Let’s cut to the chase: Black Friday and Cyber Monday customer support is intense. For ecommerce customer support teams, the flood of tickets is the online store version of shoppers mobbing through brick-and-mortar stores.
It’s easy to focus on just getting through the flood of tickets. But If you’re proactive, your support team could actually reduce the number of incoming tickets with automation. And with all that time saved, the support team can have a huge impact on the cumulative success of the weekend by unblocking sales, reducing return rates, and more.
Customer support teams are not just there to answer tickets during BFCM — they are key at every stage along the customer journey:
An unprepared or understaffed support team is the quickest way to kill your BFCM success. And with $209.7 billion in forecasted online spending at stake, that’s not something you can take for granted. Here are 5 steps to make your support team the hero of Black Friday 2023.
1. Update your customer service policies and SLAs
Ecommerce sales depend on clear policies around shipping, returns, lost packages, and more. When customers don’t know your policies, they’ll either write to your support team (if you’re lucky) or abandon their cart entirely and head over to Amazon (more likely).
In the first case, your support team is stuck answering repetitive questions like, "What's your shipping policy?" when customers should really have easy access to that information on their own. In the second, you’re directly losing online sales because of a lack of clear customer self-service options. Either way, we’re here to help you solve it.
“Make sure all of your policies are up-to-date before Black Friday-Cyber Monday, and communicate them to both agents (through your SLA) and customers (on key pages of your website). This will reduce the number of tickets you have to field and ensure customers have the information they need to make a confident purchase decision.” —Bri Christiano, Director of Support at Gorgias
Policies for shipping and fulfillment during Black Friday-Cyber Monday
Most customers use BFCM weekend to lock in holiday gifts, so their number one concern on BFCM (after what deal they can score) is often around delivery dates. They want to know if their order will make it on time for the holidays.
How to estimate shipping times to inform your shipping policy
Before communicating shipping dates to customers, work backward with your fulfillment team to determine the absolute last day orders can ship and still arrive in time (factoring in holiday shipping delays).
Once that “drop dead” order date has been determined, it needs to be clearly communicated to holiday shoppers, along with any opportunities to speed up shipping for an additional fee.
Here are some common customer expectations around fulfillment you may want to consider (thanks, Amazon!).
Where to put your BFCM shipping policy
Make your shipping policies (and the “drop dead” date) clear in your:
- Checkout flow (during the shipping method step and order preview step)
- Order confirmation emails
- FAQ page and/or Help Center
- Macros (where relevant)
- Website banner
- Product pages
If you feel uncertain about what those shipping policies should be exactly, check out our guide for ecommerce shipping and fulfillment best practices. Better safe than sorry with an inbox full of angry customer emails.
How to address lost packages during Black Friday-Cyber MondayLost or damaged packages are common during BFCM. The first step for addressing the issue is to understand why they go missing in the first place.
Common reasons packages are lost are:
- The package was never shipped in the first place
- The packing slip fell off or wasn’t properly scanned by the carrier
- The package was delivered to the wrong address
- The package was damaged (usually by fire or water)
- The package was stolen after delivery
Stuff happens. Being upfront about what customers can expect if the worst-case scenario happens is key to recovering and retaining that customer relationship.
Your customer-facing lost package policy should include:
- Any limits in coverage for damages
- How customers should inform of lost packages
- What is required to submit a claim (i.e. pictures, shipping confirmation email, etc.)
- How long a package needs to go undelivered before it’s considered lost
And, don’t forget to set your support agents up for success by providing them with a process that explains:
- What steps they should take to troubleshoot a missing package
- Available macros the team can use in these cases
- Clear guidelines for escalating a case to the fraud team (i.e. number of repeated claims, etc.)
This will help your agents handle the process quickly and consistently, and give your customers the peace of mind that they will be made whole if something goes wrong.
If you’re creating this policy from scratch or want to make sure your policy is covering all your bases, check out our guide on how to handle lost ecommerce packages.
Policy for returns and exchanges during Black Friday — Cyber Monday
If you’ve ever bought a gift for “ the person who has everything” or received tighty-whities from Great Aunt Margret for Christmas, you know how important a return policy is. More than ever during the holiday sales season, your customers are going to want to know your return policy. And, while you can’t eliminate the BFCM returns, you can at least reduce the number of them if you understand where they’re coming from.
In addition to gift returns, the top reasons online shoppers choose to return a product include:
- Item didn't match its product description and/or customer expectations
- Item arrived late and the customer no longer needs it
- "Wardrobing," when serial returners buy and return items without any intention of ever keeping products
- Merchant shipped the wrong product
- Item was damaged or defective
To reduce ecommerce returns, during BFCM or any other time, the more information you give upfront, the less likely people are to return the items later on. Your return policy should be crystal clear to both support agents and customers about the conditions under which you will accept a return for either a refund or exchange. Not sure where to start? Check out our return policy template generator to get started.
Where to put your BFCM returns and exchanges policy
Similar to the shipping policy locations, you want to make your returns and exchanges policy (or at least a link to the full policy) as visible as possible to avoid unnecessary support tickets.
Make your returns and exchanges policies clear in your:
- Checkout flow (during the shipping method step and order preview step)
- Order confirmation emails
- FAQ page
- Help center resource pages
- Macro templates (where relevant)
- Website banner
- Product pages
Set customer expectations with your SLAs
A service-level agreement (SLA) is a document that describes what the client or customer can expect from the provider. A strong SLA is foundational to cultivating understanding and maintaining high satisfaction with your existing customers. Making sure your SLA is up-to-date is more crucial than ever when entering into the busiest times of the year when customer expectations are at their height.
Here are some things you should add to (or update) in your SLA for BFCM:
- Use plain English and simplify as much as possible. Talk to your target audience in language they’ll understand, to avoid confusion
- Design your SLA based on data. Benchmark your SLA expectations against historic data and then adapt to the forecast you calculated above, so you can make the metrics you aim for challenging, but realistic
- Set expectations specific to each customer service channel. Different customer service channels will require different policies. For example, social media response times may be longer than in-app chat responses. (Pro Tip: Use Gorgias Statistics to understand your existing response times per channel to help you craft these SLAs).
- Build in procedures for worst-case scenarios. Your website might crash, you might have more customers than expected, or there could be other unexpected issues — plan ahead to make sure you aren’t caught off-guard.
- Proactively communicate the SLA to your agents and customers. The value of your SLA depends on both of these stakeholder groups understanding the terms, so make sure you communicate it to your agents, to your customers through your helpdesk, and key places on your website (contact us page, live chat widget, etc.).
Berkey Filters, an online retailer that sells water purification systems, does a great job of sharing its SLA for live messaging channels with customers. Their Help page acts as a sort of customer support landing page, setting expectations with customers about the fastest way to reach the team — 2 minutes, for SMS and live chat support.
2. Leverage automation for self-serve support
Your agents have more important things to do than answering the same basic questions over and over (and over and over). The trick? Setting up self-service resources to help customers help themselves.
This includes making information easily accessible by leveraging automation to answer simple or repetitive questions (e.g. “What size am I?”) and making sure your FAQ pages are up-to-date.
With tools like Gorgias, you can even use AI to automatically suggest articles when customers ask last-minute questions in the chat.
- Loop Earplug’s Help Center has easy-to-identify FAQ categories with illustrated buttons. Customers can quickly find the answers they need rather than making them sort through a massive drop-down menu of questions and solutions.
- Steve Madden's Order Management Flows help customers quickly view the status of their orders, request refunds, or report an order issue.
- BrüMate's Flows help their customers easily find the perfect product through their self-service center.
- Topical’s Quick Response Flows answer common customer questions in the chat widget, deflecting 69% of tickets that would have otherwise required agent attention and wait time for customers.
3. Forecast your ticket volume
Gorgias merchant data shows that the average ecommerce business will see a 20% spike in ticket volume during BFCM. That increase in volume can cripple a support team if you don’t take the time to forecast your ticket volume and staff accordingly. You’ll want to make sure your team has the capacity to answer revenue-driving questions in a timely way so your customers don’t abandon carts due to wait times.
Proactive and data-driven forecasting is the key to reducing wait times and increasing revenue on BFCM. Relying on guesswork or reactive staffing measures will likely leave you with burned-out agents and unhappy customers (not to mention tanking CSAT and NPS).
Or, you may find yourself overstaffed and wasting valuable resources on excess headcount, offsetting any bfcm sales you make. Balancing these two extremes can only be done with a strong forecasting strategy.
If you’re unsure of where to start with your strategy, check out the battle-tested, three-step framework for customer service forecasting, the CEO of HelpFlow, Jon Tucker developed. He manages a 24/7 live chat and customer service team for over 100 brands with this strategy, so you know it’s good stuff! Here’s the Cliffnotes version:
- Calculate your contact rate (i.e. transaction-to-ticket ratio)
To calculate your contact ratio, simply:
- Pull your transaction count for a given period (in Shopify’s UI you can find it under Analytics > Reports)
- Pull your ticket volume for the same time period from Gorgias or a similar customer service platform (pictured in the red frame below)
- Divide ticket volume by transaction volume to calculate your ratio (e.g. 400 tickets divided by 1,000 transactions would yield a contact rate of 40%)
As a benchmark, HelpFlow usually sees a contact rate of 30-50% for stores that haven’t yet streamlined their customer service experience, and 20% for those with more optimized, automated processes.
Use your contact rate to project ticket volume
Once you have your overall contact rate, the next step is to estimate how many orders you'll experience over BFCM. Your estimated order volume and your average contact rate are the two ingredients you need to calculate the estimated ticket volume.
To build a projection of order volume, look at your historical data for:
- Order volume from BFCM the previous year
- Business growth over the last year
- Market trends surrounding BFCM for the current year
Once you forecast ticket volume, the next step is to determine how many team members you need to handle the volume.
Estimate the number of agents needed for the holiday season, based on past capacity
Start by assessing the number of tickets each agent has the capacity for and then divide the number of forecasted ticket volumes by that number to determine how many agents you need for the holidays.
To calculate agent capacity per full-time agent:
- Run a report for the total number of tickets resolved per full-time agent over a specific period using the agent statistics in your helpdesk (in Gorgias, it’s under Statistics > Agents)
- Use the average number to set a benchmark for agent capacity (this number will vary by agent, but an average will give you a good working estimate)
- Next, divide the forecasted ticket volume total by the average agent capacity to find how many agents you will need.
Your agent capacity will vary significantly based on your business, agents, and customer service operation. For example, HelpFlow typically sees anywhere from 40 to 60 tickets per day per agent as a healthy benchmark. And, across Gorgias customers, we see an average of ~60 tickets per day per agent in healthy support organizations.
As a general rule, building in a buffer is a good idea, especially if this is your first year creating your forecasting strategy and there may be some variance in the numbers.
4. Find ways to get more customer service help
While hiring additional customer service agents might seem like an easy solution to the BFCM madness, the unfortunate reality is it’s hardly the time to ramp up new employees.
It’s better to first take a hard look at your existing processes and see where you can optimize for the team you already have, and/or outsource to seasoned pros. This will not only help you run your customer service more effectively but will also help you avoid excess headcount after the holidays.
Offer your existing agents overtime
After you’ve optimized your existing process, consider offering your current agents overtime pay rather than hiring unseasoned agents that would be in excess come January.
For example, if you typically have five agents working eight-hour days, offer an additional 90 minutes each day during the holidays at a holiday-exclusive overtime pay rate. By doing this you can add the equivalent of another full-time agent (i.e. 90 mins per day x 5 agents = 7.5h of workload per day).
Here are some tips from Tucker, to maximize the impact of team overtime:
- Don’t surprise your team with overtime: Keep them informed of upcoming volume so they’re not blindsided and resentful for being asked to extend their shifts.
- Cultivate a sense of comradery: Keep your team informed of forecasts and potential issues — and brainstorm solutions together. This not only creates a sense of teamwork that makes overtime easier to implement but you also may uncover solutions you haven’t thought of.
- Show your appreciation: Offering time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours is a great incentive for agents, and will most likely be more cost-effective than letting sales and customer satisfaction slip.
Agent burnout is a real problem, especially since the pandemic, so be careful asking for too much overtime from your current agents. However, it can be a great short-term solution, especially if you have a healthy team culture. Just make sure you’re following any relevant HR rules and regulations — the penalties can be severe if you aren’t careful.
Bring in an outsourcing agency or BPO
If the amount of overtime your team can work won’t bridge the gap in headcount needed during the holidays, it’s time to look externally for resources. But be forewarned, not all Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) or customer service outsourcing agencies are created equal.
Choosing the right partner agency
“A great outsourcing agency or BPO should be providing advice to make your team more efficient, not just providing temporary agents,” says Tucker. “The net result of finding the right partner is not only the additional tickets from their agents but also the increased output from your existing team.”
Tucker said some of the best ways to find a great customer service vendor is to:
- Ask your helpdesk provider for recommendations: At Gorgias, we have an entire partner program with talented teams that can help you scale (here’s HelpFlow’s partner page).
- Vet your potential agencies’ training processes: This training should be extremely methodical, robust, and agency-driven — it’s a red flag if you’re expected to train their temporary agents.
- Look for an agent turnover rate of less than 10%: It’s common for customer service agencies to have turnover rates of 30% or higher, which means you will be constantly onboarding new hires. (HelpFlow’s turnover rate is only 1% per year, so you’ll get experienced, fully-ramped agents who can hit the ground running during BFCM)
- Seek an agency that asks questions: If they seem desperate for business and fail to dig into the mechanics of your business to know if they can help, it’s a sign they won’t go deep on training either.
5. Double down on chat for BFCM support
Imagine a customer is rushing to get a deal on that one item their kid really wanted for Christmas. They only get as far as the product page when they realize they’re not sure which model is compatible with their kid’s current tech setup though. So, they call your customer support line, but agents are slammed because it’s BFCM and the estimated wait time is over 20 minutes.
The customer, wanting to make sure they get this special gift while it’s still in stock, quickly searches Google for the specs. They land on the site of another retailer that has the product in stock at a comparable price. Better yet, before they even have a chance to try and find the information themselves, a friendly chat assistant welcomes them and asks if they need help finding anything.
The chat conversation quickly helps them determine what model they need and even sends them a direct link to the product page for it after just a brief dialogue. The customer, rather than shuffling through all their tabs to find the other retailer’s site, decide they might as well just purchase the item on the second site since they’re already on the exact product page they need.
This is what chat does best; they help customers while they’re in the flow of shopping. Wherever your customers are on the site, chat keeps all of the information right at their fingertips so they stay on-site and in the online shopping flow. According to recent studies, chat can boost conversion rates by as much as 12%!
With a tool like Gorgias, you can set up chat campaigns that target customers and automatically pop-up based on browsing behavior, pages visited, dwell time, and more. You can use these chat campaigns to offer real-time support, deal notifications, offer unique incentives, and more.
Learn more about how chat campaigns can help you improve the pre-sales customer experience and drive more sales during BFCM (and beyond).
How Gorgias helps support teams drive revenue on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
If your BFCM strategy over-relies on expensive marketing ideas to win new customers, you’re missing out. Of course, acquiring customers is important — but their value is only truly realized if you can keep them around.
According to Gorgias data, repeat customers make up only 21% of the average brand’s customer base but generate 44% of that brand’s revenue because they shop more often and place higher-value orders.
The easiest way to cultivate customer retention beyond the holiday season is through great customer support. And, the best way to provide great customer support is by giving your customer service teams the tools they need to streamline operations.
Gorgias helps empowers your support teams to retain customers by:
- Centralizing interactions across all ecommerce channels through powerful integrations to reduce tedious tab switching
- Automating answers to common requests to skip mind-numbing questions and reduce overall ticket volume to manageable levels
- Empowering agents to engage in meaningful customer interactions by automating repetitive tasks like ticket triage and tagging and updating orders
- Boosting sales with pre-sales support, proactive chat campaigns, product quizzes, and more features that power upsells and cross-sells
- Providing the data needed to continually optimize for the best agent and customer experience