Chapter 3: Deliver connected and consistent service

What brings joy to holiday shoppers? Quality customer service.

For shoppers, “customer service” happens any time they interact with your frontline employees. Get this experience right and shoppers will reward you with repeat business: 94% of customers say good service makes them more likely to buy again. What happens if you get it wrong? All it takes is three bad experiences for a shopper to abandon a brand and never return.
“94% of customers say good service makes them more likely to buy again.
– State of the Connected Customer, Fifth Edition
Salesforce, May 2022
The good news? Service leaders are in the perfect position to build brand love. This is true even when a customer has a bad experience: 80% of shoppers say they’ll forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent customer service. The objective? Maintain a high bar for quality during the holidays when questions, complaints, and requests surge. With data and intelligent insights, agents can assist more customers, be more productive, and reduce cost to serve.

Prepare your service team

Demand forecasting helps you prepare and schedule your service team for the flash sales and product drops that quickly change shopper behaviors. But that’s just the start: From inquiries about Cyber Monday promotions to questions about extended hours, the peak shopping season is packed with special offers and exceptions that can strain even the most experienced employee’s patience. As the holidays approach, give your agents, associates, and seasonal workers the right tools and training so they can answer questions about new products, exclusive offers, return policies for holiday purchases, and more.

Provide service on the channels customers prefer

The holiday season is notorious for spikes in service interaction volume. With customers using an average of nine channels to communicate with companies, retailers must meet shoppers where they choose to engage, from dedicated mobile apps to messaging platforms like WeChat and Facebook Messenger.

Conversational commerce lets shoppers engage and transact with retailers within these messaging channels. Agents can see recent orders, quickly answer questions about loyalty status, or schedule delivery timing. And by accessing customer preferences, agents can double as stylists to help them find the perfect gifts.

Use generative AI to increase service efficiency

Record case volume is increasing wait times for customers, and it’s one reason why they are taking their shopping lists to competitors: 48% of customers say they’ve switched brands for better customer service. But, with generative AI, you scale your chatbot’s capabilities and increase the productivity of live agents with interactions that are personalized, empathetic, and efficient. That satisfies customers because it resolves service cases faster.

Here's what you can do easier wtih generative AI:

  • Create more nuanced chatbots that can deeply understand, anticipate, and respond to customer issues — helping to increase first-time resolution rates.
  • Draft personalized responses to customer inquiries over email and text.
  • Condense long call transcripts into wrap-up summaries that get agents up to speed quickly so they don’t have to ask customers to repeat themselves.
  • Use past case-swarming interactions to create knowledge articles for agents, training them to deliver better responses in the future.
  • Aggregate social posts, customer feedback, and survey responses to analyze trends regarding your products, service, and brand — delivering the opportunity to create a feedback loop to influence change.

Turn phone calls into connected service experiences

Self-service, live chat, and even text are growing in popularity, but they’re not the channel of choice when a customer has a complicated question or complaint: 81% of service professionals say customers prefer the phone for complex issues, up from 76% in 2020. And although most service agents agree that speed and quality are equally important when it comes to resolving service cases, it’s gotten harder: Today, 78% of agents say it’s difficult to balance these two factors, up from 63% in 2020.
“78% of agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality, up from 63% in 2020.
State of Service, Fifth Edition,
Salesforce, August 2022

It’s critical to empower agents – whether at the call center, in a store, or even at home – with access to marketing, commerce, and service data so they can efficiently resolve complex cases:

  • Simplify the employee’s user interface: With a complete record of customer communications, interactions, and transactions on one screen, agents won’t have to toggle between systems. That’s essential during the holidays, when higher call volume puts a premium on efficiency.
  • Empower agents with greater visibility: 83% of customers expect to solve complex problems by speaking to one person, but only 13% say it takes little effort to get cases resolved. With access to data across departments, agents can answer complicated questions faster — like how to redeem loyalty points on an email offer while arranging in-store pickup at the same time.
  • Anticipate customer needs: No one likes repeating themselves, yet 66% of customers say they have to repeat information to different representatives. With a complete view of interactions, agents can anticipate questions and answer them quickly.

Prepare self-service channels for holiday-specific policies

Customers love self-service for its speed and convenience, whether it’s the holiday season or not. In fact, 59% of customers prefer self-service for answering questions about simple issues like order status or store locations. But as promotions and special events change during peak shopping periods, you must update help centers, portals, and chatbots with the right information that’s easy to find.
“59% of customers prefer self-service tools for simple cases.
State of Service, Fifth Edition,
Salesforce, August 2022

Here are key self-service best practices:

  • Embrace radical transparency: Make over-communication a habit. Be clear about shipping timelines, backorders, and delays, before and after the purchase. Keep customers updated by providing full visibility into their order status via SMS.
  • Deliver faster answers: Build a landing page with answers to frequently asked questions. Update these pages with holiday-specific guidance, such as return policies.
  • Offer guided service on digital channels: Connect self-service to guided workflows so customers can do things like create return labels quickly. Provide an easy way for shoppers to access your help center for more information. The goal: Keep interactions simple, intuitive, and fast.
  • Easily transition to live help if needed: Ensure chatbots offer the option to transfer to live support with agents available on all website pages. Make it easy for customers to find other service options, like voice, too.

Make online returns simpler and more convenient

Merchandise returns cost retailers billions every year, with nearly 18% of purchases heading back to stores, warehouses, or even landfills. To preserve margins, many retailers are scaling back their historically generous return policies by shrinking the return window, establishing final sales, and charging restocking fees. However, retailers may want to rethink these changes, since return and exchange policies are often a top reason why a customer chooses a retailer. Even more important? Ninety-five percent of customers say a bad return experience makes them less likely to buy from a brand again.
With the right strategy, you can streamline the return experience for customers, retain revenue, and save on costs.
  • Automate returns: Empower customers to generate their own return merchandise authorization codes and labels, and make shipping free — an experience preferred by 64% of shoppers, according to Salesforce research. That satisfies customers, reduces service worker caseload, and lowers cost-to-serve.
  • Enhance product detail pages (PDP): Make sure your PDPs have the right information to prevent returns. According to Salesforce research, 46% of consumers said customer reviews help them choose the correct size and color to minimize returns, followed by user-generated photos and sizing charts.
  • Encourage exchanges, not returns: When a customer requests a return online, offer personalized product recommendations to replace the initial purchase. A Salesforce survey found 88% of consumers would prefer to conduct an exchange rather than a return at least some of the time.
  • Collect returns from a centralized location: Allow customers to drop returns at a central location, whether that’s your own stores or a third-party returns provider (like Amazon does with Kohl’s). It’s convenient for customers and helps you save on costs since it enables you to bulk-ship products back to the warehouse.
  • Enable instant refunds: 46% of customers say instant refunds make returns easier, according to Salesforce research. As soon as your employee scans the return shipping label, issue the refund.

Next: Chapter 4: Optimize store investments

Empower your store associates to deliver.
See how to:
  • Use generative AI to onboard and upskill seasonal workers quickly.
  • Train and equip associates to generate and fulfill demand.
  • Ensure seasonal merchandising and promotional strategies are executed as intended.

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