Is Your Customer Service Team Ready for the Holidays?

If past years have taught us anything, it’s that it’s never too soon to start preparing for the holiday season.

From Black Friday until well into January, your customer service agents will face overwhelming call and chat volumes. Considering the phone and chat speeds we saw last year among leading brands, customers will expect lightning-fast response times. And they’ll need their issues resolved quickly so they can get back to their holiday season to-do lists.

In 2017, we surveyed retailers and asked what worried them most heading into the holiday season. Being understaffed was their #1 concern.

But calculating the number of agents you’ll need isn’t the only hurdle you’ll have to cross.

If you’re not already thinking about the staffing, training, mechanisms, and workflows you’ll need to keep things running smoothly, the time to start is now. How well you address these four questions could mean the difference between a smooth, successful holiday season and a punishing slog with few good returns.

1. How Will You Ensure Temporary Staff Are Meeting Brand Standards?

Every customer contact is a gold mine of opportunity for brands. This is never truer than during the busy holiday season. Anxious, stressed-out customers need capable, caring agents who can answer questions, solve problems, and make helpful recommendations. Give them what they need in the spirit of the season, and your customers will reward you.

According to a 2017 National Retail Federation survey, 24% of holiday shoppers who were initially hesitant to make a purchase were swayed by helpful customer service.

On the flip side, brands that fall short of this service standard are taking a big gamble. Not only is the retail industry particularly vulnerable to customer churn (second only to cable companies), but customers are
increasingly likely to switch brands due to poor customer service.

To ensure your seasonal hires represent your brand well, you should focus your efforts in the following areas.

Hire people who are a good fit

Whether your brand personality is upbeat and edgy or formal and subdued, you’ll need agents who will project that personality in their interactions with customers. You should also factor in the nature of your products and services (trendy, luxury, highly technical, etc.), as customer needs and expectations will vary.

The best way to hire for the holiday season is to use customer data to create “personas” of your top-performing agents and look for candidates who share their traits. Not only will your seasonal hires be hardwired for success, but they’ll feel more at home among like-minded peers.

Train and equip them fully

If your temporary hires aren’t ready for prime time, they won’t do your brand any favors. Your seasonal training should be as robust and engaging as your regular training program.

  • Go beyond the basics (products, policies, procedures, tech platforms) to instill brand values and all-important “soft skills” that reflect those values.
  • Emphasize suggestive selling via role play so agents can help customers tame their shopping lists.
  • Have seasoned agents lead training sessions to break the ice and build camaraderie and confidence.

Beyond their initial training, be sure to provide temporary hires with every resource they’ll need to serve customers well. Give them easy access to customer data as well as information about products, policies, and promotional campaigns. And give them a lifeline (Slack, for example) they can use to reach out to managers and other agents for answers and advice.

Monitor their performance

You can do this easily if you have the right system in place. An agent-level customer feedback program, complete with individual dashboards and leaderboards on the contact center floor, can be a rich source of performance data and a great motivator for the team. Agents love receiving positive feedback, and managers can be alerted to poor customer reviews so they can help struggling agents correct course.

2. How Will You Maximize Your Resources?

With a rapidly scaled team and an avalanche of inquiries, your managers and QA leaders will be spread thin. The best way to make sure agents don’t slip through the cracks is to focus less on formal QA reviews and more on micro-coaching, or on-the-spot coaching sessions based on customer reviews of recent interactions.

Slack or a similar platform can come in handy here as well, particularly for remote customer service teams. Managers don’t have to deliver every coaching session in person; they can use instant messaging to give high fives for stellar reviews and work with agents to understand and address specific performance issues.

For more tips on making coaching more efficient and productive, download “14 Customer Service Coaching Tips: A Cheat Sheet for You and Your Service Team.” 

3. How Will You Keep Morale High?

The strain of the busy holiday season could take a huge toll on your agents’ nerves and morale and chip away at service quality. It’s important to have a formal program in place that recognizes agents for the hard, important work they do.

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is key to keeping agents engaged, upbeat, and performing at their peak. Team leaders should aim for a positive-to-negative feedback ratio of 5 to 1. Even criticisms can be positive when managers ask agents for input, work with them to solve problems, and end on a positive note.

Managers can use micro-coaching to recognize outstanding service in a timely way. But there are many other forms of recognition you can use to lift agents’ spirits. Here are 10 simple ideas you can put into practice right away.

Meaningful incentives

Contests and rewards in the contact center can keep enthusiasm high on even the most stressful days. Material rewards and bonuses are nice, but agents will work just as hard for company merchandise, perks, and awards. Coupled with daily recognition, these incentives will keep the spark lit right through January returns.

4. How Will You Make Things Right for Unhappy Customers?

For the holiday shopper in a hurry, poor customer service is a major inconvenience. But a timely effort to correct the mistake could create a customer for life.

Establishing a service recovery workflow for the holiday season may seem like a stretch, but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of VoC data, which agents use to self-correct between coaching and QA sessions, you could temporarily assign one or more team leaders to service recovery. You could also have agents follow up with customers directly.

Either way, reaching out to customers within minutes of a failed interaction is an unusual step. It’s something they will take notice of and likely want to share with others. And rest assured, the benefits to your brand will continue long after the season’s over.

The More You Know, the Better You’ll Weather the Season

Leading retailers get their houses in order long before the holiday rush begins. Using these four questions as a guide, you’re sure to be ready  you’re sure to be ready for a less chaotic, more profitable season.