Big retailers like Target, Nordstrom, and Walmart announced ahead of Black Friday that they would be spacing out their deals – some until after Christmas – to protect the health of both employees and holiday shoppers. When this extended shopping season is combined with the news that shipping distributors like UPS have placed shipping limits on these same big-box retailers, you have a recipe for a holiday cookie disaster.
The National Retail Federation estimated that online shopping jumped 44 percent over the 2020 five-day stretch that included Black Friday and Cyber Monday, driving shipping services to their limits and ultimately resulting in slower delivery timeframes of purchases. So while this longer-than-usual holiday shopping season might bring some ease to the ultimate gift-buying procrastinator, for others like customer service representatives, it means longer hours and an increase in phone calls from frustrating customers demanding to know where their package is.
The complications from shopping this season are likely to expand well past the holidays themselves. I have three predictions on what this means for the customer service representatives, both virtual and at brick & mortar retailers, who will be working around the clock well into January to ensure customers are happy.
1. Customers will require an empathetic connection with their favorite brands. The holidays are a time for positive spirits and connecting with others. Even though the pandemic has put more of a strain on in-person human connection this year, people are still craving connection in other ways. Good customer service representatives understand this need, and know that bringing a personal, human element to the voice on the other end of the phone will be more important than ever to keeping customers happy and brand loyalty high. Aside from answering questions about fulfillment, shipping, and returns, making the customer service experience as easy-going and personalized as possible will be the key role customer service representatives play.
2. The global supply chain may show added cracks. With the holiday season expanding from 4 weeks to 10 weeks, there are sure to be foundational issues that arise within the supply chain. Retailers of all sizes might find it difficult to meet the demand of stock required to fulfill their customer’s orders in time or at all, leaving many unsatisfied. While shining the spotlight on special sales for 2-3 days has proven to be a winning strategy for these retailers to help make up for missed revenue this year, these brands are also having to rely heavily on the supply chain to help them stock up for these deals. The spiking COVID-19 numbers throughout the U.S. and other places across the globe is the cherry on top to an already complicated process. Whether it’s helping an influx of customers place their orders during these incredible sales weekends or fielding calls with people wondering when an item will be back in stock, customer service representatives will be acting as the glue to keep the cracks in the supply chain from falling apart completely.
3. Delivery services feel the heat. From UPS to Amazon, FedEx and USPS, each shipping company is feeling the strain of delivering an increased amount of packages from a boost in e-commerce performance this year, from extended the extended sale period to last-minute shoppers. At the end of the day, customers paid to receive these gifts and might not have been prepared to wait for them outside of the normal 5-7 business days. To many, ensuring they have gifts for the holidays in time for their families this year is critical to maintaining some sense of normalcy this year. This will likely result in an increase of phone calls to customer service representatives hearing, “where’s my package,” playing on repeat- even after the holidays have passed. These representatives will be dealing with the fallout of delivery services being unable to keep up with the increase in orders, and it’ll ultimately fall on them to make sure customers stay happy and loyal to their brands as they patiently wait for their packages to arrive.
Whether you’re a retailer, supply chain company or delivery service, the extended 2020 COVID holiday season means something different for each and every provider. However, at the end of the day, it’s the customer service representatives for each of these providers that will have to deal with the repercussions their actions have on the customer, and who have the responsibility of ensuring that the phone call ends with pleasantries versus loud yelling. Brands lean heavily on their customer service representatives to treat their customers right and provide them with A+ service no matter whether the issue is a lost order, damaged package, or help with purchasing.