Ecommerce Customer Service: Holiday Insights Direct from 10 Industry Leaders

Ecommerce Customer Service: Holiday Insights Direct from 10 Industry Leaders

As the holidays approach, you’ve stocked up on inventory, launched your campaigns, and have your sales funnel locked down. But, have you and your team planned for the impending rush of customer service requests?

Turns out — at 74.5% — customer service is the second most-pressing holiday ecommerce concern among large online businesses.

That looming challenge is why we reached out to seven high-growth retailers, the two Shopify Plus Partners powering their CS technology, and even Shopify’s own customer support leadership to find …

Real answers to 10 of the toughest ecommerce customer service questions for the holidays:
  1. Preparing for the Holiday Rush
  2. Scheduling Ecommerce Customer Support
  3. Critical Holiday Communication Channels
  4. Using Customer Support to Enable Sales
  5. Common Requests via Self-Service
  6. Opening Internal Communication
  7. Outsourcing and Staffing for Demand
  8. Winning with Service Beyond the Holidays
  9. Supporting Your Customer Support
  10. Bonus: Getting the Support You Need 🎁

Want to save this guide for later or share it with your team?

Given how pressing — and overwhelming — customer service can be during the holidays, we’ve wrapped the entire thing up for you in an easy-to-download guide …

Ecommerce Customer Service for the Holidays: Sample Pages

Download the holiday CS guide

1. Preparing for the Holiday Rush

How do you prepare your customer service team to handle the holiday rush?

Lauren Romeo, Associate Director of CX at Boll & Branch

We prepare for the peak in several ways:

▢  Optimize communication

We strive to spend those precious moments with our customers providing solutions and less time spent on data maintenance.

▢  Automation

Therefore, we have invested time in assisting our agents with data entry (such as setting up triggers and auto-tagging in Zendesk) so they can focus on great solution based customer service.

We’re also setting up tagging features based on keywords so that the agents spend a few seconds verifying versus a minute tagging.

▢  Gathering information upfront

Optimizing our request form helps us better know the inquiry details upfront, so we can put the right staff on the ticket.

▢  Product training

We have been exploring better means to train our internal teams as well as our outsourced third-party support. In addition to updated documents, a day-long training with comprehension testing, we will soon start incorporating video training.

▢  Forecasting demand for support

We look at daily as well as year-over-year peak trends to best allocate in-house and outsourced teams. We look as granular as hourly per channel to best determine the right coverage across our sales period.

Tom Keiser, Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk

In a Zendesk Research survey, our team found that ticket volumes can increase as much as 42% over the holidays. With this year’s busy season right around the corner, it’s more important than ever to make sure your support business is ready for the rush. I recommend that businesses nail down the metrics that truly matter before the rush descends.

Mature enterprise businesses providing support to consumers tend to have the highest volume of requests, the lowest Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), and slowest response times — e.g. First Response Time (FRT).

Customer service satisfaction in ecommerce

Source: Zendesk Benchmark

While CSAT continues to be the primary metric organizations focus on, we are starting to see companies supplement it with Customer Effort Score (CES). CES can provide additional insights into where your customers may be experiencing points of frustration.

Simply put, Customer Effort Score (CES) measures the ease of an experience -- how easy it was for a customer to resolve their issue. This can also give you information on how effective your self-service tools are and if your knowledge base needs improvements.

2. Scheduling Ecommerce Customer Support

Do you schedule or organize your customer service team differently over the holidays?

Sam Goff, Guest Services Manager at Magnolia

Normally, we are responding to emails as they hit our inboxes while our agents work on one live channel throughout the day. We also receive a pretty decent amount of traditional mail (snail mail), too.

Because of that, we schedule our agents for different live channels (e.g., phones and chats) throughout the day — they rotate channels at about the halfway point in the day. We also try to have one or two people on backup in case of a spike in traffic on one of the channels.

During the holidays, however …

We schedule each agent for certain timeframes, so each agent works on their allotted time frame of email tickets and once they are done with that section of their tickets, they get a new assignment of tickets to knock out.

Live channels stay the same, but our backup agents usually just jump straight to phone and voicemails versus emails.

We’ve seen success with this method in that it helps bring down the number of tickets quickly.

Don’t have time to read the rest of this article right now?

No problem. Given how pressing — and overwhelming — customer service can be during the holidays, we’ve wrapped this entire guide up …

Download the holiday CS guide

3. Critical Holiday Communication Channels

Which communication channels are most critical during the holidays?

Tarun Singh, CMO at Campus Protein

During the holidays, especially Black Friday weekend, customers are being bombarded by deals while having a higher than normal purchase intent.

Traditional channels such as email are just not fast enough. We use chat, text, and phone support to help minimize our response times, and maximize the customer’s overall experience.

Holiday communication channels for ecommerce customer service from Campus Protein

On both mobile and desktop, Campus Protein displays their phone number and chat support prominently

Lauren Romeo, Associate Director of CX at Boll & Branch

Phone and chat are always our primary channels. Our customer demographic is not looking for self-serve and therefore, they will reach out to speak with a person to verify their question or concern.

In preparation for next holiday, we are looking to partner with our marketing team to help tackle frequent questions that either require website adjustments, or solutions such as Zendesk’s Answer Bot that will help surface the answer to a customer that might be tucked away in FAQs or a pop up on our website (such as sizing).

4. Using Customer Support to Enable Sales

What role should support teams play in boosting holiday sales?

Romain Lapeyre, CEO at Gorgias

Your support team should play a crucial part in your holiday sales strategy. As with sales associates in a physical store, your customer support agents should be well equipped to respond to any product related questions to help the customer make their purchase decision.

Another thing to keep in mind is the repeat purchase rate. We’ve found that repeat purchases can be up to 4X higher for customers who contacted support and had a positive experience.

As an example, if 10% of your customers contact support and have a positive experience, you can increase your repeat purchase rate by 30%.

Another quick win is to promote your marketing efforts in each support message during the Holiday season. Support emails have a nearly 100% open rate and you should take advantage of that:

Customer service email enabling sales over the holidays

Sample customer service email used to also enable holiday sales

Lauren Romeo, Associate Director of CX at Boll & Branch

We utilize CX’s data gathering as a means to inform the business of what is working well and what needs more improvement. The business has a direct impact on our customer inquiry volume, and so we do our best to educate the company on both positive and negative impacts of our discussions.

We have monitored sales behaviors over the course of the year and provided the following feedback to our company as it relates to sales promotions to better assist with our labor forecasting:

  • Auto applying coupon codes reduces outreach 20%
  • Redlining sales increases by 10%

5. Common Requests via Bots and Self-Service

What are the most common requests and how can you offer automated responses or self-service options without coming off as uncaring?

Tom Keiser, Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk

You would be surprised how often consumers, especially today, want the ability to self-serve. Online shopping increases tremendously during the holidays, which means more people are on your website browsing for gifts at all hours of the day.

Combining self-service with artificial intelligence (AI) is a good way to surface relevant information to consumers at scale and give them 24/7 assistance even when agents aren’t available. In fact, 53% of US online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.

Bots and AI can be very helpful, but getting the experience right the first time is imperative.

When done right, it can help fill in the gaps that exist in customer service organizations by catching patterns that humans would otherwise miss. It can automate cumbersome processes and it can provide extra information to assist support agents and their workflows.

Using self-service for customer support via Bombas’ chat bot

Bomba’s universally present help chat opens by allowing customers to self-serve their Q&As, but “Live chat” is always one click away

Romain Lapeyre, CEO at Gorgias

Replace your boilerplate auto-response of “we got your message and we’ll get back to you” with automated responses to the top five questions your customers are asking.

When setting this up, let the customer know that the message they’re receiving is an automated response. While sending automated responses means that your customers are getting instant answers to their questions, it shouldn’t mean that your support team considers these conversations as closed. Your team should take a look to ensure that the bot responded properly, and answer any follow-up questions if needed.

Looking at the top questions from Gorgias Shopify Plus customers last year, the best way to tackle them is by focusing on self-service.

Popular holiday customer service ecommerce questions

With those questions in mind …

  • Make sure that your FAQ is completely up to date
  • Add an answer bot chat onsite that responds instantly
  • Also, set up automatic responses for each common question that will replace your generic autoresponder on email and Messenger

Last, the more technical your product, the more important having a responsive and adaptive FAQ page becomes. Keto-Mojo, for instance, who sells a ketone and blood glucose monitoring system, created a custom search to make finding answers as fast and easy as possible:

Searchable FAQ page from Keto-Mojo for ecommerce customer service questions

6. Opening Internal Communication

How do you open communication internally during the holidays (e.g., support, marketing, sales, engineering, etc.)?

Dorian Greenow, CEO at Keto-Mojo

We recently launched a new product and the tech development was done with a third-party company. With customer support fully integrated into Shopify, we were able to add that external tech team into our Gorgias helpdesk so that they could offer seamless support as if it was our own team giving greater comfort to our customers.

It’s the same basic principle for the holidays overall.

Opening internal communication is often just about being able to route requests to the right person immediately instead of having to track down an expert and then have to play middleman to follow up.

Of course, that doesn’t work 100% of the time. That’s why we also use Slack channels internally and with third-party contractors to seamlessly integrate our respective teams.

Roy Sunstrum, VP of Operations at Shopify Plus

The holiday rush really has two waves for Shopify.

First, the period where merchants are getting ready for Black Friday Cyber Monday, and then, second, the busy transactional period to follow.

It's important to have internal teams aligned and communicating effectively throughout the year, but during the peak season, we double down on that with additional mechanisms such as dedicated internal channels (Slack, email) and assigned stakeholders from different teams to ensure rapid attention to anything that might be noteworthy.

7. Outsourcing and Staffing for Demand

Should you consider outsourcing your CS team to help with potential overflow or train in-house?

Amanda Schermerhorn, Operations Manager at Darn Good Yarn

The volume of customer service inquiries you are receiving on a daily basis is a very important statistic so you are able to staff up appropriately. CS volume increases dramatically during the holidays and you have to ensure you have enough seasonal help to respond to all of your customers in a timely manner.

The breakdown of channels where these inquiries are coming from is also crucial.

For example, we learned that a majority of our questions were coming through either live chat or phone calls, which tells us our customers want an immediate response instead of leaving a message.

We were able to take that data to hire and train appropriately for all live CS inquiries.

Lauren Romeo, Associate Director of CX at Boll & Branch

We have always outsourced a portion of our support, however, we have recently started to rethink our strategy. While we had them focus on phones in the past, we've found that from a productivity and quality standpoint, it’s more beneficial for us to have our outsourcing team clear the easy wins and easily macroed inquiries.

This way, our internal teams who have the most access to updated product and business info, can spend their time on order inquiries and harder solves.

8. Winning with Customer Service Beyond the Holidays

How do you make customer support a differentiator for your brand (not only during the holidays but all year round)?

Drew Stadler, VP of Customer Happiness at Bombas

At Bombas, one of our core values is a company-wide commitment to a great customer experience.

This commitment begins with our Happiness Guarantee: a simple, all-encompassing statement that is reiterated on the bottom of every page of our website and essentially lays out our commitment to doing whatever it takes to make our customers happy.

We empower our Happiness Team to live up to the ideals of the Happiness Guarantee so that they can be creative and never have to wait for an approval to go above and beyond for a customer.

Bombas’ Happiness Guaranteed page shapes their ecommerce customer service

The Happiness Guarantee is nothing without smart, passionate people making it real. Our hiring process is rigorous. We look for people who understand that fundamentally, we're treating every interaction as an opportunity to bring people closer to our brand.

That’s how we use CX as a brand differentiator and we have the numbers to prove it:

Customers who reach out to our Happiness Team have 2X the LTV of those who we don’t hear from.

Russell Saks, CEO at Campus Protein

Our support teams main function is to actively help our customers have an easier and more seamless shopping experience.

During the holidays, however, we ask our team to be even more proactive. This push allows us to engage and solve problems faster than normal. We model this off of the shopping experience in your favorite retail store, where assistance comes to you instead of the other way around.

This experience is what helps our customers feel confident about their purchase and that they arrived at the right website this holiday season.

Sam Goff, Guest Services Manager at Magnolia

The guest experience is the absolute most important part of our brand’s mission. Service, hospitality, generosity — all of those things play a huge role in how we go about customer support.

At the end of the day, there is no substitute for authenticity. Whether you’re reaching out about placing an online order or because you have a question about the Silos, we want to make you feel like you’re the number one priority.

The Magnolia Promise on its help and customer support page online

No guest is more important than another, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure you walk away from your experience feeling satisfied, encouraged and valued — that’s something you cannot manufacture.

9. Supporting Your Customer Support

How do you ensure support reps are cared for and supported when burnout and frustration are high?

Drew Stadler, VP of Customer Happiness at Bombas

In order to ensure that our Customer Happiness Team is able to operate at the extremely high level that they do, we take great care to look after their happiness.

The holidays are a busy and exciting time but if employees don't take care of themselves, it can take a harsh mental and physical toll. To combat this, we’re constantly level-setting and making sure people know that we want them checking in with their bodies and minds in addition to getting plenty of rest.

We work hard, but also make sure we are staffed correctly, so the team can take the much-deserved time off to recharge and stay healthy, both mentally and physically.

We also keep morale up when the team is at the office, with catered meals and snacks, lots of team collaboration, volunteering together to help those in need in our local community, and other fun surprises to show we care.

Bombas celebrating together

To keep morale up, Bombas celebrates and gives back together

Bombas giving together

Aside from these various perks, we also make sure that every single member of the team has weekly dedicated one-on-one meetings with their direct manager to share feedback and touch base on how they’re feeling.

It’s a safe space and an opportunity for them to talk about whatever they want and often focuses on balance, well-being, and the pursuit of fulfillment at their roles and at Bombas.

Sam Goff, Guest Services Manager at Magnolia

We know the holiday season can be stressful, even outside of work, so the Guest Services Manager and Supervisors do as much as possible to make sure agents are well taken care of. Every day during the holiday season, we have two daily touchpoint meetings — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The morning meeting is for vision and preparation for the day, and the afternoon meeting is for recapping the day and reading positive feedback that came in for our team. It’s crucial for us to focus on the positive feedback during holidays because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the season.

Another fun part of the season is that we often try to schedule breaks and team activities. We do things like order food, play games, listen to Christmas music, try the new Silos Baking Co. holiday just have fun with each other.

10. Bonus: Getting the Support You Need 🎁

How can businesses on Shopify Plus get support when they need it most?

Marcie Murray, Director of Merchant Support at Shopify Plus

As a part of their offering, Shopify Plus merchants have priority access to support. This means that their requests are bumped to the top of our queues and routed to a Guru who has specific training for their needs.

Apart from Plus requests, our system for now is very much “first come, first serve.” We’ve always operated under the mentality that we want it to be easy for our merchants to contact us, and that it should be a level playing field for both longtime customers and new customers.

Our Merchant Acceleration team has developed a Troubleshooting Guide (below) to help you sequentially resolve any issues. You can download a high-resolution version to share with your teams and print out by clicking the image:

Troubleshooting Guide from Shopify Plus for ecommerce support over the holidays

Final Thoughts on Ecommerce Customer Support and the Holidays

During the holidays or all year round, we all know that there are exceptions to supporting your customers first-come-first-served.

When it comes to social, you also need to consider which requests are best for public or private responses. If someone reaches out publicly about payment issues, you should ask them to direct message (DM) you so that you can support them without their information being compromised.

Whether it’s a Happiness Guarantee, a 20 page manifesto for customer satisfaction, a commitment to fast response times, or a shared agreement to provide support proactively and reactively …

The bottom line is this: care for your customers and you’ll reap benefits you never would have dreamed of.

About the Author

Gabrielle Maheux is the Social Media Manager for Shopify Plus. She works to create and implement a paid and organic strategy across all channels for innovation and growth.