Contact Centers Beware: Get Ready for the Biggest Online Shopping Season Ever!

Get ready for the biggest and best Christmas shopping season of all times. US retail industry sales during the 2014 holiday are forecasted to exceed $3 trillion, of which more than $72 billion – up 17 percent from 2013 – will come from online, e-commerce purchases.

An estimated 90 percent of Christmas shoppers will shop online this season with the following purchase breakdown:

– Fifty-one percent will purchase clothes and electronics.

– Thirty-three percent will purchase toys.

– Twenty-three percent will purchase gift cards.

– Twenty-one percent will purchase home décor items.

With the biggest online shopping season ever well underway, every business needs to appreciate the impact of Internet Christmas shopping on customer service requirements. While online Christmas shopping has many advantages over visiting the “high street” stores or shopping malls – e.g., no queues, parking issues or hours of trudging around multiple stores – shoppers also expect to be able to find answers to their customer service questions online as easily as they would from an in-store customer service adviser.

Whether your customer pays an initial visit to your store to view a product, researches the product via a laptop, discusses the product via a social media forum, purchases the product on a tablet or smartphone, or uses any of these options for after-sales service, the level of customer service you offer needs to be quick, efficient and above all, seamless.

Here’s a short list of the capabilities that businesses need to put into place as they get ready for the biggest online shopping season ever:

 – Seamless customer support. A lot has been written about the need to provide instant, accurate and up-to-date information to customer inquiries on a 24/7 basis. Companies like Zappos, FedEx, Amazon and many others have set the bar for outstanding customer service and as a result customers have come to expect this level of service regardless of where they shop. I’d go one step further by noting how important the delivery of exceptional customer service meaningfully is on the customer’s perception of that brand.

During this Christmas season, have you put into place an online customer support capability that allows your shoppers to secure needed support regardless of the online channel they opt to conduct business with you from (e.g., web-based [self] service, email, online chat, SMS messaging, or social media platforms such as Twitter)? And from each of these channels, is it easy for your shoppers to phone to your contact center agents if they so desire to move to this support channel option?

 – Multichannel support. If your shopper starts their customer support request via an online web inquiry, then sends a tweet to your customer service department, and finally follows up with a phone call to your contact center, will your contact center agent know of the web inquiry and the tweet at the moment that the agent takes the customer call? Of equal importance, will the customer encounter a similar level of service excellence regardless of the channel(s) they opt to utilize?

 – Appropriate customer support technology. Have you put into place appropriate technologies such as self-service knowledge bases so that online customers can easily find answers to their support questions on their own, thereby significantly reducing the volume of inbound calls or e-mails to your contact center and in turn reducing costs to your business and improving customer satisfaction? Have you opened these self-service knowledge bases to your contact center agents so they too can easily access resolutions to prior customer support inquiries?

And if you have shoppers that visit your store and utilize the in-store customer service department, have you connected this department to the self-service knowledge base used online by shoppers as well as by your contact center agents? Allowing contact center agents, internal customer service departments and even in-store staff access to regularly maintained knowledge bases allows these support personnel to “join-up” their customer service efforts, thereby improving service consistency, response times and even first call resolution (FCR) rates.

If you have answered “yes” to the majority of the above questions, the Christmas bells will be ringing plentifully for you during this holiday season! If you are unable to answer “yes” to the majority of these questions, this time is ripe to take appropriate action.  A good place to start is your LiveOps rep. Or contact me and I’ll do my best to address your concerns.

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