Christmas in July? Prepare Your Holiday Season Customer Service Now


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Every July you watch fireworks, barbeque, and relax by the pool. And if your business sells to consumers, you’re hopefully ramping up your customer service to handle the seasonal spikes from Christmas sales. Wait any longer and you’ll put your overall customer satisfaction at risk. On the other hand, if you prepare your holiday season customer service strategy along the following guidelines, your brand will excel at providing remarkable experiences.  


Getting in the Holiday Headspace

Preparing for the holidays involves more than listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on repeat. For starters, your business needs to anticipate 2019 seasonal ticket volumes and scale up your workforce to maintain first call resolution. Doing so requires you to evaluate and make decisions based on two key factors: when your customers will need you and how ready they are to buy.


Let’s start with the timing of your workforce escalation. When will you see the greatest contact center surge from holiday shoppers? There are some early birds making some of their holiday purchases (40% of shoppers on Prime Day 2018 used this July 16th shopping event to start fulfilling holiday wish lists), but not enough to expand your customer service team.


Deloitte offers some clarity on the issue. Their survey finds that 60% of consumers start shopping before Thanksgiving but only 21% start before November. In actionable terms, this translates to an earnest ramp up of your holiday workforce starting November 1st that reaches full implementation by Black Friday.


Next, we’ll look at spending projections. Earlier this year, eMarketer predicted a 3.7% year-over-year increase of U.S. retail spending from $998.32 billion to $1.035 trillion. For now, that is moderate growth, but the final spending bill can shift depending on consumer confidence, personal income growth, labor markets, industry expansion, and updates to product/service lines in the coming months. Keep track of this big picture data and your business will be equipped to forecast volume – whether it’s a light dusting or a full blizzard of calls.


Reviewing Last Year’s Performance

July is the perfect time to reflect on last year’s holiday customer service. You have the distance to review macro-level trends with a clear head and enough time before the 2019 season to gear up your workforce and training programs. But where do you begin your review?


Start with previous customer service metrics. They offer an excellent barometer of what went well and what needs improvement. Here are only a few examples of what you can learn from your contact center KPIs:


  • First Contact Resolution – Plenty of factors impact first contact resolution (FCR). Seasonal agents might not have received proper training to resolve issues or ongoing coaching to improve their skills. Internal tools and programs might prevent quick and seamless conclusions on the first attempt. Even an overemphasis on average handle time can skew these numbers. Get to the bottom of the issues and rectify them for this season.
  • Average Handle Time – If your handle times were low, know that this KPI is not necessarily a reflection of your agents’ capabilities. Average handle time (AHT) is a better indicator of how well you staffed your contact center and planned each shift. Rather than asking agents to speed up resolutions, make sure that you have the appropriate amount of coverage during the holiday season to prevent handle times from dragging.
  • Abandon Rates – When call volumes increase, there will be an uptick in abandon rates. However, there are steps your business can take to mitigate the increase. Providing self-service options or even virtual queueing (where customers can keep their place in line without remaining on the phone) keep customers engaged for longer, which also has a positive impact on your CSAT scores.


There’s more to the story than quantitative information. Speak with your team managers, trainers, and Quality Assurance team (if you have one). Monitoring and measuring agent performance helps them to track the actions, processes, and even programs that need to be retooled before the holiday season comes back around.


Overcoming Workforce Shortages

Santa needs elves in the workshop and your business needs agents to keep handle times low and satisfaction high. Unfortunately, current labor trends indicate that hiring those agents might prove difficult this holiday season. Unemployment numbers remain at ten-year lows of 3.6%. Though those numbers can fluctuate between now and November, it’s important to ensure your workforce is fully staffed with these strategies:


  • Hiring for Soft Skills vs. Experience – What is the secret of a great contact center agent? Experience helps, but it’s not the only factor. In fact, your contact center agent profile for holiday hires should account for adaptability, attention to detail, and compatibility with your business. That way, you broaden your search and more easily overcome shortages in experience.
  • Accessing Offshore Agents – Sometimes, local conditions are strained enough that you need to take your talent search elsewhere. Outsourced customer care can connect you with offshore and nearshore agents who grasp your customers’ challenges and are prepared to resolve their issues.
  • Preparing for Attrition – The holiday season can be a stressful time. There will be a natural amount of attrition. However, businesses that thrive during the holiday season are prepared with replacement workers to funnel into their organization. Though it’s difficult to find them in this economy, your business needs to prepare upfront to avoid complications as the holiday season progresses.


Keeping Spirits Alive

Once you’ve hired your holiday customer service team, you want to do all in your power to retain those professionals. The challenge is that the holidays can be a stressful time and agents who don’t feel supported are more likely to leave. Planning ways to retain them now means that you won’t have to improvise strategies when the heat is on full blast. Here are a few:


  • Check in with Your Team – Your agents are some of your most important assets. Their morale has an impact on your retention rates and overall quality of customer resolutions. Make a point to check in with them on a daily basis to celebrate wins, provide feedback, and reinforce the importance of their work.
  • Encourage Resilience – The high demand interactions of the holiday season can erode the patience of even your best customer service representatives. What’s important is creating a contact center culture where people know the value of their work, have access to the mental tools they need to deal with stress, and trust that management supports them.


Tapping into Customer Service Expertise

Just like the old saying goes, “do what you do best and outsource the rest.” When the holidays arrive, your customer service needs to be in the hands of someone who can handle it full time. Better yet, they should know business and the retail space inside and out.


Thomas Moroney
Thomas P. Moroney has worked in the contact center industry since 1990.He began his career with American Express where he worked his way from Associate to Director of Credit Operations.In 1999, Mr. Moroney joined PRC, LLC, as Director of Client Services.He went on to lead PRC’s international expansion, as SVP Global Services, reporting to Mr. Cardella.Mr. Moroney also worked as EVP Business Development for TRG Global Solutions and more recently as CEO of Donnelly Communications, an Atlanta based boutique contact center provider focused on the retail and catalog industries.


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