At the time of this posting, only 15 days remain until Black Friday. That means the holiday shopping season is literally knocking at your door. It’s officially crunch time. There may not be much time left to prepare your inventory or redesign your website – but there is one area of your business that MUST be ready for the holiday rush: your fulfillment and corresponding customer support and returns.
The short holiday season is guaranteed to hit e-Commerce retailers with a tremendous surge in customer inquiries and requests; and an inevitable deluge of time-sensitive returns. While you may have already made preparations for a high-volume of holiday orders, you should take these last few moments of calm before the storm to focus on your customers’ experience during the order and fulfillment processes. If you start today you can execute a few last-minute preparations to get your e-Commerce business ready and waiting for the big rush.
1. Start with Accurate Order Fulfillment
The easiest way to avoid the unnecessary stress of an upset customer is to ensure that their orders are fulfilled and shipped quickly and accurately. Make sure your inventory is properly detailed on your website. Communicating your product offerings clearly will help eliminate confused and, most importantly, dissatisfied customers. The next step in shining order fulfillment requires that you have an optimized picking, packing and shipping process that ensures orders are both accurate and received by your customers in a timely manner. When your customers receive the right items at the right time, they will be much less likely to require additional support.
2. Be Prepared to Quickly Answer Your Customers’ Questions
Studies have shown that today’s online shoppers expect to receive the following communications:
1. Order confirmation
2. Estimated delivery timeline
3. Package tracking information
You should have a system in place that automatically communicates this information for every order that is received on your website.
However, it is inevitable that your customers will contact you with a greater-than-usual amount of questions and special requests during the holiday season. Prepare by creating a holiday-specific list of FAQs that address as many questions as you can possibly anticipate. You should cover topics like product details, shipping times and gift wrap or other common holiday requests. You should post the FAQs on your website so that your customer support staff can avoid spending time on those calls. Try to develop a time-saving system that is designed to help your agents resolve customer issues during the initial call.
Beyond that, prepare for the times when you need “all hands on deck” by cross-training your employees to answer questions and provide additional customer support when needed. Create and distribute documentation that keeps all the pertinent information at everyone’s fingertips. You should also have an escalation procedure that empowers your staff to confidently deal with situations that require additional steps or response from a manager.
3. Have a Clearly Defined Returns Policy and Process
Although sound preparations can reduce the number of returns – you can be certain that your e-Commerce business will experience a high volume of “rush” returns this holiday season. Expect the best, but be prepared for the worse. Although it may be easy to view these returns as an unnecessary evil – you should try instead to consider each return to be a unique opportunity to create a loyal, lifelong customer. If you get it right.
Remember to be sympathetic to your customers’ needs – they will probably be equally stressed out and may need to scramble to find a replacement gift in time for the holiday. Be sure to clearly post your returns policy and procedures on your website, and give your customers an approximate timeline of how long it will take to receive a replacement item or refund. You should also be sure to clearly outline any requirements you may have regarding documentation or packaging of the returned items.
4. Reward Your Super Stars to keep them Shining Brightly
The holidays are bound to be a highly stressful time for your customer support staff. Commit to investing in your staff to prevent burnout and keep them focused. Look into ways that you can support your staff with fun activities that lift morale and reward stellar performance with bonuses, extra breaks and prizes. (Just make sure you make those rewards achievable — nothing drives morale down faster than a carrot on a stick that remains out of reach.) When you let your staff know that their contributions are a valuable part of the organization you may help alleviate some of the stress and also improve their overall performance.
Excellent fulfillment and outstanding customer service should be a priority for your e-Commerce business throughout the year. However, it is of even greater importance during the high traffic of the holidays, because it can help create customers that keep coming back long after the holiday decorations have been put away.
Click the image above to access our comprehensive guide to selecting the RIGHT fulfillment partner for your business.
Outsourcing your fulfillment and shipping to Rakuten Super Logistics can help save you time and money. The 2-Day Delivery Network, expert customer service and 100% accuracy guarantee give you the highest quality fulfillment in the industry at the lowest possible cost. All orders are guaranteed to ship out within 1 business day, and to ship with the right number and type of product. When you partner with Rakuten Super Logistics you will find that your reputation grows and customers keep coming back throughout the year. Click here now to get a custom holiday fulfillment quote.