Growing up means realizing that the most wonderful time of the year can also be quite stressful, especially if you work in customer care.

Navigating holiday customer service spikes is always a tough task. When you throw in supply chain delays, shipping lags and 10% year-over-year growth in online shopping, it’s a whole new ball game.

To keep things running smoothly, customer care managers need to make the most of all available resources. Luckily, Sprout Social is equipped with tools designed to alleviate the holiday customer service rush while strengthening customer relationships in the process—a gift that keeps on giving well after the holiday season.

Keep reading to learn which Sprout features can help you give your customers and your team a better experience during the last few months of the year. But first, what exactly is in store for customer care agents this holiday season?

What social customer care teams can expect from the 2021 holiday customer service rush

The pandemic continues to impact global supply chains, leaving warehouses empty and retailers scrambling for inventory. Massive growth in ecommerce demand has overwhelmed shipping and delivery carriers, which experts believe will continue into 2022.

This holiday season, customer experience disruptions are an expectation rather than an anomaly.

As customers turn to social to leave feedback, questions and reviews, your customer care team will notice an uptick in inbound messages. Last year brought retailers an 18% increase in social messages during the holiday season. This year, consumer preferences for online shopping and the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still holding strong, signaling that we’re in for yet another busy season on social.

A 2020/2021 year-over-year comparison of social messages received per month, which indicates an 18% spike in messages per month in December.

Supporting customer care agents as they navigate this influx of support requests is paramount to your team’s success. After all, better agent experiences create better customer experiences.

According to Zendesk’s 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report, 55% of agents say that a supportive work environment is the most important thing needed to do their job well. Agility, improved technology and additional communication channels also top the list. Making changes with these needs in mind is the modern customer care team’s secret to a successful holiday season.

How to prepare for holiday customer service spikes using Sprout Social

Holiday-related spikes in support requests can be stressful, but the right tools can help your team rise to the challenge. If you want to revisit and revise your team processes before the rush hits, here are four ways Sprout Social can help:

1. Document a tagging strategy to scale responsiveness

Inbound message tagging is the best 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 comes to a close.

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 some potential use cases to consider as you develop your strategy:

  • 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 customer questions and complaints by volume can better prepare you for next year’s holiday season. To report on questions by internal Tag, use the Cross-Network Tag Performance report.
Sprout's Tag Performance report, filtered to only include inbound messages.
  • 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.

2. Establish collaboration norms across a distributed team

Whether you’re figuring out how to navigate peak seasons while remote or you’ve outsourced seasonal help, establishing collaboration norms plays a critical role in minimizing inbox chaos.

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 using 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. This crucial part of the onboarding process is easy to forget at the start of a busy season—which coincidentally is when quality control is needed the most.

Seventy-two percent of consumers are more likely to increase their spending with a brand or a company after a positive interaction on social. Creating stellar support experiences during holiday customer support rushes can set your company up for more business in 2022.

To build out 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 start to feel more comfortable in their role, they’ll be able to handle issues without an approver.

The reply approval process in Sprout's Smart Inbox. Customer care agents can submit social media responses to senior team members for review within Sprout.

To manage approval processes in Sprout, use the Reply Approvals workflow. This allows agents to submit, review, approve or reject messages directly within the platform, minimizing disruptions for all parties involved. Approvers can also leave comments on accepted or rejected messages, creating valuable coaching opportunities for new agents.

Who should agents go to with questions?

Unfortunately, you can’t train for everything. That’s why it’s so important to have an established point person (or people) to help when a particularly tricky message comes in.

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.

Sprout's Internal Comment feature, which allows customer care agents to discuss responses in-platform before sending them out on social.

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

How will we distribute social messages among agents?

When customer questions come in through a dedicated customer experience platform, they’re often automatically assigned to an available support agent. On social, things are a bit trickier.

Social media interactions come in many forms, including DMs, comments, tagged posts and more. If you handle social messages natively within each network, you risk sending duplicate or conflicting responses to the same person. To avoid any overlap, invest in a social media management tool equipped with Collision Detection.

Sprout Social's collision detection feature, which prevents multiple agents from responding to the same message at once.

Sprout’s Collision Detection feature displays real-time notifications when you and another coworker are interacting with the same message. Once a message receives a response, the reply icon becomes shaded, so all team members know it’s been handled.

3. Set up saved replies and chatbots to manage frequently asked questions

“Where can I find my tracking information?”

“Will this ship by early December?”

“What are your holiday hours?”

Even with a robust FAQ page, site banners and email updates, repeat questions like these are inevitable. Although they’re easy to answer, they often take up more time than necessary when addressing manually.

Documenting responses to these common questions will not only make your customer care team’s lives easier—it will also speed up your social media response time. Speedy responses are a foundational part of great customer service, which consumers say defines a best-in-class brand on social.

Use saved replies to manage repeat questions

Every network has different character limits and standards of engagement. That’s why drafting approved responses is so important. After all, who wants to spend time editing a lengthy shipping update so it can fit in a Tweet?

In Sprout, Saved Replies can be managed and stored in the Asset Library. Pro tip: give each of your Saved Replies clear titles that explain its use case and intended networks. This will help your teammates find them easily when responding to social messages.

Saved Replies can be accessed within the Smart Inbox to speed up time to first response.

Once a Saved Reply has been created, team members can insert them when drafting replies directly from the Compose window. This convenient alternative to copy and pasting ensures messages stay accurate while leaving room for personalization.

Level up with rule-based chatbots

If you really want to address basic holiday customer service questions faster, we recommend setting up customer service chatbots using Sprout’s Bot Builder. These rule-based chatbots can manage common questions that come through Facebook Messenger or Twitter Direct Messages.

Sprout Social's Bot Builder configuration page. The customer care bot template can be used to automate frequent holiday customer service questions.

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

4. Give your reps the context they need to succeed

It’s impossible to provide personalized customer service without the right context. Easy access to details on order history, shipping fulfillment and previous customer care interactions can mean the difference between an exceptional support experience and one that falls flat.

If you receive a social message from a disgruntled customer, you could piece together the situation by gathering details from your ecommerce, CRM and helpdesk platforms. But if you’re using Sprout Social, the process becomes much cleaner.

Viewing Shopify customer details within in the Smart Inbox.

Sprout’s breadth of martech integrations with systems from Salesforce and Shopify to Zendesk eliminates the need to bounce between tools. Details from each platform 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.

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.

Go forth and conquer with Sprout Social

Customer care teams can’t control supply chain troubles or global shipping delays. But as the folks on the frontline of your brand, they have the power to alleviate customer concerns and earn their loyalty. Providing your team with the right technology solutions can free them up to focus on creating exceptional customer experiences—the kinds 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 your customers this holiday season.