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CX for the holidays: What ecommerce brands should prioritize

Kellsey Lequick
October 18, 2023
In this Zendesk Q&A, we discuss what’s different this year, how to cut through the noise, and how to prepare your social and customer support teams for success.

Greg Geibel from the Zendesk Team recently hosted a Q&A in their Slack Community with Aneto Okonkwo, co-founder and CEO of Chatdesk, and Brent Noble, Director of Sales and Marketing at Saniderm.

The discussion centered around how ecommerce brands should prepare for the upcoming holiday season. The trio covered:

Read on for the full discussion.

Greg (Zendesk): To start off, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your hometown, and your position in the company?

Aneto (Chatdesk): I’m the co-founder & CEO of Chatdesk. Brands use Chatdesk to turn comments and tickets into sales across your social media channels, email, chat, and SMS. And we’re a Zendesk partner! I’m based in Brooklyn, New York. 🗽 I previously worked at Google for over seven years as a Product Manager, working on projects like Voice Search and the Google Assistant. In my spare time I enjoy watching European soccer, especially Arsenal FC. ⚽

Brent (Saniderm): Happy Thursday, everyone! I’m the Director of Sales & Marketing at Saniderm. Saniderm is the fastest-growing tattoo aftercare product in the world. Around seven million tattoos and 10 thousand tattoo artists have used our products to provide medical-grade tattoo healing. All of our products, from our bandages to our balms, use the highest-quality materials & ingredients available. I previously worked in the corporate world, but my passion is really in helping ecommerce brands like Saniderm grow. 🚀 I also played professional soccer in the US! ⚽ I am a Manchester United fan, and although I appreciate Aneto for many things, being an Arsenal fan is not one of them. In my spare time I enjoy the great outdoors, including spending time in the desert! 🌵

Greg (Zendesk): What led you to your current role in the world of CX and ecommerce?

Aneto (Chatdesk): After leaving Google, I was looking for an opportunity to combine the skills I had learned in building software and AI products with my passion for creating jobs. I talked to hundreds of companies and many of them mentioned how it was difficult for them to scale their CX teams, due to challenges around agent hiring and attrition.This led to the idea for Chatdesk, where we help companies scale their CX efficiently — particularly during peak times — by combining AI with human experts!

Brent (Saniderm): I’ve worked in sales and marketing for ecommerce with different brands for many years. At the same time, I’m a big fan of tattoos and the whole tattoo community. A friend of mine started Saniderm and then asked me to join to help grow the brand. I jumped at the chance to turn one of my passions into my job!

Greg: The holiday season is right around the corner. What differences do you see this year in how brands or consumers are approaching the season?

Brent: The past few holiday seasons have been a wild ride for ecommerce brands — supply chain and shipping challenges, a recession, inflation, world events. This year, I’m anticipating increased competition for attention.
Deloitte forecasts a 10–13% growth in ecommerce sales this season over last year. However, an overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers say they’re setting stricter budgets for their holiday spending. Brands are already competing for consumers’ attention, their hearts, and their wallets. I believe the brands that will win are the ones that use the urgency of the season to their advantage. In the past, we’ve seen some brands hold out on offering significant sales. But consumers are waiting for those deals. More than 50% of purchasers are motivated by steep discounts. If brands don't see sales climb like they hope, they tend to offer promotions at the last minute anyway. It’s better to be prepared!

Aneto: We’re seeing brands try to get ahead of this competition already by prioritizing engagement on channels like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube well ahead of the peak holiday season. The more you can connect with your customers where they are, the more likely you are to be visible and top of mind when they’re shopping. We also see tech and AI playing a bigger role this year as brands look for ways to increase efficiency and decrease costs.

Greg: Since you mentioned AI, let’s get into it. There’s still a lot of talk and a lot of new tools that make big promises. How should brands evaluate artificial intelligence tools?

Brent: There are some things AI can simply do better and more efficiently than a human — summarizing long documents, automating repetitive tasks, delivering fast responses. On the other hand, people are inherently good at things that AI is not great at. We’re good at making judgment calls, knowing what “good” looks like, recognizing a customer’s emotional context, and adapting quickly to changing situations. Look for solutions that lean into these inherent strengths. And be wary of tools that sound too good to be true.

Aneto: I recently attended the Zendesk Showcase in NYC. I was impressed by how thoughtful and cohesive the Zendesk AI launches have been, compared to some other platforms that have made bold claims that they can’t back up just yet. There are a lot of great tools out there. Here are a few that companies can roll out quickly in time for the holidays:

AI has been a core part of the Chatdesk platform for years. It’s how we can onboard new brands so quickly, scale 1:1 customer engagement, and keep costs low. But our US-based support experts stay involved in the process to provide oversight.

Greg: Any creative approaches you’ve seen to cut through the noise of other brands to drive customer loyalty and increase awareness during the holidays?

Brent: On the awareness side, community has been a key part of our strategy this year. Saniderm provides products for taking care of new tattoos — bandages, balms, lotions. Tattoo artists are an essential audience and distribution channel for us. We’ve been working with Chatdesk to engage tattoo artists on social channels like TikTok with organic comments on their posts. This puts our brand in front of the artists and their own followers. So far we’re seeing great results.

Aneto: We also see brands finding ways to make their existing customer base feel special. These can be simple and effective.
For example, one customer designed an “early access” promotion to invite existing customers to take advantage of a sale first. It went out before the broader campaign, so customers felt like part of an inner circle. This is a great way to build loyalty, and it cuts down on the ticket volume that can creep up if customers learn of a sale after the promo window.A similar take on this is a pre-sale offer. We’ve heard of brands selling out of new products before even doing a full launch, just by giving their customers first access.

Greg: What should CX leaders of ecommerce brands be prioritizing right now to prepare for the holidays?

Brent: For Saniderm, the holidays are a time when people spend time with their family and friends. This can be a time when people commemorate those relationships with a tattoo, so we always want Saniderm to be top of mind. Internally, we are switching from planning mode to execution mode. We’ve set our promotions and sales, the marketing campaigns are ready to go, and our operations and customer support teams are gearing up.

Aneto: It’s great to see how prepared Brent and his team are. For other brands, there is still time to refine your holiday plans and adjust for the coverage you need. If you’re not feeling as ready as you’d like, determine your biggest gaps and focus on filling those. Right now, we’re working with brands to ensure they have the coverage they need to engage customers during the holiday season, from organic social engagement to support for pre-sale and post-sale questions that come in from customers. You want to ensure that you can provide fast answers to questions so that you can capture those sales.

Greg: Which stakeholders should CX leaders align with within their own company?

Brent: Great question. Communicating across your organization early and often is one of the best ways to set your entire team up for success this holiday season.

Marketing: Confirm what promotions and marketing activities will be running during the holidays. Anticipate the types of questions customers will have and align on the messaging for responses.

Fulfillment: There’s often a spike in order status requests right before the holidays and then a spike in returns right after. Discuss ways to create self-service FAQs, tools, and forms that make it easy for customers to help themselves or give your team the needed information easily.

Your team: Confirm staffing schedules so you have enough team members to handle the increase in volume. Ensure that everyone has sufficient training and updated information. I’ve also seen companies plan some fun activities or surprises to celebrate and reward the team. It helps keep morale high, especially since some might not be able to take vacation during the holidays.

Greg: What should the staffing plan look like? Hire temps? Bring in team members from other functions?

Aneto: First, analyze your historic volumes — especially last year’s holiday volume and this previous quarter — to understand how your volume might spike. Once you have a sense of the additional staff you need to handle the increased volume, identify staffing options that provide the following:

🚀 Low cost and fast ramp up: On average, it can take up to six weeks and cost $7,000-$15,000 to train and onboard just three additional support agents. Now is probably not the time for that approach.

📈 On-demand pricing: Given the increase of pre-sale questions from customers outside business hours, you want a staffing option that extends your service hours without being too expensive.

💌 Personalized support: There is a huge emphasis this year on customers demanding more tailored support. Brands that can hire support agents who truly represent their brand and make solid recommendations will provide a better customer experience and drive more sales.

Greg: What are some risks of rolling out new tools or processes so close to the holidays?

Aneto: If you need to change processes or technology, allow as much ramp-up time as possible. Unfortunately, when some companies make a big shift before a peak season, they’re not able to fully test things in time to be certain the entire team (especially temporary workers) can use them comfortably. That leaves you vulnerable to errors that can decrease customer satisfaction scores and sales. 📅 To be safe, we recommend that companies launch new tools and processes at least three weeks before the holiday period begins.

Greg: How should you measure success during the holidays?What are the key team metrics (e.g., response time, conversion) that you should monitor?

Brent: I’ll take this one. We monitor the same metrics throughout the year, but during the holiday season, we watch them in real time so we can adjust quickly if we need to. Our success metrics center around efficiency, sales, and customer happiness.

🛒 Conversion rate: Percentage of visitors (online and social) who purchase something on your site. Industry average is 1-2%

✉️ Response time: Time it takes (in minutes) for a rep to respond to a customer’s message

🌟 CSAT/NPS (Net Promoter Score): How satisfied are customers with their experience, and are they willing to recommend your services to others? You can enable Zendesk Satisfaction Ratings if you don’t have this set up already

Aneto: Brent mentioned making adjustments in real time, and those metrics his team monitors are a great combination to support that. For example, response time can be a leading indicator for both conversion rate and customer satisfaction scores. If that response time starts getting longer, you’re likely to see fewer conversions and more frustrated customers. But if you spot that quickly, you can adjust coverage for the best results.

Greg: What best practices have you seen brands observe right after the holidays?

Brent : Great question! It’s tempting to breathe a big sigh of relief after making it through the holiday push. But purchase intent for most customers remains high right after the holidays and into January. Capitalize on that by continuing to engage customers. For Saniderm, since the majority of our customers are tattoo artists, many of them have buying patterns where they set their budgets at the beginning of the year and buy all the supplies they need. In addition, some new tattoo artists might be entering the industry at the start of the year as they decide to turn their passion into a career. We want Saniderm to be top of mind for them as they start their journey. To achieve this type of awareness and conversion, I’ve seen other brands have success with extending sales into the new year. This is a great time to send tailored messages based on customer behavior. Follow up with customers who abandoned carts, who may have bailed due to shipping times, who were eying out-of-stock items, or who might be a good fit for an upsell.

Aneto: Right after the holidays is another chance to drive sales through support. Turn post-holiday return tickets into exchanges for the right size, color, or a better fit product. Make sure your team is equipped and empowered to have those conversations. This is also the time to report on what you learned during the holiday season. While the details are still fresh, do a “post-mortem.” Have leaders throughout your company summarize their teams’ key metrics and action items from the holidays.

You can use technology to your advantage here. AI is great at quickly identifying patterns from high volumes of customer engagements and can surface insights your leadership team can act on.Chatdesk’s free customer insights dashboard is an easy way for companies to automatically tag conversations for every channel you use to interact with customers. It connects with Zendesk with one click — no dev work is needed. You can launch it in minutes with a free account. If you do this before the holidays, it’s like giving yourself a gift for the new year.

Greg: Do you have a mentor, or mentor others? What is your personal leadership style or approach to coaching?

Aneto: For me, being a leader is about being a servant to your team members to help them achieve their goals and their full potential. My personal leadership style comes from some books that are required reading for new managers on our team, including High Output Management and The First 90 Days.

Brent: Many of the people on our team at Saniderm have never worked in a company before, much less an ecommerce brand. We hire people from all walks of life. For me, my focus is on making sure that they get the coaching they need to succeed so that when they leave Saniderm someday, they look at their experience as something that was foundational in their career development.

Greg: Got any book or podcast suggestions for me?

Aneto: For people who are considering starting their own business someday, I recommend a book called The Four Steps to Epiphany.

Brent: I would recommend the 4 Hour Work Week, Trillion Dollar Coach, and Grit.

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