‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly


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It’s that special time of year again, the 4th quarter. The quarter all of us call center, customer care and experience professionals live (and die) for. While many of us this past Thanksgiving planned out our shopping trips like the covert PMP multi-media-centric individuals we are (ok, perhaps it was just me…), my beloved and brethren customer service professionals were busy working. Whether they were in their retail stores, calculating their cloud storage to support their digital customers, or re-calculating their 15 minute interval call center staffing plans – the madness of the Holiday season has officially begun. So in honor of this most wonderful time of year (where as a call center professional you are guaranteed to catch bronchitis at least once from over working yourself amongst a set of snotty-nosed CSRs – and I say that with love – I buy Kleenex in bulk), I share with you some of my favorite 4th quarter meltdowns.

My Favorite Holiday Calamity

Once upon a time, years and years ago, I started a new job as a small BPO Call Center Director during the last week of August. Team of 50. Two clients. Two supervisors. Five days after I started my new exciting job, the company signed a deal with a direct mail catalog company. The majority of their revenues were received during the 4th quarter. Within 24 hours of hearing this news I knew I needed to go from 50 to 250 FTEs by the 2nd week of November. To 315 by the 2nd week of December. And not just agents. We needed technology, networking, processes, support staff, allll the Holiday call center trimming. We accomplished our main goals. I hired an entire team who I still keep in contact with (so they can verify this horror story). We had a Workforce Manager, a Trainer, a Quality Assurance Department, more supervisors, agents, and a Staffing Agency on board.

So…What could possibly go wrong?

  1. The direct mail company forgot to mention the hundreds of thousands of faxed in orders they would also need us to support. No back order office support anywhere in the contract or SOW.
  2. And some of these faxed orders were from large Fortune 500 companies sending Christmas gifts to ALL of their hundreds of clients. Good old green screen data entry from back in the day…
  3. The call forecasts we were provided by our client were off. By over 40%. ABOVE. Calls in queue and upset customers were commonplace. I heard busy line signals in my sleep.
  4. The call center was in the basement. No windows. Heater broke – and it was 90 degrees on and off for days. We all wore shorts and baseball hats to survive the heat (in the dead of winter outside, of course) and to hide our perpetual bad hair days.

I worked a record 321 hours in 21 days straight. I got home every night and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, apologized to my dogs, and cried. And then got up again and did it all over again. One would ask why, but the BEST memory that made this my FAVORITE 4th quarter story was the fact that I had temporary FTEs and supervisors, that despite the fact they knew at the end of January they wouldn’t have a job with me, worked every single day with me. Side by side. If I worked 16 hours, they worked 17. We laughed, cried, and survived together. And it wasn’t just about their overtime pay. It was about our indomitable spirit that we refused to fail the customer – and our customer was our client, their customers, and each other. It was the 4th quarter where all of my leadership education came to fruition despite the never ending holiday call center nightmare packages we were delivered.

Now I could share other stories…like the time 40% of our 800 volume was pointed to the wrong VDN and my Holiday Orders were going to Sears Appliance Repair. Or the year that we predicted that 20% of our order volume would be ecommerce orders and 80% phone orders. Well, that year 60% of our orders were internet based. THAT was the year I learned to negotiate with my BPO providers.

But instead of sharing more of mine, I would LOVE to hear some of yours. Don’t be shy – all mistakes are merely stepping stones to successes.

Happy Holidays, and may your queues be managed and your network stable…

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mary Cook
Mary Cook, Director of Contact Center Solutions for Varolii Corporation, provides companies with operational, contact center and CRM consulting services. Prior to Varolii, she was a principal at The Call Center Intelligence Agency, providing expertise and interim management services for worldwide contact center operations for clients within the entertainment, communications, financial services, consumer product and service provider industries. Prior to that, she spent 10 years managing contact center operations for iQor, AFNI, Kuehne + Nagel and FTD.


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