how to keep customers happy when seasonality strikes

Are You Ready for Seasonality to Strike? How to Keep Customers Happy and Build Flexibility into your Operations During the Holidays

Holiday Shoppers: I need 972 Red Ryder BB guns and one agent per purchase to walk me through how to use it. (So I don’t shoot my eye out.)

You: Sips coffee, smirking with your WFM strategy and plan for the seasonal rush already in place. 

A simple web search from my phone brings up hundreds of seasonal contact center jobs in Indianapolis and thousands more nationwide. 

Sites like Indeed, SimplyHired, and The Balance Careers all prop up seasonal positions to help companies meet the flood of customer expectations yet to come. 

Contact centers see spikes in interaction volume reach as much as 10x typical volume during holidays, events, and vacation seasons, according to Gartner. Seasonality affects nearly every industry. And during the holidays especially, a flux in interactions is imminent. 

These surges put you, contact center leader, between a rock and a hard place. With an absolute focus on how to keep customers happy, you have to accurately predict how seasonality will impact your contact center. Then, you have to staff up in a short window of time AND scale how you train agents. And you have to do it all… yesterday. 

If you don’t plan accordingly, you put your customer satisfaction (or your budget) at risk. 

“The truth is in the numbers, both physical and financial – too few agents, and your customer satisfaction bottoms out – too many agents, and your payroll is too high,” said Bob Britton, Director of Marketing at Community WFMSG in a recent article

With holidays on the horizon, here are some quick-to-implement strategies to get your contact center through the busy season.

Use past data to predict trends, then reflect those in your WFM strategy. 

Look to your historical data to inform how you staff up (or down) for the holiday season.

Last year, did you have spikes in call volume? What about chats and mentions on Twitter? Did you forecast those spikes accurately, or did your KPIs take a hit because you were understaffed? Did absenteeism rise? How about PTO requests? Or, were agents planted firmly in their seats (and asking for overtime) to cover all the additional expenses that come with the holiday season? 

Your data will tell you. 

View last year’s metrics and interaction volume alongside historical reports from years prior. Then, look at your average volume for 2019 so far compared to 2018. Stepping out of the context of seasonal spikes for a minute will help you more accurately predict volume during your busy season this year. If you’ve been handling 10% more interactions in 2019 than you did in 2018, you’ll need to factor that uptick in standard volume when you predict trends for your busy season. 

Next, shape your WFM strategy based on the trends you find. Mark blackout dates on your calendars when volumes are sky-high, or, limit the number of PTO requests you’ll approve. Be clear and upfront with your agents about this ahead of time, so they have time to plan around any blackout dates. 

Let your customers know there’s a potential for longer wait times or resolutions. 

There’s nothing like having a spare moment in your day to check on your holiday hotel reservation only to wait in a queue behind 200 other people with the same intention. While high wait times might not be typical of your contact center, seasonal spikes can send your metrics off the charts. 

Let’s face it: as cheery and bright as the holidays are, we’re all stressed and pressed for time this time of year. That’s why abandoned calls increase by an average of 11% on Cyber Monday alone. And with every abandoned interaction, customer frustration brews quicker than family drama at the holiday table. 

Set expectations with your customers up front. 

Use new prompts in your IVR to inform customers about potential wait times. Send out emails about expected interaction overflows weeks in advance. Partner with your marketing leaders to put reminders on your website. Give customers the option to zero out to a live agent and be clear that they’ll wait for X amount of time. Or, offer to transfer customers to a call back queue, instead.  

Nothing makes me happier in a service experience than a friendly IVR telling me the wait time is currently 52 minutes then giving me the option to wait on hold or get a call back instead. I opt for the call back, every time. 

See how a custom, omnichannel IVR with skilled routing and automation can help you better prep for the holiday season next year.

Learn about Sharpen Logic.

Make remote work an option for full-time agents and those you hire on seasonally. 

Last week, my email inbox lit up with an article about Williams Sonoma staffing up for the holidays. “Need some extra cash this holiday season?”, the job ad taunted me. You’re in luck: work from the comfort of your couch. Or your mom’s couch. Or your brother’s. 

Turns out, Williams Sonoma keeps up with their holiday demand by staffing up with work from home agents during the holidays. And, they offer more flexibility to their current full-time agents, too. 

“Our associates are our lifeline so when they talk, we listen,” Josh Layton, Williams-Sonoma recruiting manager, told FlexJobs. “As we look to expand into new territories throughout the country, our target is to eventually provide our associates an opportunity to take their job with them wherever they go!” 

When you’re in a time crunch to hire hundreds (or in the case of some retailers, thousands) of agents, don’t geographically restrict yourself. With flexible cloud contact centers, all your agents really need is a computer or laptop with Internet access to get the job done. 

The future of work is remote. The Remote Work Report by Zapier released this month found three out of four knowledge workers would quit their jobs for a remote opportunity. And, three of the top 10 reasons why people want to work remotely ring even truer during the holiday season. 

What better time than the (expensive) holiday season to save money, work while you’re traveling, and have more time with family?

Oh, and remember those blackout dates WFM predicted? Remote work helps your agents power through them without missing out on cherished traditions.

Don’t have a contact center platform that gives you the operational agility for remote work? We can help with that.

Learn how Sharpen’s cloud-native platform works globally with a simple wi-fi connection. 

Write more self-help articles and add to your knowledge base. 

Have any agents who’ve mastered live chat and email? 

Enlist those skilled with the written word to bulk up articles and self-help resources before your interactions spike. Some 60% of customers look to self-help resources, like a knowledge base, before reaching out to a live agent for help. What’s more, an incredible 91% of customers say they’d use a knowledge base if it met their needs. 

Dedicating agent time and resources to better documentation for simple questions, like how to check your hotel reservation online, can save customers (and agents) from getting lost in a sea of unnecessary calls. 

Work with your marketing team to proof all the articles and make them findable on your website. And, consider sending emails to your current customers to guide them to your newly-minted articles, too. 

Create new queues for seasonally-specific requests.

Look back to your data trends to see what causes the spikes in interaction volume. 

Every year, my family books a stay at a hotel in the mountains of North Carolina during the holiday season. As do a zillion other families. 

To keep up with demand, the mountain hotel staffs up its reservations department and sets up queues specifically for holiday bookings. So when customers have a problem with reservations, want to host an event, or book a stay during some other time of the year, they get pushed through to a knowledgeable, full-time agent. 

All of the customers simply looking to book holiday reservations, like me, get funneled into a different queue. A seasonal agent can quickly handle our simple request then move on to the next one. 

The seasonal agents (who’ve had less training) don’t have to handle complex issues, and customers from every spectrum get the fast and personal service they expect. 

Make agent training a priority. 

Ramp up training prior to your seasonal spikes to empower your agents to deliver top-notch service. 

Share reports and dashboards you gathered from last year to set expectations for what’s to come. Work with agents in team meetings and 1:1s to handle an increase in interactions (and still meet metrics). 

Look at a handful of interactions from last year and give feedback in-line on the calls or transcriptions. Share what the agents did well, and where they need to improve this year. And, see what resources you can provide to make their jobs easier. 

Training doesn’t have to be a time suck. 

Send out quick, microlearning on specific topics related to seasonal spikes. What caused your uptick in call volume last year? Did you get dozens of last-minute reservations calls? Or, maybe you run a contact center whose busy season hits a little late. Instead, you get hundreds of college students gearing up for their new semester at Emory University calling in right after the new year to pay tuition. No matter what triggers your seasonal spikes, ID the cause and create training to back it. 

The more training you deliver to agents (and fast) the more confident they’ll be to handle a high volume of interactions. And, the happier your customers will be with the outcome.

Learn how to use the data you already have on-hand to prepare for seasonal spikes, boost agent training, and improve customer experience. Get the ebook.