) how much time is left to meet this deadline per ticket. You or your staff can sort tickets accordingly. In case the SLA is breached you can escalate with various business rules.

4. Help your agents with the right tools

Now this differs depending on your workflows and tools your team is using. However, there are two main aspects to this: routing and prepared responses.

Routing

This is all about making sure the “right” ticket or chat goes to the “right” agent (at the “right” time). If you have tickets and live conversations coming into your support, you should make sure your customer gives you a clue what his question is about. Once you know the reason for the message you are more likely to connect them with a team member that knows the answer.

In Zendesk you can set up effective ways of routing incoming queries by using a combination of groups and views, often referred to as skill-based routing. Accounting questions go to the team that knows how to handle them best. Technical questions are routed to people who subject matter experts in this.

Responses

You might refer to them as canned responses, templated answers or something similar. In Zendesk they are simply called macros. Whatever platform or channel you are using, just make sure your agents have the answers to the most common questions prepared.

What you want to avoid is that agents type the same things over and over. Or, copying text from another place (like a text or Word-file) and paste it. That’s lost time and reduced productivity. Also, if the content is copied from a decentralised place, it might not be correct or outdated.

5. Make sure everyone is trained up

Only if your team is prepared will they perform well under stress. There are several areas your team should be trained in: the platform, your products or services, how to find the right answer.

  1. The first one is probably the easiest: your customer service platform. Make sure your staff knows the ins- and outs, how the basic and advanced features work and any shortcuts available. In case Zendesk is your platform, have a look at our training courses for agents and administrators. They take 2 to 4 hours to complete and are good for new starters and slightly advanced agents.
  2. Make sure your team knows the products or services you are selling. This is an obvious one, I know. But do you have a way to test their knowledge? When is the last time you checked in on their skills? And if you have too many products for one agent to know everything, use the skill-based routing I mentioned before.
  3. Once they know the system and your products/services it’s about knowing the best answer – or how to find it. Sometimes there are several possible responses to a question. Make sure your agents are aware of the easy and more complex solutions so they supply the right answer. And if they don’t know the best one, they need to know what to do – who to ask or where to escalate to.
  4. What does temporary staff need to know to be helpful? That’s a longer answer, let’s have a look below.

How much do I need to train seasonal or temporary staff?

Peak time usually means all hands on deck. But if that’s not enough you can get students or professional support staff as a temporary solution.

Ideally, they are already familiar with the system(s) you are using. If not, give them a crash course of the important functionalities. Give them some online training to get started up to speed with your customer support platform. On top of that, help them by letting them shadow experienced agents. A one to two-hour session with two different members of your team can help immensely.

To not overwhelm any seasonal staff it helps to limit their exposure to a limited amount of channels. Your experienced workers will likely to be able to switch from chat to social media to email tickets, but probably not your new team member. Make sure they are good at one or two channels. Maybe a primary one and a fallback one if they are less busy.

Then, lastly, it comes to product knowledge. It’s very likely that they won’t be able to learn what’s needed to answer everything. That won’t be necessary. A combination of routing them the questions they trained for, applying prepared responses (macros) and knowing the best answer should suffice.

6. Keep your agents motivated

Your team has everything: the right tools are in place, they know what they need to know. But after a while all that might not be enough – at some point, the motivation of some agents will drop. Good management is the key.

The team needs to feel supported through difficult times. Even more so when most of us are working remotely. Having good communications in place is important. We are using a mixture of Slack and instant messaging, depending on if the message is business-related or more personal or fun stuff.

Have regular meetings, eg. in the morning or at the beginning of a shift (or handover). In the industry, it’s commonly referred to as a standup meeting or huddle. It’s inspired by the common practice in software development teams. But it’s deemed to be so useful that other parts of businesses have adopted it. Here is a good overview of how it works and what to do. It can help to feel connected. Also, it helps to synchronise or communicate what to look out for.

Point out positive things. You might want to share numbers and results from your reporting when you met one or several metrics. Another great concept I observed with one of the teams I worked with is the sharing of good customer feedback. Giving shoutouts when another customer gave positive feedback. If you are using Zendesk and Slack, you can even automate it with this the Agent Slack Shoutout app.

But of course, you can do it manually, no matter what system you are using. And when you do it by hand it’s more personal. And personalisation goes a long way.

Image of cookies in the shape of snowmen and Santa Clause
Don’t forget to enjoy the holiday season and share positive vibes.

Conclusion

Some of these tips are self-explanatory. Most of the things might be already on your mind or taken care off. In that case, you can mentally tick off the items of this list and rest assured that you did a lot to tackle this challenging time in advance.

However, if you came across one or two things you are not so sure of how to do, feel free to reach out to us. We are happy to help.

About the author 

Nils Rebehn

Founder of Guidoo Services and former Zendesk employee #100. Nils is a Customer Service Expert and a certified Zendesk Administrator. Guidoo Services is "your guide to Customer Service” - the team offers a range of professional services and are specialised in Zendesk. Guidoo is a Zendesk Select Partner, assuring sophisticated solutions for your help desk.

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