[Video] Omnichannel retailer Homage shares customer support tips for holiday shopping season

This is part 2 of our holiday shopping season ecommerce webinar series. In part 1, StellaService discusses why retailers are discontinuing email support and instead adding more help on live chat. In today's discussion, Jordan Vidra of Homage talks about how his company creates unique connections with every customer, and how their lean team staffs accordingly to handle the holiday shopping rush. [-Karl]

Key Takeaways from our conversation:

  • Who is Homage? Homage is a 2007 startup that started in the basement of one of its founders. Nearly 10 years later now the company is getting ready to open its sixth brick-and-mortar store. The company sells self-described 'vintage style apparel' that customers forge a connection with. They don't try to force sales on customers - instead Homage focuses on the presentation, design and unique personality of the items being sold to capture the customer's attention. On top of that, Homage provides top notch customer service, often going above and beyond what's expected.
  • Give your Customer Support team some personality. Jordan is a member of the Customer Experience team at Homage, or as they call themselves, the 'All Stars.'  "We want to relate to our customers that our team - Bethany, Jenn, and me - we're more than just the service. It fits the theme of the company and let's us have a little fun with it," says Jordan.
  • Know which channels your customers want, and experiement with new ones too. Homage uses email, Olark Live Chat, phones, and recently began offering Facebook Messenger in the chekcout process. Customers can opt-in to receive Messenger updates to track something they've ordered. This shows Homage can get customers answers when and where they want them, especially customers on a "go-go-go" schedule. So far the four channels have worked well for their customers.
  • Support and social media shoud be close by. Homage has two people who run social properties. They can handle things that are more social media-esque and answer 'easier' questions like shipping dates or questions about returns. They sit nearby the Customer Support team in the office so the two teams can provide answers back and forth pretty quickly.
  • Speed is key, so staff accordingly. Homage answers questions within 24 hours at the very most, and generally try to get a customer response sent that same day. Jordan says that every year gets a little busier busier around the holiday time. During the holidays, Homage has someone in the office or available online one weekend day through Christmas in case they have to do crisis management. 
  • Remember to set chat limits before the rush. The Homage team limits the number of chats each of each operator can handle to five. (READ MORE: How to set chat limits.) Olark will automatically set an operator to 'away' when they reach their limit, and will make those operators available again once they complete and close one of those chats. 
  • The holiday rush is more than a month long. Customer interaction volume at Homage goes up starting wth Black Friday after Thanksgiving and stays high through Christmas, and even after Christmas with returns and exchanges. Last year Homage tried starting its Black Friday deals  a week early, from Tuesday through Friday, and Jordan says it did really well. A lot of people were happy to get the sale early and not have to fight for their favorite items on our site. For the Homage team, it spread the volume of inquiries across a week instead of jamming them into a day.
  • Chat can account for a lot of interactions. Homage recently saw spikes in customer interactions when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Title. Chat accounted for 25% of customer interactions from November to December last year. It accounted for 33% of support traffic during the week leading up to Black Friday.
Live Chat can be very busy during the holiday shopping season.
  • Keep a good perspective when things get busy. As a company, Homage has created an expectation that customers will receive an order within a week. But when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championshiop, Lebron James was pictured wearing a Homage t-shirt and immediately that t-shirt sold out. (The t-shirt is pictured below. Jordan says it actually sold out three times in a few months.) Jordan says, "We did our best to tell customers that orders were way backed up due to the overwhelming response, and customers were totally positive in response to the wait time. The three of us just tried to chip away at all the inquiries. During any rush, don't put too much stress on yourself. You know people will be reaching out, so keep a mindset that you can only do so much. But remember: the more prepared you are, the better it's going to work out for you response wise."
Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers wears an Ultimate Warrior t-shirt from Homage.
  • If you do screw up an order, make it special. In some cases where Homage sends someone the wrong item, we'll put the board game 'SORRY' in their new shipment to say just that: they're sorry.
  • Go above and beyond to forge customer relationships. Jordan also shares some stories from early on in the company. He says, " When we sold our 100,000 order, there were a group of employees here who got in the Homage 1970's Volkswagen bus and hand delivered that order to the customer along with some other swag. More recently we had the USA men's national team soccer game in Columbus, and Bethany and Jenn drove an order to someone on the Ohio State Univeristy campus who wasn't going to get their order in time for the game. We continue to do creative things like include a pack of sports cards in every customer's order, or occasionally send custom, one-of-a-kind items like baby one pieces and custom t-shirts. As we grow we still want that close knit, small company vibe that our customers have come to know and love."

At the end of our conversation, I mention that Hummingbird - the new Olark design - is available on both mobile and desktop sites. You can see it action right now - it's the button in the bottom right corner of this page.

We'll be switching all customers over to this new theme by the end of 2016. Click here to see what Hummingbird is all about...

Learn More About Hummingbird

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Karl Pawlewicz

Read more posts by Karl Pawlewicz

Karl is the Head of Communications for Olark. Got a good Olark story to tell? Email him: karl@olark.com