This post was originally published on December 20, 2016 on the FCR blog. Click here to read the original.
‘Tis the season for ramping up your customer service team— well sort of. Here at FCR, there are many seasons, I mean reasons our clients ramp up their teams and we can almost guarantee that at any given time, someone wants to add more agents to their program. Some of the most common reasons for ramping up include:
- Seasonal (Holidays)- For clients with retail products, Black Friday through New Year’s day typically requires additional staff.
- Other Seasonal- A client, for example, that primarily serves college students might have multiple ramps throughout the year that closely follow the school schedule.
- Growth- Business growth can happen year round for a variety of reasons.
- New Product Launch- Clients come out with new products and services at all different times of the year.
- Ramping Down Elsewhere- Some clients with internal teams or other outsourcing vendors may choose to ramp down there and ramp up with us.
- Overflow- Other clients have an internal team and need the ability to overflow work to an outsourcer. This can happen for a variety of reasons like running out of space in their internal contact center.
- Other Significant Events- Think PR events. Perhaps a client is expecting a feature to be released about them in the Wall Street Journal or their product is being featured in a hit movie.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with our experts here at FCR to glean some advice and best practices for ramping up a program, regardless of the reason, in the best way possible. Here are six tips to make your next ramp up a successful one.
Focus on Sustainability
Our contact centers at FCR are strategically located in smaller communities, making us one of the largest employers there. We take this responsibility seriously, aiming to be a great place to work, keeping agent attrition to a minimum. A focus on sustainability in our communities is essential to our success.
Sonya Stalberger, FCR’s Vice President of Operations explained to me that we strategically place a diverse mixture of clients in each of our centers, taking into account the ebbs and flows of their staffing needs. Oftentimes when one client ramps down, there’s another planning on ramping up. She went on to say that, “we are constantly working to balance the needs of multiple clients while trying to retain great colleagues.”
Recruiting, hiring, and training additional staff takes time. While one mark of a great outsourcing partner is their ability to adapt quickly to changing business needs, the more lead time we have, the better. Stalberger noted that ramping up works much better for clients who already have an established presence with FCR. An established team culture and group of subject matter experts makes it easier to successfully hire new agents to the team. Furthermore, when working with established clients, we’ve found that they are often willing to shorten or extend their timelines if they know that a great group of agents will be available at a given time.
Mercedes Guiliacci, a Program Manager in our Grants Pass center enlightened me on the importance of having a structured timeline when ramping up a program. Once you know how many agents you need to hire, there’s a “sweet spot” for when to start the interview process in order to hire enough people to meet the requirement. Mercedes said that, “if you interview too early and require agents to wait too long for their job to start, you risk them leaving for other jobs. If you interview too late, you risk not finding enough qualified candidates for your training class.”
Aim for Long Term
Even though you may be hiring agents for seasonal roles, keep your focus on the long term. Damon Zeliff, a Program Manager in our Roseburg contact center said, “People are often willing to accept seasonal positions in hopes of them turning into permanent roles.” While you’ll likely find that there’s a market for folks who want to work seasonal jobs to earn extra money for the holidays, Damon was quick to list a number of agents and folks in leadership roles who were initially hired seasonally but worked hard and found permanent roles at FCR.
One such success story is Kenny Vibert, a Program Manager in our Grants Pass center. Kenny is not shy when he talks about how we was able to work his way from a seasonal job into a full time position, and ultimately into a management role. Now that he manages a program with regular seasonal ramps, he’s passionate about helping other colleagues follow a similar trajectory.
Don’t Compromise on Hiring…
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when ramping up a team is to do it quickly and compromise on your hiring standards. This temptation becomes all the greater with a short timeline where you’re trying to get enough agents to fill a training class. According to Mercedes Guiliacci, one of the most important qualities to screen for when hiring seasonal agents is reliability. Along with this is the importance of team and culture fit and checking references. With a very specific time frame to meet for the client, there’s little opportunity for error. She also noted the importance of staying close to your recruiting team throughout the process.
Once you hire the team, it can be tempting to rush them into production, but this can have a serious negative impact on your customer experience. Mercedes and Kenny recommend beginning new hire training by teaching them about the culture. It’s the culture, the way we treat customers both internal and external, that sets the tone for the season.
They did go on to say that seasonal hiring can often be condensed to focus training on the top issues agents will encounter. Typically the increased seasonal support volume is focused on a much smaller range of issues. In the event of an agent encountering an issue they can’t handle, it’s important to bolster your leadership team with adequate floor support to answer questions. This is a great opportunity for some of your tenured agents to get experience in leadership roles and discover if it’s something they’d like to pursue in the future.
Make Seasonal Fun
Finally and quite possibly most important, Damon, Mercedes, and Kenny all agreed that to get the very best out of your seasonal team you need to get their commitment to the purpose of their role. The seasonal ramp is very much like a short term project, requiring all hands on deck and regular, frequent communication in order to be successful. They noted that in addition to getting colleagues excited about the purpose, monetary incentives, prizes, and celebrations can help keep everyone engaged through the duration of the season.
As you can see, there’s quite a bit to consider when ramping up a customer service team. A great outsourcing partner with a diverse clientele brings invaluable experience to the table to make your ramp a smooth, successful one both for you, your support team, and your customers.