Giving Good Customer Service During the 2003 Holiday Season

Laura Rush

Updated · Nov 12, 2003

As e-commerce dives head first into the biggest shopping season of the year, retailers can expect more customers turning to online channels for service inquiries, according to a new consumer poll released by Harris Interactive.

According to the survey, many American consumers will continue to contact retailers through traditional phone (74 percent) and store (47 percent) channels. However, online channels such as e-mail (26 percent), Web sites (15 percent) and instant messaging (8 percent) are quickly becoming many consumers' preferred method of handling customer service issues.

It's no secret that consumers feel that the quality of customer service impacts their purchasing decisions. And nobody likes to wait during the busiest time of year. Therefore, if merchants are going to cater to their customers' needs, then providing multi-channel customer service options this holiday season should become a top priority.

The survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by CRM provider RightNow Technologies, revealed that retailers should expect a 60 percent spike in overall service inquiry volume during the holiday selling season (November and December). Adding to the burden of increased volume is the high expectation consumers have for inquiry response time.

What can merchants do to reduce the volume of service inquiries and ensure consumer satisfaction? For starters, merchants don't need to run out and add costly CRM software to their online storefronts over the next few weeks. More cost-effective and less time-consuming solutions are available for immediate implementation. For example, merchants should focus on reducing the volume calls by using searchable self-service tools such as knowledge bases or FAQs. They should also consider using this type of tool as a supplement to e-mail support. These self-service tools will ultimately lower contact volume, which in turn may help reduce the amount of temporary customer service staff online retailers may need to employ through the holiday season.

For those merchants who will be beefing up their call centers and online customer support staff, the Harris Poll also revealed that the majority of American consumers (68 percent) said less than five minutes is acceptable for responding to phone inquiries and nearly half (48 percent) said less than five hours is acceptable for responding to e-mail or Web site inquiries.

By strategically using online service solutions such as knowledge bases or FAQs, merchants can realize substantial cost savings: According to Harris Interactive, a typical human-assisted service phone call and e-mail transaction cost $7 and $2.25, respectively.

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