Christmas sales: how to turn a returns handling nightmare into a customer service opportunity
• During the ‘golden quarter’ for retailers – from Black Friday to the January sales – effective customer service is more important than ever as returns volumes spike
• Customer service representatives need to be on their A game to convert bargain hunters into loyal shoppers year-round
Read time: 5 minutes
Just five years ago, Black Friday was a strictly-US event. Now the global phenomenon is anticipated by bargain hunters the world over and, rather than being a single day in the retail calendar, marks the start of the most crucial time of the year.
The so-called ‘golden quarter’ also includes Cyber Monday, the run up to Christmas and then the famous post-festive sales. Last year, spending during the six weeks from mid-November to the end of December across the US, Canada, France, Germany and the UK totalled £747.4 billion.
But look beyond the tinsel and twinkling Christmas lights and this time of year can be a perfect storm for customer services representatives.
In January of this year, the UK’s Royal Mail service forecast the number of online shopping returns would be double the December daily average . It’s a similar story across the Atlantic, with around 25% of all returns made right after Christmas – around $65 billion dollars’ worth of goods, according to industry experts.
Retailers are more than likely aware of the logistical and cash flow challenges this spike in returns can throw up. But it’s a potential headache for customer service representatives too. Backlogs in processing returns means delayed refunds and disgruntled customers. Many firms also change their policy to extend the returns period, which can cause confusion for shoppers who aren’t clear on their rights.
Time-poor consumers just want a speedy resolution. And the stats suggest that handling returns well is a challenge for customer service representatives at traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers as well as online-only sellers. A huge 82% wouldn’t shop at a store that makes returns a hassle . This shows just how important effective returns-handling is for customers.
Retailers need to reframe their thinking and see returns as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage, deliver exceptional customer service and engage positively with shoppers. Here’s how:
1. Learn from last year. Look at the volume of customer service calls received, the types of enquiries and resolution time to predict what might happen this year. Then map that onto your current systems and team structures to spot any gaps – and set about addressing them.
2. Get your customer service representatives match fit. Deploy the right people for the right channels and make sure they are seamlessly plugged in to the wider business, so they can easily find the information your customers need. Encourage and empower them to speak to your product team, or finance department, so they can be the main point of contact for shoppers rather than simply passing them onto another person.
3. Be where your customers are. It sounds simple, but we all know how hectic the festive period can be – so channels that can be easily accessed on the go, like live chat, Facebook Messenger or even WhatsApp become even more important in your customer service strategy. Find out how to effectively incorporate these channels in our ultimate guide to social media customer service.
4. Take a single customer view. By bringing every interaction into the same place, shoppers don’t have to repeat the same information over and over – and it’s easier for customer services representatives too.
5. Empathy is king. Listening to – and more importantly, understanding – what your customers need when they contact you with a query or complaint can transform the experience into a positive one. Jürgen Schultze, our Head of Communication Training gives his top tips for handling issues with empathy.
Shopper affinity to brands has long since been on the wane. Rather than be cowed, savvy retailers will see this peak shopping season as a once-a-year opportunity to face up to this challenge and build brand loyalty.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.