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Love it or hate it, Black Friday is almost upon us. This means marketing teams are in overdrive, all looking to out-market the other with above-the-line campaigns. With all this marketing spend allocated, a very important aspect often gets overlooked: how to deal with the increase in volume of social, digital customer interactions.

So with your marketing teams gearing up to push out promotional sales-led messaging, it’s critical to be prepared for the inbound messages that will result.

But, is Black Friday the shopping bonanza it used to be? While holiday shopping is still on a steady rise, consumer behavior is becoming erratic. The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday shopping will increase 3.6-4 percent this year, right in line with last year’s 3.6 percent. At the same time, traditional peak shopping times are down according to The Washington Post:

  • Thanksgiving shopping has declined 32% since 2011
  • 31% fewer people plan to shop Black Friday this year

That’s because “the consumer has learned that even if they don’t get a deal on Black Friday, they’ll still get [it] in the weeks to come,” said Steven Barr, a consumer markets analyst for PwC, in a Washington Post article. And, if other retailers follow Amazon’s lead and invent their own version of Prime Day, which USA Today reports drove more sales for the company than Black Friday and caught many retailers by surprise, the support industry is in for a season of unpredictable storms.

How can your team deal with the greater volatility? Social care is a great start.

Four ways to combat unpredictable support surges with social care:

1. Promote your social support

You can make up for excess volume with efficiency. Social support agents are vastly more effective than their legacy cousins and handle 167 percent more tickets in the same amount of time. Advertise your social support across all your digital and in-store properties and push those in need—even those waiting in a physical queue at your stores—to social support.

2. Increase your team or cross-train legacy agents

Staffing is a never-ending conundrum. There are times where you know the spikes in volume are on the horizon and you better be sure that you are fully staffed. Be prepared to shift trained agents over from traditional channels to social if volumes get overwhelming, or consider fully training a new set of dedicated agents to manage the volume.

It’s also important to have expertise internally within your physical outlets or stores. You need a clear line of communication to people on the ground so they can solve issues at scale in the most personal manner possible, face-to-face.

3. Use automation to prioritize traffic

Reduce your customers’ holiday stress levels by getting them the right answers, fast. You can use a social care platform to algorithmically prioritize their social inquiries by complexity, issue, and sentiment. With some channels like Twitter, you can use a dispatcher-like functionality to qualify inbound issues to resolve simple inquiries and only pass more complex queries on to an agent. For all channels, you can escalate issues based on urgency to get those with the greatest need straight to a person.

4. Use gamification to motivate agents

Happy agents beget happy customers. Develop spiffs, prizes, and games to reward agents with the best numbers or the best feedback. According to research firm, IMCI a, “Gamification, with achievements leading to rankings on leaderboards with the accompanying bragging rights (and possibly tangible prizes), is a remarkably effective motivation tool” for agents during the holidays.

Ready for a season of inclement support weather? Of course you are: you’re armed with social care. Just make sure that your playbook is in order before the season really gets going: The 2017 Definitive Guide to Social, Digital Customer Service.