New Study: Supply Chain Woes Worry Holiday Shoppers, Stress Customer Service Teams

More than half of customer service workers have considered leaving their jobs due to the stress of trying to meet customer expectations

Intercom, a modern customer communications platform that helps businesses build stronger customer relationships, unveiled the results of a new study that explores the impact that the global supply chain crisis is having on holiday shoppers and customer service teams.

Intercom’s Holiday Shopping Experience Report, based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers and 500 customer service workers, found 77% of consumers worry they will have issues buying gifts online this year. This is causing an uptick in customer inquiries about delivery delays, product availability and returns, and straining customer service teams—leading more than half (52%) of service reps to consider leaving their job due to the stress of meeting customer expectations. Despite a push from retailers to shop early, only 14% of consumers report they are mostly done with their holiday shopping.

“Companies want to do right by their customers, but support teams are always stretched during this time of year and the global supply chain issues are causing an even greater strain for both the support teams and the consumers they’re supporting,” said Des Traynor, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Intercom. “This is a make-or-break time for businesses to avoid disappointing their customers, to not only proactively communicate with customers about any challenges in fulfillment but also to earn their trust, and equip support teams with the tools necessary to lessen their burden.”

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Top report findings include:

Consumers are worried about the impacts of supply chain issues

  • While the NRF predicts holiday spending in 2021 will be the highest on record, 77% of shoppers surveyed worry they’ll have issues buying gifts online this year.
  • Their biggest concerns? Gifts not arriving on time (45%) or not being available at all (33%). Shoppers also worry items will be more expensive this year than expected (42%).
  • Concerns about delays are well-founded. On-time deliveries have been an issue for months for most shoppers, with almost two thirds (64%) reporting they have had items arrive later than promised in the past six months.

Consumer concerns are resulting in more support inquiries for companies—and more frustrated customers

  • Almost a third (30%) of consumers say they have contacted customer support more often this year than in the past, and nearly half (45%) report recent customer service interactions have been frustrating.
  • Customer service reps feel the same. Nearly half (49%) have received more inquiries in the past few months compared to the same period last year—and 62% report customer expectations and demands have increased as well.
  • Despite these interactions, most consumers (61%) admit they are not very confident issues will be resolved to their satisfaction. And most customer service reps (60%) believe it is harder than ever to fully resolve customer issues.
  • The stress of customer expectations is weighing on customer service reps. Half (52%) say they have considered leaving their job, which could spell disaster for already shorthanded customer service departments: 76% say they are concerned their company doesn’t have enough customer service representatives to handle customer inquiries this holiday season.

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Customers expect updates before they have to ask

  • Almost all (94%) consumers say they expect companies to let them know of delays without having to ask about them. And 79% want alerts about delays and backorders before they checkout or make a purchase.
  • Yet 38% of customer service reps say their company is not doing enough to set customer expectations on item availability and delivery times.
  • In addition to knowing about issues in advance, shoppers also want customer service that is fast (60%), friendly (57%) and available when they need it (53%).

During the holiday shopping season, support teams need to deliver excellent customer support and ongoing engagement. In order to meet high consumer expectations, they must invest in proactive support by getting ahead of customers’ questions—especially around shipping and delivery times—through targeted messages before they have to ask. With bots, automated workflows and smart AI, support teams can engage with customers and resolve queries in the moment, without needing to add headcount. Finally, support leaders should make every customer touchpoint personalized, flexible, intentional, conversational, and frictionless—no matter the channel. By investing in these areas, organizations will build strong customer relationships even in the face of supply chain disruptions and concerns.

“Our retail customers tell us they’re building trust with customers even during this disrupted shopping season by using our products to deliver fast support, personal, and proactive support through our messaging tools and by using our powerful AI to deliver instant resolutions,” said Traynor. “Retailers like, Living Spaces, Giant Eagle, and more than 25,000 other forward-thinking companies depend on Intercom to grow their businesses through better customer relationships and meet seasonal demand spikes.”

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