As the holidays approach and the post-holiday return rush quickly follows, a few things will occur simultaneously: Hundreds of millions of customers will make purchases, total holiday retail sales will push the $720 billion mark, and millions more will send odd, ill-fitting, or unwanted gifts back from whence they came.

It’s in this frenzy of purchasing where empathy is often lost — and it’s all the more important when customers can actually find it. When your partner or spouse’s gift is a month late for the third holiday in a row or Grandma’s gift was never processed by the fulfillment center and you call customer service for a solution, there’s an emotional need to make sure that the agent on the other end gets it. This need, multiplied by the millions of customers who will undoubtedly face a myriad of retail issues this holiday season, presents an opportunity for customer service organizations to inject emotion and empathy into each conversation.

Ease, effectiveness, and emotion all contribute to a positive customer experience, but often brands will focus too narrowly on effectiveness. Customer service interactions are emotional for the customer — brands must consider those emotional needs when building their service strategy, and there’s no better time to start than during the predictable spike in emotional interactions during the holiday season. The good news? You’re already prepping for the volume. Now is the time to step up and meet those emotional needs with:

  • Technology to guide both agent and customer. Speech analytics solutions can give you real-time insights into the emotional needs of the customer, and predictive routing technology can match a customer with the agent best equipped to handle their communication style or personality type. While those solutions may not be feasible until the next holiday season, in the meantime, revisit your approach to right-channeling customers. The best channel for them to resolve their issue may depend on their emotional needs.
  • Hiring and onboarding practices to help agents empathize and understand. Brands are planning for an influx of seasonal agents to handle increased interaction volume during the holidays. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore new ways to inject emotion into customer interactions — and may even help with the seasonal churn. Prioritize emotion in the first daily stand-up: Give your agents room in their scripts to relate to customers’ experiences, prepare to offer more concessions to frustrated customers, and look at how well agents empathize with customers. Take advantage of the fact that your agent is, in fact, also human.

Ease and effectiveness are critical components of a customer service and customer experience strategy, but incorporating customer emotions into your holiday service planning — whether through optimized analytics, predictive routing, or updated hiring and onboarding processes — is the key factor that will set your organization up for success in 2019.

For more information on how to approach customer service interactions through the lens of customer emotions, set up an inquiry with me, and look out for our upcoming research on how to inject emotion in customer service, publishing in January 2019.

In the meantime, for more insights on how we think customer service will change next year, check out our recently published report, “Predictions 2019: Customer Service And Sales.”

(Sarah Dawson contributed to this blog.)