How you can provide an excellent customer service experience during peak – without hiring more agents

16 May 2023

8 min read

Customer service agents
Customer service agents
Customer service agents

It’s barely been a minute since the last peak period. The dust has just about settled, but the scars are still there. When we asked 200 Customer Service Leaders how they found the recent peak period, 75% said they found it Challenging, with 37% saying it was “Incredibly Challenging”. 

It’s hardly a surprise with unprecedented disruptions to delivery carriers causing huge problems for customers desperate to get their items ahead of Christmas. If customer service teams are not on top of this issue, this can have a negative impact on the customer experience and means that customers will look elsewhere in future. 

To combat this, many of the CS leaders we spoke to just threw more customer agents at the problem. 67% of those leaders we spoke to hired more staff to address the peak period. Of those, 56% increased the headcount by more than half, and 9.7% doubled their staff.

By hiring seasonal staff, in some cases doubling the size of the team, these brands hoped to stay on top of things. But is this the most efficient use of resources? Can all of these short-term seasonal agents provide the same level of service as your more experienced veterans, or are you sacrificing quality along the way?

If you get your customer service right – at the busiest time of the year – you can win over customers for life. The stakes are pretty much that high. 

So how can retailers look ahead to the next period and get ahead so that their agents are not overwhelmed, and can provide the best possible customer experience? Let’s take a look at some tactics you can deploy.  

Review last year’s data

While past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future performance, it’s a good place to start. We may not face the same sort of disruption to deliveries that we had last year, but there is a chance it could be worse.

By reviewing last year’s data you can detect a couple of things. First of all, you can see when ticket volumes reached their peak, and you can plan your capacity to be at its highest for this point this year.

If you categorise your tickets by subject matter, then you can see what topics came up time and time again last year. With that information you can then see if there is a point of failure in your processes or systems that can be fixed ahead of the next peak period. 

This can also inform how you train seasonal staff. You can focus them on the common queries and let your more experienced staff handle the rest. 

Adding self-service

The best way to reduce the number of tickets coming to your customer service agents is for your customers to face no problems at all. Given that is unrealistic, the second best way is to make it as easy as possible for your customers to solve problems and find answers for themselves. 

Broadly speaking, your customers will divide into two groups: those that like to find and do things themselves, and those that want you to help them. The second group are always going to be getting in touch, but if you can prevent the first group from crossing over and clicking that “Contact Us” button, then you will make your life easier, and those customers happier. 

If you can set up self-service routes for customers to get their own return labels, find their own tracking information, or make product details as clear as possible on site, then you can reduce the need for these customers to get in touch. Be careful not to push people too hard towards self-service, however, because you can end up alienating those people who want you to solve their issues for them. Just sharing a link to an FAQ page may not cut it – but you should still have the FAQs!

Proactive alerts and automation

Another way to prevent people from raising tickets is to be proactive and reach out to them when you notice a problem. Take tracking information for instance: given that WISMO (Where is my order) queries are usually one of the top categories of tickets for retailers, this is a prime area to reduce. 

Once you have a tracking link, there is no reason why you can’t set automatic triggers that inform customers when their package status is updated. At the very least you can ensure that the tracking link is included in every email that you send. 

With customer service automation, when you connect to your carriers and order management system, you can take this a step further. When a problem arrives with shipping you can trigger a response asking the customer if they would like a replacement sent out. This is what Porto’s Bakery does using DigitalGenius’s proactive automation. 

Being agile with your carriers 

If you have multiple shipping partners, then you’ll know that they each perform best under certain circumstances. For example, you might find that carrier A has great infrastructure in one region, state or city, but it’s vastly outperformed by carrier B in another. Naturally you would want to pick a different carrier depending on the situation.

But what if a previously good carrier starts under-performing? Then you’ll start to get an influx of tickets through asking where orders are, or telling you that they are lost. If you can identify that packages are taking longer with one provider than another, then you can look to switch these out and see if you can improve the situation, and ultimately reduce the number of tickets coming in.

Empowering your agents with the information they need

So far we’ve focused on ways that you can reduce the number of tickets coming in during the peak period. But now we can take a look at ways you can be more efficient with the tickets you do get. 

For customer service agents, one of the most time-consuming parts of dealing with a query is pulling up all the relevant information. From looking in the CRM, finding order history, tracking information, warehouse and stock availability and so on, all of these bits of information may involve looking in different systems. 

If you can connect all these systems up with APIs and other integrations, then pull the information in automatically, you can save your agents vast amounts of time. Average handling time can drop significantly. Remember that during peak periods, the number of tickets can go up 50% or more, so any marginal improvement can be huge for the customer experience.

Let’s imagine that you get 5,000 tickets a month normally, which rises to 7,500 during peak months. Then imagine your average handle time is 10 minutes. That’s 75,000 minutes or 1250 man hours per month dealing with tickets. If you make just a 10% improvement in AHT, then you can save 125 hours - which is around 3 weeks of a full time employee working 40 hours a week. 

Embrace automation to take the sting out of the peak

Bear with me on this. The thing about peaks is that they are pointy, and like a lot of pointy things they feel sharp. And sharp things hurt like hell. Still with me? Great. Then the question you should ask yourself is what material change can I make to make these peaks less pointy? 

When you look at the tickets you get, or even if you talk to your agents directly, a lot of the questions will be highly repetitive. What AI-powered automation can do is handle these repetitive questions and solve them for customers without a human agent touching them. 

By connecting up the very systems that your agents would use, you can automate many of your processes. Whether it’s checking tracking links for updates, issuing replacement orders, or updating address details – these are all processes that our customers are automating. You can even go as far as issuing refunds automatically, should you wish to. 

What’s more is these automated systems can be working around the clock, so even when your customer service team are offline, questions can still be answered. This is a win-win for everyone. Agents face fewer tickets and the ones they deal with are more complex and interesting. Customers get answers faster, and possibly outside of office hours. And for you as a Customer Service lead, you do not have to hire as many seasonal staff to handle tickets. 

Imagine if just 20% of your tickets were automated. Using the example above, that could save 250 hours in a month – the equivalent of around one and half employees. 

The first step to finding out the potential that automation could have on your business is to analyse your tickets. The good news for you is you can do that with DigitalGenius – and it’s entirely free.

What do you think? Have we missed a tactic. Let us know!