Small business at the holidays: 5 tips to prep for the holiday customer service load

In 2018, holiday ecommerce sales reached $126 billion, with shoppers spending a record $7.9 billion online on Cyber Monday alone. If you own or manage a small business this sudden surge in website traffic can put a lot of pressure on your customer service team; fortunately, though, there are steps you can take to prepare! 

Here are some simple tips to help you provide a great experience for your online customers during the busy holiday season:

Step 1: Prepare and automate responses in advance

When your team is slammed, typing out every single response from scratch just takes too much time. So don't do it! Create a list of your most frequently asked questions as well as clear, concise responses, and make it accessible to your entire customer service team.

You can start with a low-tech solution such as an Excel spreadsheet populated with questions and responses. However, as your database of questions grows, searching your sheet for the right response could take even more time than typing it out from scratch.

If you're at that point, it's time to upgrade to the “canned responses” feature of your chat or email platform. With canned responses, your customer service rep only needs to type out a keyword, and the full response text is automatically entered:

Having responses saved and ready to recall increases productivity, lowering your customer service costs over time — and responding faster will make your customers feel cared for during the particularly stressful task of finding unique gifts for their loved ones. 

Step 2: Create resources customers can find on their own

Studies show that as many as 4 in 10 customers actually prefer to find answers themselves, rather than contacting a company. So, helping your customers find the information they need before they call, email, or chat really is a win-win.

Start with a basic FAQ page and/or a how-to guide on your website. The knowledge base plugin for Wordpress is one intuitively organized way to structure your self-serve customer support resources, but whatever you decide to use, make sure it offers tracking data and reporting so you can see which questions come up most often — if lots of customers are confused about one particular feature or task, you can use that information to improve your website and products. Also make sure your how-to guide is easy to find; you can link to it in your website footer, customer service email signatures, live chat offline messages, voicemail messages, social media, etc. 

Step 3: Use visuals to make instructions easier to follow

A picture really is worth a thousand words — 65% of the population are visual learners, and the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. Incorporating visuals into your customer experience strategy will decrease miscommunication and frustration, not to mention the total time it takes for your customer to find an answer to their question.

Static images are a great start, whether they're published in your self-serve documentation or attached to an email or chat message. If you want to go the extra mile, especially for more technical tasks, try integrating a screen share feature; Olark Visitor Cobrowsing PowerUp, for example, enables your customer service rep to see and annotate the webpage your customer is on.

Step 4: Set expectations both for your customers and your internal team

Your team understandably wants to take time off to be with family around the holidays — but you also have to respond to a sudden surge in customers. To avoid customer frustration when your team is offline, be sure to list your holiday hours on your site in advance of the season’s rush, and give folks a way to leave a message when you're out (e.g., set up an offline email form for your chat box) . 

If you find yourself short staffed, you can also create internal incentives, such as bonuses, to encourage your team to chip in over the holidays. However you handle it, make sure you don’t lose a sale because no one was there to answer basic questions about your product!

Step 5: Train your small team to respond more efficiently

When you're responding to hundreds of customer inquiries each day, small optimizations add up. For example, you might schedule designated times for your team to answer chats, so they can avoid multitasking while responding to customers in real time. 

You can also train some members of your team as specialists in certain areas, and update your response strategy to transfer complex questions to the relevant expert. Other options include transitioning some of your team off of other tasks and onto customer support during the holiday season, or hiring freelancers from sites such as Upwork as extra hands on busy days.


We hope these tips help you have a successful holiday season! The most wonderful time of the year can also be stressful, but we're committed to helping you offer outstanding customer service right up until the last gift is wrapped. 

Check out relevant topics on: Customer Support, eCommerce and Retail, Chat Tips

Kristen Van Nest

Read more posts by Kristen Van Nest