‘Tis the season for putting customer service teams to the test!
This past Cyber Weekend, as we do every year, we stress tested phone and chat channels of the 30 major retailers in our StellaService Ecommerce Index. These are the biggest and the best names in ecommerce, and we use their customer service metrics to assess service performance in the industry.
Over the four-day period from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, we reached out to each of these brands daily—five times by phone and five times by chat—and recorded time to live customer service agent. We calculated average response times for each day and for the entire weekend, and we compared the results with those of previous years’ stress tests.
As part of our study, we also made note of chat availability and Christmas cutoff dates and how they compare with last year’s.
Some of our findings impressed us, and some surprised us. Together, they reveal how Cyber Weekend customer service is trending. They also suggest some interesting possibilities for the rest of the holiday season.
When It Came to Phone and Chat Speeds, the Customer Service Metrics Were Mixed
Time to live agent is one of the most important customer service metrics during the busy holiday season. Shoppers are in a rush to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list, and they have lots of questions about products, policies, and promotions. They need quick answers so they can complete their transactions and keep things moving.
Overall, for phone and chat, here’s how our Index brands measured up.
PHONE: Best-in-class brands held steady or improved over Cyber Weekend, while some Index brands slowed down
In the pre-holiday period (August through October 2017), we were able to reach 85% of best-in-class brands by phone within 60 seconds on average—including IVR time. Over Cyber Weekend, 88% of best-in class brands responded within that time frame. Meanwhile, for the Index as a whole, we reached 49% of them within 60 seconds pre-holiday and even fewer (38%) over Cyber Weekend.
CHAT: Average speeds improved across the board, but far more best-in-class brands rose to the Cyber Weekend challenge
Since chat tends to be a faster channel, we upped our time-to-live-agent threshold to 20 seconds. Pre-holiday, 57% of best-in-class brands responded to us within that time frame, but 14% more of them did so during Cyber Weekend. Meanwhile, fewer than half of all Index brands averaged less than 20 seconds pre-holiday, with just over half meeting that threshold during the Cyber Weekend rush.
Chat Availability: A Slight but Disappointing Decline from 2016
Customers are increasingly flocking to chat channels to resolve issues quickly and conveniently. Going into last year’s stress tests, we saw chat availability trending upward across the industry. In 2016, Cyber Weekend availability (75%) dipped slightly from pre-holiday (80%); this year, chat availability remained fairly consistent (76% for pre-holiday, 74% for Cyber Weekend).
A slight drop-off during the busy Cyber Weekend is to be expected. But we were surprised to see that brands were less available in 2017 than they were last year, especially as demand for chat continues to grow. This is something we’ll be watching closely through December and into 2018.
Cyber Weekend’s Top Performers
For the third year in a row, L.L.Bean—the only Index brand without an IVR—dominated Cyber Weekend phone speeds. Meanwhile, all our top chat performers were available at least 80% of the time. Congratulations to these brands for a very impressive Cyber weekend performance.
Top average speeds per day for phone and chat
Best Buy, Sears, and the Vitamin Shoppe all beat out last year’s winners for fastest daily chat speeds.
Top average speeds for Cyber Weekend overall
Here were our top five performers for Cyber Weekend overall. L.L.Bean, Amazon, and Office Depot were on our 2016 list as well. Target, our “slowest” top-five brand for chat, averaged 16 seconds!
Our Key Takeaways
Given the #1 concern brands revealed to us in our pre-holiday brand survey—that they would be understaffed going into the holiday rush—this year’s phone and chat speeds were encouraging. Overall, our Index brands seemed to have a good handle on Cyber Weekend volumes.
Nevertheless, Cyber Weekend speeds have slowed since last year, which suggests staffing was more on target last year. We did see a slowdown last year following a very impressive Cyber Weekend 2016, so the year-over-year slowdown may point to more consistent response times throughout the 2017 holiday season.
Historically, Cyber Weekend results haven’t been predictive of overall brand performance through the entire the holiday season. However, our best-in-class performers during Cyber Weekend tend to respond quickly all month long. As more shoppers race to the finish line, it’s reasonable to expect even slower phone and chat speeds overall. We’ll be sure to share those numbers as they come in.
Finally, a word about training. Your agents should know exactly what promotions are running at any given time, as they’ll be getting plenty of price-related questions from customers looking for the best deals. Make sure you’re communicating with your marketing teams throughout the season, always know what promotions are coming, and train your agents accordingly.
The Bottom Line for Brands: Hire to Meet Demand
For retailers, the holiday season is a time of high contact center volumes and high customer expectations. Thanks to the impressive performance standards set by best-in-class brands, busy shoppers expect customer service agents to respond quickly and to be available throughout the day. Customers also want their orders fulfilled seamlessly—even (or especially) if they’re last-minute orders.
You can’t meet these expectations consistently without a robust seasonal workforce. Hiring costs at this time of year pale in comparison to the costs of poor service delivery. As quickly as customers came to you looking for answers and help, they can just as quickly turn to a competitor—and discover reasons to stay loyal long after the holidays.
How Do Your Customer Service Metrics Compare?
To prioritize your investments and maximize ROI, benchmarking your customer service team’s performance is a critical first step. We’ll make it easy for you, and help you set service goals, with customer service metrics we collect on our 30 StellaService Ecommerce Index brands. Learn more about our ecommerce programs!