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Good customer service leads to good business results. There’s no denying that. And to deliver good customer service, you need a team of dedicated agents with a very specific skill set.
There are a lot of customer service skills agents should master when working with customers online and offline. While you might need them all, a few of those skills will be more useful than others during the upcoming holiday shopping season. You still have some time to get ready, and if you think you and your agents need to brush up on your customer service skills, the Agent’s Handbook will do the trick. Now, take a look at what abilities you should focus on to get your business smoothly through the holiday period.
1. Working under pressure
The holiday shopping season is the rush hour of the year when it comes to online sales. This means increased customer traffic on your website, thousands of chats, calls, and emails. During peak hours, you’ll have many more contacts to handle than you would on a regular day. That kind of pressure can get to you really quickly if you don’t manage it well.
The good thing is that having gone through last year’s very unusual holiday shopping season, we more or less know what we can expect this year. Sure, people will shift parts of their budgets from online to offline, but you can be sure that the number of people who’ll buy at least a few gifts online will be very similar to last year’s figures. To give you a little bit of context, 99% of consumers will do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year and 13% will do all of it online.
Apart from using our innate abilities to handle pressure and stress, it’s good if you can disconnect from your work, even for a bit. Take short breaks every now and then. It’s easy to forget about them, especially when you’re working from home and you’re prone to sitting at your desk for extended periods. Do some exercises, stay hydrated, or take a walk to get some fresh air. You can always jump in a chat from a mobile app if the website traffic gets too heavy.
The time you’ve spent improving your time management skills will pay huge dividends during the holiday shopping season. Clawing back an extra couple of minutes will allow you to both have an occasional break and also get more chats covered.
One of the most important aspects of your time management skills should be the ability to prioritize. Take a couple of things into consideration when picking the next conversation you’re going to handle:
- How long has the customer been waiting for an answer?
- How long will it take to solve the case?
- How painful is the problem for the customer?
Ideally, you should handle the customers who’ve spent the longest amount of time in the queue first. By doing this, you won’t forget about the customer whose case got pushed back further and further with each new chat, call, or email.
You need to find the right balance, though. If there’s a really complex case that’s going to take 30 minutes of your work, it’s better to leave it for later and solve five other cases that will take seconds each. This way, you won’t leave five customers waiting while you tackle the difficult case. One way to get around this would be to have a dedicated person in your team that takes on only the most difficult cases. Whenever an agent encounters a case like that, they could forward it to the expert agent and go back to one-touch cases.
You should also consider how painful a particular problem is. Some problems will cause more havoc than others. If a customer can’t finish an order because of some weird browser glitch, their case should take priority over a customer who wants to ask how big of a discount you’re offering or one who wants to ask about your shipping options.
Like I mentioned, the key is to find the right balance. You want to maximize the number of cases you can handle within a limited amount of time without sacrificing the quality of your service. To do that, you need to take all the different factors into account.
3. Communication skills
In your efforts to speed up your work, make sure you’re communicating in a way that’s easy to understand. You don’t want to leave your customers trying to figure out what you mean. Simple communication is key.
Use short sentences and plain language. Avoid jargon for as long as you can. Visitors to your website probably don’t know all the terms you use internally, and I bet there are equivalents to those terms that everyone can understand. Using simple language will also come in handy when dealing with non-native speakers.
Try to use as much of the customer’s language as possible. If they described a particular feature on your page in their own words, don’t try to correct them. Use the same name they used. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know all the terminology as long as they buy your product or service.
When trying to figure out what communication style you should use, once again, you should go with the customer’s lead. If they are very formal, you shouldn’t try to crack a joke or use casual language. It works the other way around too — if they are joking themselves or they are using some informal language, you get some leeway with the language you can use.
You can test your communication skills and other customer service skills in our Agent’s Handbook Quiz!
During the holiday shopping season, you’ll probably have to deal with different types of customers than you’re normally used to. I mean one-time buyers who don’t usually buy your stuff or only buy it occasionally. Chances are they’ll have more questions and require more of your time and attention as a consequence. If you lack empathy, it’s a recipe for a disastrous customer experience, both for you and your customers.
Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their challenges. The vaccines against COVID-19 made many of us feel safer. Some people who only bought online last year will switch back to in-store shopping this year, but you can expect online traffic similar to last year’s. Some people will be in a rush. Some will be impatient. Others won’t have any idea what they actually want to buy. Grace them with patience and understanding. Your customers will need it, and they’ll definitely come back for a top-notch experience next time they do their holiday shopping.
The holiday shopping season is the most difficult test of the year for any customer service team. To get through that time of the year unscathed, you should build up team spirit and work on team coordination. It’ll make things a lot easier for your whole team.
Teamwork is crucial when it comes to covering longer office hours. Every business wants to sell as much as possible during the holiday shopping season. One of the ways of doing that is to offer longer office hours so you can answer more customers and close more sales. To cover the extra hours, you have to make sacrifices. Evening or night shifts put a lot of strain on a person’s life if they normally only work during the day. If you decide to stay open during nighttime in your time zone, you should rotate agents every now and then to avoid assigning someone only to the most challenging shifts.
On top of that, make sure that your agents pass cases to the person that’s best suited to solve them. Everyone in the team should be aware of the abilities and expertise of the other members of the team so that you solve all cases as quickly as possible.
6. Fast typing
Fast typing skills speed up any kind of online customer service. Whether you handle chats, tickets, or emails, churning out more words per minute will speed up your work. It’s especially important if you’re working on live chat as fast typing can turn into hours of extra service.
Typing practice takes time, but the sooner you start, the sooner you will see some results. Start allocating some time during the day to practice your typing skills on one of the online typing practice websites like kebyr.com.
If you want to see how much you’ve improved, you can do a typing speed test that’ll tell you how many words per minute you’re able to type in.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the horizon, there’s still some time to get ready for the holiday shopping frenzy. Polishing your customer service skills may be just the thing that’ll get you through it. And If you feel like you could still use some help, learn how to always be ready for the seasonal ecommerce rush and get a checklist of 153 ecommerce tips to boost customer experience.
Originally published Oct 19, 2016, updated November 25, 2021.