Holiday season service lessons for retailers

Retailers typically take something of a hit to their customer service satisfaction levels during the holiday shopping season, due to the high volumes handled during that time. But Zendesk‘s latest benchmark report shows that customer service staffing was especially overloaded in 4Q13, with a resultant, oversized drop in customer satisfaction:

  • The sequential volume of tickets handled per agent was up 42% for 4Q13, compared to just a 34% increase in 4Q12; and,
  • As a result, customer satisfaction was down 6% sequentially in 4Q13, compared to just a 2% drop in 4Q12.

Zendesk compiles these results based on the service records of the 16,000 companies among the 40,000 customers of its customer service platform that participate in the benchmarking.
Inadequate anticipation of and preparation for demand
The trouble was that many retailers hadn’t adequately anticipated demand and ramped up staffing accordingly. According to Sam Boonin, Zendesk’s VP of Products, some large catalog-sales retailers are quite sophisticated in anticipating demand based on the mailing and return patterns of their catalogs, but e-commerce firms can have a harder time predicting demand.
So what can be done about it?
There are several ways that retailers can prepare to better satisfy their customers through the next holiday season:

  • Think strategically with a longer lead time. As Sam points out, service departments are not used to thinking strategically with the lead times by which retail marketing departments, for example, are already preparing for Christmas 2014. Better technological, tactical, and hiring solutions all need planning in advance.
  • Use technology to segment and triage service response. By targeting high-value customers, those nearing a subscription renewal, or other factors by which customers can be segmented for the level of support to be provided, retailers can minimize the damage if their staff and system experience an overload.
  • Test solutions in advance. Just as marketing departments have become adept at A/B testing of mailings, campaigns, and the like, service departments need to leverage the ability to similarly track trials before launching full-scale changes to their support processes.
  • Use technology to optimize specialization among agents. Increased efficiency can be achieved in part by tapping the specialized skills and experience of agents to handle returns, account inquiries, or other functions via the routing of tickets.
  • Stay ahead of customers’ rising expectations of service. Zendesk benchmarking has previously shown that customers are expecting seamless, omnichannel support across in-store, on-line and phone interactions. Leading retailers are upping the ante on customer service by providing unexpected value, such as personal-shopper, stylist-level knowledge and advice on products over the phone. Retailers as always have to balance costs with premium service, but the integration of an online knowledge-base and community with exceptional telephone support is enabling some retailers to manage costs while differentiating themselves with an old-fashioned level of service.

Today in Connected Consumer

Is it time for Amazon investors to panic over the Kindle Fire? According to IDC, Amazon’s “#1 bestselling, most gifted, most wished for product” of last year apparently became one of the least bought tablets in the first quarter of this year. Shipments of the Fire fell from 4.8 million in the holiday quarter to 750,000 in the first quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, E-Ink Holdings, the sole supplier of black-and-white screens Amazon’s Kindle line of e-readers, reported last week that “Our major customer [i.e. Amazon] was too optimistic about its sales in the fourth quarter of last year and ordered too much from us. That made the customer order almost nothing from us in the first quarter.” The reports set off alarm bells among analysts. Some even compared the Kindle Fire to a holiday fruitcake: suitable for gift-giving but otherwise inedible. As NPD notes in a new report, however, these are very early days in the tablet market, which it expects to grow by 5X over the next five years. Manufacturers are still figuring out consumer preferences and habits, and the market is liable to take many twists and turns between now and 2017. One bad quarter, in other words, does not a trend make. Still, if the Kindle Fire turns out to be a highly seasonal product, that could become a problem for Amazon as it seeks to leverage the device to increase e-commerce.

Analysts readjust holiday iPad sales expectations

Apple is likely going to sell a ridiculous amount of iPads this quarter. But some analysts are now telling their clients that their expectations for Apple’s tablet sales for the holidays should come down just a little bit closer to earth.

A very virtual Thanksgiving: Allrecipes has biggest traffic day ever

Lots of people logged on to the web to find holiday recipes for the United States holiday of Thanksgiving: said it had its biggest traffic day ever on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, with more than 6.8 million visits in that day alone.

Apple Set for Record Holiday Quarter

Last quarter was one for the record books for Apple: $20 billion in revenue, 14.1 million iPhones sold, 3.89 million Macs, and 4.19 million iPads, but that record may be broken as soon as the end of this quarter, according to estimates.

Amazon: The Scrooge of Holiday-Sales Data

I spent five times as much on Christmas presents this year as last year.

That is, I spent $500 in one frenzied day of shopping. Last year, I spent $100 a day over 10 days of shopping.

OK, I made those figures up, but you can see the problem with such selective statistics. I can pretend my spending increased fivefold when in fact it was really cut in half. And yet that’s how Amazon slices and dices its closely watched holiday sales numbers. Read More about Amazon: The Scrooge of Holiday-Sales Data