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5 Strategies to Triumph in Customer Support Over the Holiday Season Thousands of new orders can strain the response to inquiries. Deflect challenging situations and demanding callers by planning ahead.

By Shankar Ganesh Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Despite companies' best efforts to provide stellar support to customers throughout the year, quality can suffer when the holidays roll around.

Thousands of new orders can put a strain on existing processes during the holiday season. As a flurry of issues erupt and refund requests keep trickling in, temporary hires scramble to answer questions. The quality of customer service declines and customers end up walking away frustrated.

But if managers plan in advance, have workarounds in place to ease the load on the support team and set clear expectations, a company can win the love of thousands of customers and their extended network. Here are some strategies to use to deal with the avalanche of emails and calls at the end of the year:

Related: If You Want Happy Customers, Do These 5 Things (Infographic)

1. Save time with automation.

Still using email for customer support? It's high time for companies to start routing support emails to a fully fledged help desk. The advantages are clear: A help desk can serve as a central point for tracking questions that arrive from different channels, help distribute the workload among agents, set up a portal for customers to contact for clarification of questions and maintain service-level agreements so inquiries can be escalated if unanswered.

The best part is that by using a help desk, a chunk of workload can be lifted from agents through automation. Someone yelling at the support desk for a refund request? Set up a rule to send word of this complaint to the billing department to be addressed in a jiffy. An individual griping about prices and asking for a discount? No one can handle this better than the company's sales personnel.

Setting up these rules will free agents from mundane tasks and help managers focus on the bigger issues that flow into the support department.

2. Manage expectations to reduce frustration.

Most of the time, customers become frustrated because businesses don't live up to the expectations created with promises like "30 minutes free" or "one-day shipping." When expectations aren't set clearly, customers impose their own.

If a company informs its customers and set expectations up front, consumers won't needlessly walk away disappointed. Be transparent on company practice. Directing customers to specific channels and inform them when support is unavailable so they aren't left disappointed.

MailChimp does this pretty well. It has posted clearly the times customer support would be limited. Being transparent about details like this can reduce customer frustration and help prevent anger from spilling over to social media when customers are waiting to speak to a corporate representative. Even suggest that customers to choose one channel over another (chat over phone, for example) if that's a more efficient way to help people concurrently.

Related: Turning an Oops Into an Opportunity

3. Help customers help themselves.

Handholding of customers when the same issue is discussed again and again is just not the best use of agents' time, especially when they could be dealing with bigger problems. As a rule of thumb, direct customers to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of the company website for routine questions.

Mine your ticket history for these questions (something that's really easy to do if there's a help desk) and see the kind of queries received over the last holiday season. So if patterns emerge, post step-by-step instructions and screen shots and make the company's web description a little more usable for customers this season.

Make sure answers to the most common issues from the last year can be easily found on the website so customers don't have to call for the answers they need.

4. Rotate everyone through the support desk.

While companies can hire temporary customer-support reps, they'll need some time to be trained on the products, services and the way the business works so the quality of support doesn't suffer.

Another strategy worth trying is getting folks across the company to take turns in providing customer support during busy times. Have developers and managers respond to questions, taking some of the load off customer-support reps.

They might even learn something from talking directly to customers. And there's is a good chance that they can help resolve issues more quickly with the handoff time between support and the core team becoming nonexistent.

Related: Hold the Phone! Don't Outsource Customer Support Just Yet.

5. Say thanks and offer deals or discounts.

When a company is neck deep in problems, tracking shipping statuses and trying to pacify customers requesting refunds, remembering to thank clients for their business might slip through the cracks. Customers have probably had a lot of deals thrown at them this season. So give them a discount. Throw in some freebies. Make the service memorable and say thank you.

While emails are nice, a thank-you note definitely goes a long way in creating a memorable experience for your customers. Mail Lift, for instance, can hook into apps used at work and automatically send a handwritten note to customers, based on certain events (such as when an agent receives a five-star rating for stellar support). Use Mail Lift's integration with Salesforce or connect with its API to thank customers with a note automatically after they buy something or use a service.

Related: Why Small Businesses Should Be Utilizing Customer-Loyalty Programs

Shankar Ganesh

Freshdesk Publicist

Shankar Ganesh leads public relations at Freshdesk, a developer of customer-support software. When he's not writing something, he's probably tweeting about his thoughts about technology or playing with the latest app he found on Product Hunt.

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