A famous television series kicked off with its first episode titled “Winter is Coming.” This phrase ended up carrying more weight than just the arrival of a season in the fictional series. In real life, some might say another monumental event is nearly upon us: Black Friday.
References to Black Friday began as early as the 1950’s in the United States. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that it came to refer to the retail shopping period following the Thanksgiving holiday, with one explanation suggesting the color indicated this being the time at which retail companies moved from operating at a loss (or “in the red”) to profitability (“in the black”).
Now “celebrated” in countries around the world, Black Friday’s scope has grown significantly. No longer confined to retail, many companies across industries offer deals and incentives to customers to boost sales of products and services in the last quarter of the year. And if Black Friday wasn’t enough, many companies also offer Cyber Monday deals.
Suffice it to say, the holiday shopping period that kicks off with Black Friday both in stores and online is a stressful period. This year, compounding that stress is the fact that the timeframe is even shorter. The good news? Standing between companies and their customers who have questions and issues is the customer service agent. The question, though, is how prepared they are.
Friday, November 29th is quickly approaching. While many companies may feel ready, take a moment to review these tips for how to take some strain off customer service agents and make the holiday period less stressful for all.
- Provide supportive management – policies and procedures exist for consistency and to protect the company, but agents are sometimes forced to make a call when serving customers. Companies such as Zappos have empowered their agents to go above-and-beyond and built a brand “powered by service.” (Check out some of these true stories.) Empower agents to provide flexibility in situations that warrant it.
- Train continuously – learning should not end after the initial product, service, tools, and skills training when onboarding new agents. Agents are eager to continually build their soft skills and product knowledge beyond what they will learn on the job and assimilate from the team. An agent on top of current knowledge solves customer issues faster.
- Schedule off-time – working with customers can be exhausting work. Customer problems might require lengthy troubleshooting. Stress means emotions can run hot at times for customers and agents alike. In addition, training is not possible without non-customer time. Ensure agents have some non-customer time available and it is used appropriately.
- Use effective tools – ensure customer service systems are easy to use and take advantage of embedded tools that suggest answers to make agents’ work easier (and means they can serve customers faster).
- Offload common tasks – mundane tasks should be eliminated from the agent’s daily life. Machine learning can perform jobs like sorting, prioritizing, and assigning cases. Ensure customer self-service (chatbots, knowledge bases, communities, and automation) offer alternate service channels for customers that then allow agents to focus on higher priority work.
- Maintain clear and attainable goals – even during challenging times like the holiday season, goals should be based on what agents can control and roll into the overall customer service team’s goals. For example, if the department is focused on CSAT or NPS, set agent goals on delivering quality service. Don’t tie goals to circumstances they can’t control such as queue wait times, which are a resourcing issue controlled by management.
- Perform coaching – hold regular coaching sessions with agents to review progress against goals. If achieving their goals requires additional knowledge or training, provide them with the time necessary.
- Give recognition – share individual agent successes with the entire customer service team. This is a feel-good moment for the recognized agent as well as a great teaching tool.
Despite the greatest intents and checking off everything on this list, the work isn’t done. Even the best-laid plans can go awry.
For this reason, companies must continue to identify ways to improve service throughout the holidays, addressing the business problems that prevent delivering the highest possible customer service. That might be by making incremental improvements in tools and technology to simplify agent work, adding new content to self-service channels, or delivering agent training where a gap in skills or knowledge exists.
Then, when the holiday period comes to a close and more time is available, deeper evaluation should be performed. Plan to address any gaps that might not have been implemented prior to Black Friday. Also, determine if additional long-term service improvements are necessary for the coming year.
The holiday period means a frenzied time for customers and agents alike. That doesn’t mean it needs to be chaos. Consider these tips to navigate the coming weeks, reduce customer service agent stress, and set your customer service team up for success.