Your Black Friday customer service will play a pivotal role on that day of all days. Over 156 million shoppers are projected to hit the stores the day (or hours) after Thanksgiving. Your service and support teams need to be ready to handle the hordes.
You can’t deliver a holly jolly customer experience if your team is unprepared for Black Friday’s high stress and even higher stakes. And if customer service doesn’t come through for you, there may not be much holiday cheer next year. Between 50 and 54 percent of customers will jump ship to a competitor after receiving a bad service experience.
How can you prepare your customer service for this peak time of the year? First, you ought to know what you’re in for.
As previously mentioned, a projected 156 million shoppers will be out bargain-hunting this year. This is up from the 154.4 million recorded in 2016, and the 151.4 million in 2015. Not all of them will be throwing elbows and crashing carts, though. Between Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, an estimated $5.57 billion in online sales will be up for grabs. That means you have to do more than guarantee a terrific on-site customer experience. You also need to ensure customers’ online experiences run smoothly.
The best present you could give your customers is high-caliber customer service. Here are a few tips to help.
Black Friday is not the day to “wing it.” Start off with employee concerns like time off. This time of year is usually when many employees want to take vacations or spend time with family. Be open about your staffing needs and that time-off requests need to be made early.
Part of any Black Friday preparations should also include planning out responses to worst-case scenarios. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen during Black Friday? What’s the worst kind of customer your team might encounter? What questions do you hope your customers never ask? Identify these worst-case situations and prepare possible responses so your team isn’t caught flat-footed.
One possible suggestion is, how will your team respond to an injury? We joke about people getting trampled during a Black Friday rush. But the website Black Friday Death Count reports that, since it started collecting data in 2006, there have been 105 Black Friday-related injuries and 10 deaths. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure your team is versed in basic first aid. Knowing the location of any first aid kits would help as well. Also, verify everyone has a way to call 911.
During the months leading up to peak times like Black Friday, make sure you’re making the right kind of hires to your service team. Zero in on those traits you want in someone representing you to the customer. For you that might be someone who keeps a cool head under pressure, who takes the initiative, or who relentlessly pursues a task until it’s complete.
Once you’ve assembled the team you want, don’t just expect them to know what to do. Offer training beyond basic orientation. Invest time in giving them the resources they need to handle high-stress situations and customers. During high-volume times, you may have to call on employees in different departments to help in customer service. Prepare for those times by cross-training employees so they can step in if necessary. Compile a knowledge base for when employees don’t have an answer to a customer’s question.
The best tool to prepare for Black Friday is to look at last year’s numbers. This will help you determine staff levels, scheduling, training, and give you an idea of possible worst-case scenarios and how successful they were. Where possible, survey your employees’ satisfaction as well as your customers’. If you don’t have any data from last year, then make sure you have a way to capture that this year’s data.
It’s a fact: if your employees aren’t happy, your customers won’t be either. As tensions mount and customers just keep coming, it’s important that your service team stays calm. If you’ve picked the right team and provided them with training and resources, that will go a long way to helping them handle the crowds. Another way to keep employees happy is to empower them to solve customer problems without managerial oversight. This helps shorten resolution times, frees up employees to solve more problems, and allows them to deliver a more personalized customer experience.
Your team can look at Black Friday as either a trial to live through, or a challenge. Play up the challenge angle by turning Black Friday into a competition. Who can serve the most customers? Who can earn the highest customer satisfaction score? Who can ring up the most items, stock the most shelves, process the most returns, resolve the most concerns, or take the most orders? Look for ways to recognize and reward employee efforts and hard work.
You won’t just be serving customers on-site. They’ll use other avenues, such as the phone, chat, email, and visits to your website to look for deals. By increasing the number of channels you offer customers, you also increase the opportunities to win their business, answer their questions, or resolve their concerns. Before Black Friday, determine what channels you’re using and make sure customers are aware of these opportunities in your marketing efforts. More channels also means you’ll need more channel-savvy elves to handle them, so plan accordingly.
As customers become more mobile, they also want more options for self-service. Why should they have to visit a business or talk to a person on the phone to get answers to basic questions? The more you anticipate these expectations, the more you’ll free up your staff to resolve more complex concerns. Look into phone and website solutions, such as an auto attendant (also called interactive voice response—IVR) or an on-site FAQ tailored specifically for holiday questions.
Do something different and unique to wow your customers. Maybe it’s a small freebie in their shopping bags. Maybe you hold a raffle, offer a prize, or hold daily or hourly sales and discounts. Customers expect you to go all-out on Black Friday, so don’t disappoint them.
Black Friday is so much more than the chance to score enough sales to put you in the black. It’s the opportunity to impress a wide audience who may be encountering your business for the first time. It’s a chance to affirm existing customers’ decisions to go with you and your company. This event only comes once a year. Ensure your customer service is up to the challenge.