ecommerce holiday customer service tips

It’s a paradox no one understands, yet we all feel: the holidays are some of the happiest and most cheerful times of the year, but also some of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing. Even the act of gift-giving, the ultimate form of compassion, often reveals a shopper’s dark side during the holiday season.

For ecommerce retailers, that means extra attention to customer service during the holidays is required. Not only will you have more customers with even more questions, but you must also deal with everyone’s holiday stress. Considering that 51% of customers will never do business again with a company after just one instance of bad customer service, it’s a heavy burden for customer service reps to bear.

So we looked at what the experts said and compiled these 5 tips for improving your ecommerce holiday customer service this year.


1. Active Listening

If you want advice on holiday customer service, conflict-resolution specialists are a good place to start. They recommend a technique called active listening, where the rep shows behavior that demonstrates they hear what the customer is saying. A lot of interpersonal conflict comes from one party feeling ignored, so active listening lets you avoid contention before it starts.

For a crash course in active listening, try these five techniques:

  • Repetition — Repeat or paraphrase what the customer is saying to show that you heard them.
  • Clarification — Ask the customer questions and have them elaborate so they know you’re interested.
  • Reaction — By reacting to what the customer says, you can still be involved in a conversation without actually speaking; something like a nod if you’re in person, or a brisk “uh-huh” on the phone.
  • Empathy — Acknowledge the customer’s feelings as much as their words with phrases like, “that must make you angry,” or “I would be upset, too.”
  • Summary — When they’re finished, summarize what they said to both show you heard them, and also to check if you misunderstood anything.

People think customer service is about saying the right thing, but the truth is, sometimes the best customer service reps don’t say much at all; they just listen.


2. Take “Friendliness” Literally

Here’s a tip that’s great for all communication, not just customer service. If you treat people like old friends, they tend to respond like old friends — even if they’re complete strangers!

This starts with a friendly greeting and evolves into casual, enjoyable conversation. Often customer service reps are told to “stick to a script,” but the truth is you might get better results going “off book.” The goal is to establish a connection with them as a person, not a customer.

Of course, if your friendliness is insincere, your customers will notice. Being friendly and amicable isn’t always as easy as it sounds, and may require some practice. Make this a huge focus, not just for the holidays, but your overall customer service strategy


3. Respond ASAP

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, according to Nielsen-McKinsey study, 33% of customers prefer a fast but-ineffectual-response, whereas only 17% prefer a slow-but-effective one. Even “no company response” scored higher (19%) than a slow and effective one.

Our recommendation… why not both? The best way to handle a customer service complaint is to address it immediately with a response stating that you understand the problem and are looking into it, followed by a later response with an effective solution when it’s ready.


4. Take Advantage of Social Media

You can post your customer service hotline as much as you want, but your social media accounts will also be a de facto forum for complaints. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. For one thing, other shoppers with the same problem may come across the thread, negating their need to contact you.

But more to the point, your other customers will gauge what kind of brand you are by how you handle yourself online. Even if someone posts a rude complaint, keeping calm and responding respectfully will influence viewer’s opinions more than the complaint itself.

On top of that, if you proactively use social media for holiday customer service, it encourages more people to come forward, increasing your engagement as well as your customer relations. It’s also perfect for improving ecommerce loyalty programs too.


5. Choose Your Words Carefully

What’s in a word? If you’re familiar with neurolinguistics, you know your word choice has a far greater impact than most people think. The idea is that each word has a different effect on the brain, including synonyms of each other. That means the same message can be received in drastically different ways, depending on the words and phrasing you use.

We won’t get into the brain science here. Instead, here are some quick takeaways that can help with retail customer service:

  • Try to phrase things positively instead of negatively. For example, instead of saying “that product isn’t available,” try “ that product will be available again in a couple weeks.”
  • Use a customer’s first name. People generally respond well to hearing their name, as it suggests friendliness (see Tip #2). Just don’t overdo it, or it’ll have the opposite effect.
  • “I’m sorry” is more personal than “I apologize,” which comes across as robotic. The goal is to build a personal relationship, even when asking forgiveness. A cold and methodical apology can be worse than no apology at all.
  • Avoid gender- or age-specific terms like “guys,” “kids,” “boys,” or “girls.” While they may sound natural to you, they alienate out-groups and can be offensive.
  • Never say “I don’t know.” If you don’t know, reassure the customer by saying something like “let me find that out for you.”

Neurolinguistics is a science that runs deep, so these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. If you truly want to master customer service, you can look into more elaborate options.


Conclusion: A Gift for You, Too

Did you know that in the U.S., if a shopper likes your customer service, they’ll spend 17% more? That’s a huge return on investment for stores who prioritize customer service as much as product quality and pricing. The prevailing theory in business is to treat customers like family so they feel comfortable shopping with you. Despite the name, good customer service services your brand as well. And, with the right strategy, you can even beat Amazon in customer experience! For more customer service tips, check out these tips to make your customer service reps more efficient.

Do you have any plans for boost your customer service strategies for the holidays? Let us know in the comments.

For more holiday tips, check out our ultimate ecommerce holiday guide and these inventory prep ideas.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published November 2014 and was updated in October 2019 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.

Holiday Shipping Survival Guide
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