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How Conversational Commerce Solutions Overcome Holiday Season Challenges

This article was published on November 9, 2022

Even during the busiest sales periods, it's important to keep delivering high-quality customer service. If customers have trouble getting responses to their questions — or even reaching you in the first place — they may quickly become frustrated and abandon their purchases. But conversational commerce can work wonders in eliminating this problem.

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With conversational commerce, your business can engage customers, even during holidays and other peak periods. This ensures that customers get the timely service they deserve. Best of all, these solutions can happen at scale, so your business can successfully navigate the crucial moments when sales are flowing at a rapid clip.

Common Peak-Period Challenges for Businesses

Many people think that if a business is booming, all is well. But while sales may be up significantly as orders stream in, peak periods can come with plenty of challenges. These moments can serve as stress tests, shining a spotlight on any customer service vulnerabilities your company may have. And if you don't quickly address them, you may experience customer churn and have an uptick in poor customer service reviews right when you want to be maximizing revenue.

Increased Demand

According to research from Future, 76% of U.S. consumers will participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2022. Ansd, despite rising inflation, two in five U.S. consumers expect to spend more during this year's holiday season than they did last year. 

During peak sales times — which also includes Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, Mother’s Day, and other holiday periods — your business may find it challenging to handle increased demand while still delivering a high-quality customer experience. It can be hard to anticipate just how many customer support requests will come in, creating uncertainty about how best to allocate your resources.

On top of those challenges, customer requests can come via multiple channels — and customers are unlikely to be forgiving if a response is delayed on the channel they happen to be using. To them, each interaction is a reflection of how well your business runs as a whole. If your customer support team is short-staffed and can't help everyone efficiently, customers may begin giving the competition a second look or, worse, complaining about their poor experience to their social media followers.

Supply Chain Issues

As witnessed during the pandemic, supply chain challenges can cause major disruptions and headaches for businesses and customers alike. If product shipments are delayed, customers may become frustrated — even if the business is not to blame. In these cases, radio silence is especially damaging to the customer relationship. Whether the news is good or bad, customers need to know what is happening with their orders. 

The key is prompt and accurate communication that provides customers with the information they need — then they can decide what to do about a delayed shipment. Although they may still be disappointed if something doesn't arrive in time, especially if it's a holiday gift, they will remember the businesses that went the extra mile to explain what happened and give them an alternative option.

Labor Shortages

When labor shortages arise, it can be difficult to consistently provide the kind of service that keeps your customers coming back for more. For example:

  • Long wait times on the phone can frustrate customers, making them feel like you don't value their time enough to invest in a high-quality customer experience.

  • Delayed response times via email and text messaging may also make customers feel unappreciated — as if you'd be happy to receive their business but don't prioritize service after the sale.

  • Digitally savvy customers expect a wide variety of communications methods, 24/7 customer service, and virtual agents.

The solution is conversational commerce and AI-powered virtual assistants. The result is around-the-clock customer service, with the ability to offer information, automate routine tasks, and provide self-service options — all without additional staff.

Anxious Customers

When customers are counting on their purchases to arrive on time, they may become anxious — and then they'll reach out to your company for reassurance that everything is going according to plan. This is even more true during peak sales periods, when customers are aware that all businesses are probably processing more orders than usual and want to make sure their orders don't fall through the cracks.

If a lot of nervous customers reach out at the same time, however, it can strain even a highly trained and well-staffed customer support team. If your agents can't promptly reassure worried customers, those customers may become frustrated and cancel their orders.

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How Conversational Commerce Addresses These Challenges

When challenges arise during a peak period, it may already be too late to scale up your customer service — let alone do it cost-effectively. Conversational commerce can help you get ahead of the curve, allowing you to be there for your customers on their favorite channels even as sales are skyrocketing and your agents are multitasking. Here's how a conversational strategy can help you prepare for your next peak period, ensuring you come out of it with glowing customer reviews and a healthy bottom line.

Supporting Omnichannel Customer Service

If your customer service agents can't keep up with the volume of requests on all the different channels where customers interact with you, conversational commerce solutions can help. Rather than having human agents personally handle each and every customer interaction — a strategy that usually can't be scaled quickly to meet demand during peak periods — you can tap into multichannel chatbot automation and have digital helpers respond to customers and work intelligently with store associates.

This way, no matter which channel they use to reach you, customers won't be left hanging for a response. You can keep up with increased demand without hiring and training more human customer service agents on short notice. And if a chatbot receives a customer request it can't handle, it can intelligently route that query to the right human agent, along with all the contextual information that person needs to quickly resolve the issue.

By the way, omnichannel customer service includes in-person interactions, too. Customers may begin researching a holiday purchase online — for example, by reaching out to a chatbot with preliminary questions — before they show up to evaluate an item at your store. And show up they do, as 45% of consumers visit in-store to purchase.

Conversational commerce starts the relationship off on the right foot, giving the customer quick access to the information they need, as well as full control over when and how they engage with you. When you offer immediate engagement in this way, you'll have a better chance of increasing sales and earning customer loyalty.

Engaging Customers Proactively

When sales are soaring, it's sometimes all your business can do to stay on top of incoming customer queries. Although you'd love to follow up with every customer who has a question or who abandoned their cart, you may not have the resources to do it. Conversational commerce solutions can be a valuable asset in this situation, allowing your business to send automated follow-up messages to potential customers who navigated away from their purchases. They can even be specially configured to answer questions related to the sales season or provide FAQs relevant to the issue at hand, reassuring anxious customers who want to know when their orders will arrive. 

This proactive focus shows your customers that you can provide them with support the moment a problem arises. Not only do customers come away with a better impression of your business, but you have a chance to increase your sales without adding to your existing headcount.

Providing Self-Service Capabilities

If your business is inundated with purchases, customers may just want a way to complete their transaction or get a question answered and are perfectly willing to use self-service tools so they can be on their way. Conversational commerce can infuse customer conversations with the information that customers need to make their purchases with a minimum of fuss. In fact, 36% of consumers prefer virtual agents for faster problem resolution than waiting to speak with a live person.

Conversational commerce tools can also authenticate users and authorize payments in-channel, which streamlines the purchasing process, so orders keep flowing without hitches.

Personalizing Customer Interactions

A personal touch can go a long way, particularly when customers are stressed or anxious trying to get their holiday shopping done. If customers are already ill at ease, an interaction that feels cold or impersonal may make things even worse.

Conversational commerce solutions can be configured to send your customers personalized messages

By offering tailored recommendations or special discounts — like spotlighting that an upcoming sale has the perfect items for family and friends — you can alleviate any misgivings customers may have about their experience and give your company an opportunity to earn their continued loyalty. Conversational commerce solutions can also anticipate questions your customers may have — for example, about shipping times — and answer them right away without having to escalate a basic query to a human agent.

Conversational technology may use automation and artificial intelligence behind the scenes, but it treats every customer like an individual whose needs are important. With a conversational approach, your business can efficiently nurture customer relationships by making customers feel like they are seen and understood, even when they're simply engaging with a chatbot.

Be There for Your Customers During Peak Periods

When peak periods arrive throughout the year, you want to be ready. When a slew of customers are placing orders and reaching out with requests for help, the margin for error is slim. You want to make a good impression, especially if new buyers are snapping up your products and services for the first time. And long-standing customers will expect the same high-quality customer experience that motivated them to buy from you in the first place. If they have a frustrating experience with you when it matters most, they may think twice before coming back.

Many businesses haven't yet obtained the tools they need to navigate peak periods successfully. According to Zendesk's CX Trends 2022 Report, less than 40% of businesses say they can deliver conversations that allow a customer to respond wherever and whenever is convenient. Only 42% of respondents said they can support a digital sale during customer service interactions, while just 38% of respondents were able to verify a customer's history without involving an agent. Without the advantages of conversational commerce, these companies will have an even harder time keeping up with demand the next time a peak sales period happens.

It's easy to misstep at a crucial moment like the holidays, especially if you're dealing with supply-chain disruptions or a labor shortage. When wild-card factors make it hard to keep up with demand during peak periods, preparation often makes the difference in whether a business succeeds or falters. Conversational commerce solutions enable you to meet the moment, allowing you to scale your customer service on all the channels your customers use, while adding convenient touches like self-service and chatbot assistants that make the experience even smoother. 

Learn more about how you can be there for your customers, distinguish yourself from the competition, and make the most of your revenue potential with conversational commerce solutions from Vonage.

By Ryan Yee B2B Marketing Copywriter

Ryan Yee is a long-time copywriter with B2C and B2B experience across agriculture, biotech, finance, healthcare, technology, and more. He still fondly remembers (?) the papercuts from proofing film and sleep deprivation from late-night press checks. He’s a San Francisco native with love for his nieces and nephews, hometown Giants, and anything even remotely associated with food (utensils optional).

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