Customer service is crucial during the holidays, but retailers are typically at their busiest during the holiday season. Not only is it important to have your website up and running for the holiday season, by having a secure and reliable website host such as A Small Orange, it is also important to make sure your customer's are feeling merry and bright. How can you make sure your small shop takes care of its seasonal customers? Start putting all the elements of great customer service in place now.
Answer customers’ questions before they askGood customer service begins long before a shopper picks up the phone or sends an email. By providing clear, easy-to-find information about your store policies and your products, you can reduce the need for shoppers to contact you for basic information. Here’s the store policy information that should be on each page of your site, or linked with a prominent button on each page.
Cutoff dates for delivery by ChristmasShoppers don’t want to get halfway through checkout only to learn that the presents they’ve chosen won’t arrive in time. Starting on Black Friday, list the last purchase dates by which you can guarantee standard and rush delivery by Christmas.
Free shipping offer and termsEveryone likes a free shipping option. Many high-end retailers like ASOS and Tiffany list their free shipping offers and minimum spend on their landing pages and throughout the site. Your shop should, too.
Where you shipIf you only ship within the US (or within the Lower 48 states), let your shoppers know up front. If you ship internationally, list all the countries you serve. Be sure to include information about the time it can take for international orders to clear customs.
Returns informationSpell out your return policy in simple, concise terms. Let customers know whether they can return items for a refund, store credit, or an exchange. Be clear about any time limits on returns, and explain up front whether your store or the customer pays the cost of return shipping and insurance.
Customer service contact informationWhen customers do need to contact you, make it easy. Put your phone and email information on each page.
Provide as much product information as you canOne common reason for product returns is that the item doesn’t match the customer’s expectation. Consider adding higher-quality photos from more than one angle, easy to read size charts, garment fiber content and care instructions, and ingredient lists for food and cosmetic product, and other detailed information to help customers know exactly what they’re getting.
Offer customer service worth contactingIt’s a good idea to give your customers more than one way to reach you, especially if your customer service hours are limited to your own time zone. Your options include live chat, email, phone, and social media, but you don’t have to offer them all. Most customers prefer to talk to customer service by phone and list email as their second choice, so if your time and resources are limited, focus on those two options. Let customers know when they can expect a response. Make your customer service hours (and languages, if you offer more than one) clear on every page. If you’re lucky enough to have customer service help, make sure those employees are trained to solve customer problems quickly and give clear answers to common questions. If you’re doing it all yourself, remember to breathe deeply when you feel overwhelmed and focus on making the experience a positive one for the customer. When a customer requests a return, work with them to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again. Handle refunds, exchanges, and credits promptly, and try to learn the reason for your customer’s dissatisfaction. Maybe your product descriptions need updating or you need to find a shipping partner that tracks deliveries. Treat each case as an opportunity to learn—and to avoid customer chargebacks and negative online reviews. It’s a good idea to follow up each customer-service contact with a short survey. The responses you get can pinpoint what’s working and what you can improve for next holiday season.
Wrap your products rightOne easy way your shop can set itself apart from competitors is with amazing presentations. Etsy hammers this home in its trainings for sellers, and reviewers often product packaging as a pro or con. Standout packaging takes some time but usually doesn’t cost a lot. You can make or custom-order hang tags, stickers, stamps, and labels to brand your goods. Pinterest is a great place to find tutorials and inspiration for everyday product packaging and holiday gift-wrap options. Decide now what wrapping options you’ll offer to holiday shoppers, how much you’ll charge for gift-wrapping, and when you’ll start and end the holiday gift-wrap offer. Provide clear pictures of each gift-wrap option so customers know exactly what they’re getting.
Step up your shipping optionsMany retailers—even huge ones—do a beautiful job with customer service and still end up with unhappy customers. Why? Shipping has become a potential problem, especially during the holidays when carriers are at their busiest. Bad winter weather created a perfect storm of delayed Christmas gifts in 2013, and last year some FedEx workers volunteered to deliver delayed packages on Christmas Day to make up for weather delays. You can’t do anything about the weather, but there are steps you can take to help customer orders arrive on time.
- Set holiday-purchase cutoff dates that factor in potential weather delays. Give your orders a 1- or 2-day cushion beyond your carrier’s cutoff date.
- Follow basic shipping best practices. Print your shipping labels to follow standard address formats and make the ZIP code large and easy to read or scan. Make sure labels fully adhere to your package, and don’t use recycled boxes that have old shipping barcodes or address information on them.
- Track every shipment. This costs a bit but it will verify that you shipped when you said you would.
- Have a plan to help your customers in case there are delivery problems outside your control. If there are weather delays, give your customers the option to send an e-card letting them know that their gift is on the way.