Prepping your social customer care team for the holiday rush with Sprout

It seems like the holidays start earlier every year—for marketers and consumers alike. According to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse survey, 75% of marketers are publishing holiday content earlier this year compared to 2022. Is your holiday customer service strategy ready to start early, too?

Just as snowy decor starts appearing before Halloween has even arrived, your holiday customer service strategy must be ready ahead of peak shopping season. To keep things running smoothly, customer care teams must make the most of all available resources. Luckily, Sprout Social is equipped with tools designed to alleviate the holiday rush while strengthening customer relationships—a gift that keeps on giving well after the holiday season.

‘Tis the season to bolster your customer care strategy. Keep reading to shape your strategy, and to find out which Sprout features will set your team and customers and team up for success.

Why social needs to be at the center of holiday customer service

Answering customer questions on social sits firmly in the center of the social media and customer care Venn diagram. So much so that 74% of US and UK consumers say they’re likely to reach out to a brand on social this holiday season, according to a Q4 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey of 1,623 consumers.

Social media is a direct line to your customers. And during the holiday season, their outreach will inevitably increase, further extending social’s crossover into the customer care realm.

Let’s look at three key ways social media must be central to your holiday customer service.

Social is the home of product discovery

“TikTok made me buy it” is more than a catchy phrase. It’s a reflection of the influence social media has on buying behavior—on TikTok, and beyond. Instagram reports that 70% of shoppers look to the platform for their next purchase. And Facebook has the highest number of social commerce buyers.

Social media is a virtual mall designed for product discovery, social proof and purchasing all in one place. And consumers know this, too—55% of consumers say they rely on brands’ social media accounts when it comes to discovering and learning about new products during the holiday season, according to our Q4 2023 Pulse Survey.

Social media must be at the center of holiday customer service because it’s at the center of shoppers’ gift hunt. Outfitting your team with the training and customer care social media tools they need makes it easier to meet customers where they are.

Customer outreach on social media will surge during the holiday season

The most wonderful time of the year is also the busiest time of the year for customer service agents. 63% of consumers strongly or somewhat agree that they are more likely to reach out to a brand on social during the holiday season vs. the rest of the year, according to our Q4 2023 Pulse Survey. And our data shows that this outreach most frequently comes through via direct messages and in-post comments.

If your customer service team isn’t seeing (let alone responding to) customer questions and comments on social, they’re missing the chance to build customer trust and loyalty. Over half of consumers say that the most memorable brands on social is simply respond to customers, according to the most recent Sprout Social Index™.

Having visibility and access to social is crucial for delivering strong customer service. If customer care teams are only reviewing and responding to email, phone and web form requests, they’re not getting the full picture.

Consumers reach out on social during every step of their shopping journey

From asking about restocks and order status to sharing glowing reviews, customers use social media along every step of the purchasing journey. Asking product questions and sharing positive feedback were the top two motivators for consumers to contact brands via social, according to our Q4 2023 Pulse Survey.

And when it comes to contacting brands, consumers do have network preferences. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are the top three platforms consumers expect to use to contact brands during the holiday season. All the more reason your team needs access and, if necessary, training on engaging through these channels.

Remember: A stellar holiday customer service strategy does more than just answer questions. It can convert prospective customers into lifelong customers and brand advocates. At the same time, a strategy that doesn’t account for social has the power to do the opposite.

8 tips for enhancing your holiday customer service strategy

Holiday-related spikes in support requests can be stressful. But the right process and tools can empower your team to rise to the challenge.

If you want to revisit and revise your team processes before the rush hits, here are eight tips for enhancing your holiday customer service strategy, and some ways Sprout can help along the way.

1. Plan ahead

Like we said, the holidays feel like they start earlier every year. If you’re not planning ahead for the holiday surge, you’re already falling behind.

The last thing you want during a busy holiday season is to play catch up. So plan ahead to cover all of your bases before the “season’s greetings” decor goes up in stores.

Consider the other milestones your agents should align with—think: key dates for holiday marketing, like sales and launches, that may lead to a spike in messages or tools they need to learn.

Planning ahead can mean different things to different businesses. For your team, it may mean securing budget to hire temporary holiday support staff (which we’ll get to.) Or creating a dedicated RACI model to align on social customer care. Or talking to the merchandising team about when certain sales will start and end to prepare your agents.

2. Create holiday-specific FAQs

According to the Index, 54% of marketers plan on using customer self-service tools like FAQs to scale social customer care. Add holiday-specific FAQs to your site, chatbots (more on that below) or even post captions so customers can find answers themselves.

No matter how many FAQs you provide, you will always get repeat questions. Prepping pre-written answers to common questions your team can pull from saves everyone time.

Creating one source of truth for these quick responses ensures consistency. For example, using the Sprout Asset Library, you can quickly search for and select pre-written answer templates as you respond to a question on social.

And if you want to limit or expand permissions, you can easily adjust who can access the Asset Library within Sprout.

3. Staff up

No matter how early you prepare for the holiday rush, you may simply need more hands on deck. Consider hiring temp or additional staff. E-commerce brand Threadless hires additional holiday customer service staff every season to provide additional support.

Speed is key. The quicker your new staff can hit the ground running, the smoother your holiday season will be. Ensure you provide training and tools that make onboarding a breeze. For example, Sprout has earned industry recognition as a platform with high ease of use, setup and admin—crucial elements when you need to get new staff into a tool fast. And with features like Tasks, where you can assign specific messages to specific Sprout users, you can further streamline collaboration even as your team scales.

4. Employ a system to tackle the highest-priority customer inquiries

Ensuring the highest-priority messages are sorted and answered quickly is crucial. Think: complex issues, time-sensitive or negative inquiries, even positive comments that warrant a swift response.

Sprout’s Sentiment for Messages capability lets you identify and sort messages based on whether they’re positive, negative or neutral, and create inboxes based on these sentiments. This empowers you to identify opportunities for proactive engagement—especially important for developing deeper audience connections, like in this conversation with Calvin Klein.

Inbound message tagging is another way to get the most out of Sprout’s Smart Inbox. An organized tagging strategy can help you create tailored inbox views, triage customer questions and report on your efforts once the holiday season wraps up.

Make sure all your customer care agents—seasonal or otherwise—are up to speed on your strategy with thorough documentation. If you’re not tagging messages in Sprout already, here are potential use cases to consider:

Tag by urgency: If your agents are divided by support tiers, tagging messages by urgency can help ensure customers are connected to the right representative quickly.
Tag by customer concern: Understanding trends in customer questions and complaints (e.g., in relation to specific themes or products) can better prepare you for next year’s holiday season. Use the Cross-Network Tag Performance report to report on questions by internal Tag.
Tag by response need: Some messages aren’t actionable. For example, if someone promotes their own services in your replies, you’re better off ignoring it. Creating a unique Tag for messages that don’t warrant a response can help you more accurately measure your agents’ time to first response (TTFR) rates.

Use these tagging strategies individually or in combination to streamline response and reporting efforts. By proactively tagging inbound messages, your team will be able to provide excellent customer service no matter how many messages you receive this holiday season.

5. Tap into automation and AI

An impressive 81% of marketers say AI has already had a positive impact on their work, according to the Index. And it’s undoubtedly front-of-mind for teams wanting to ensure customer service efficiency this holiday season.

Here are two stand-out areas where automation and AI customer service tools are a game changer:

Faster responses

There will always be customer questions that go beyond your prepped FAQ answers. And fresh responses take time.

AI tools create a starting point for responses that your team can build off of, minimizing effort—having these tools baked into your current workflow streamlines your process further. Sprout’s Enhance by AI Assist, for example, suggests AI-generated responses for you to choose from and customize when responding to social comments and DMs. You can even select the tone you want your response to convey.

Lean on chatbots

If you’re not already using chatbots to lighten the load for your team, this is your sign to start. And if you are, this is your sign to update them with holiday FAQs.

To address basic holiday customer service questions faster, we recommend using Sprout’s Bot Builder. These rule-based chatbots can manage common questions that come through Meta’s Messenger or X (formerly known as Twitter) Direct Messages.

To start, determine what conversations you want your chatbot to handle. If you need help, Sprout comes equipped with a customer care-specific Bot Template, which can be adjusted to suit your needs.

6. Give agents the context they need to succeed

To set your team up for success through the holidays, you must provide them with the right information and tools. This also means providing agents with the customer context they need to succeed.

If your team has to toggle between multiple tools just to respond to one customer message, you’re doing your team and audience a disservice. Plus, your team may miss important customer history.

Sprout supports social CRM integrations with a number of tools, like HubSpot and Salesforce, eliminating the need to bounce between systems. Details from each can be accessed directly within the Smart Inbox so you can get a better understanding of the customer you’re supporting, the issue at hand and what’s been done so far to help.

For example, Sprout’s Salesforce integration empowers users to leverage social data for a world-class, omnichannel care experience. It enables your care teams to meet customers where they are vs. sending them to other channels, like a phone line or email.

An integrated social support strategy can make a major difference when dealing with a high volume of social messages. Connecting Sprout throughout your tech stack paves the way for more exceptional support experiences for your team and customers.

7. Establish collaboration norms

Creating a frustration-free, collaborative environment can look different for everyone, depending on the needs of your company. Before you design a process, you first need to evaluate existing and potential points of friction.

If you’re new to prioritizing social as a customer care channel, here are some questions to consider:

Who will review responses from seasonal agents and new hires?

Monitoring responses from new agents is time-consuming but necessary at the start of a busy season when quality control is especially important. To build an approval process, first identify which agents can be responsible for approving messages. Pair them with newer agents to ensure all replies stay compliant and on brand. As new agents feel more comfortable in their role, they’ll be able to handle issues without an approver.

To manage approval processes in Sprout, use the Reply Approvals workflow to submit, review, approve or reject messages directly within the platform, minimizing disruptions for all parties involved. You can also create user teams in Sprout to ensure conversations and message comments are fielded to the right people for replies or clarification.

Who should agents go to with questions?

Whether all tough questions go through a single individual or you have point people for specific issues, documenting who’s responsible for what topics can help prevent confusion and frustration when dealing with social messages.

To further reduce confusion, use Sprout’s Conversations feature. This centralizes team conversations within the Smart Inbox, so questions can be answered without extra emails or direct messages back and forth.

8. Capture feedback and performance metrics in real-time to constantly improve

To refine your holiday customer service strategy, you must be able to capture feedback and measure performance. Externally, customer feedback surveys are critical to seeing the big picture of how people feel about their service.

Add surveys directly to your social platforms for customers. Using Sprout, it’s easy to configure and implement surveys that measure Customer Satisfaction Score and Net Promoter Score on Instagram, Facebook and X—three major platforms for customer engagement.

Internally, analyzing customer service metrics—like reply time and messages answered—fills in the details behind why customers may feel a certain way about your service. In Sprout, the Inbox Team Report lets you easily measure team effectiveness and performance—from a bird’s eye view, and by individual team members. This report breaks down metrics like median first reply times and unique messages replied to, taking the guesswork out of refining your customer care process so you can head into the holiday season strong.

‘Tis the season to be efficient: Master your holiday customer service strategy with Sprout Social

A strong holiday customer service strategy has a long-lasting impact that continues long after decorations have been put away for the season. The folks on the front line of your brand have the power to alleviate customer concerns and earn their loyalty. Providing your team with the right tools can free them up to focus on creating exceptional customer experiences—the kind that drive repeat engagement, clicks and purchases.

Luckily, Sprout can keep your customer care team in good cheer well into the new year. Start a free 30-day trial and help bring more joy to your agents and customers this holiday season.

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