By Giuseppe Ficarra, Senior Vice President of Global Sales
Planning for Unexpected Customer Service Spikes This Holiday Season
While spiking demand during the holidays may be most often associated with retailers, businesses of all kinds must prepare to scale their customer service programs to contend with holiday demand.
As people receive gifts, travel to see loved ones, and anticipate shipping or supply chain holdups, customer-facing businesses across sectors will experience an influx of customer needs. Preparing for these spikes can be daunting, but all it takes is careful planning and thoughtful execution.
Here are some tips for designing customer service plans that are built to scale — during the holidays or any time of year:
1. Plan for potential long-term consequences.
Any change or disruption has the capacity to affect operations for an extended period after it happens. Still, many companies fail to anticipate the complete repercussions of seemingly isolated spikes. When a spike occurs, it causes a ripple effect. The extra service demand of an hour-long website mishap has the potential to add to representatives’ workloads for weeks — and that’s something most companies can’t afford during an already-busy time like the holidays.
Customer service departments should be structured to accommodate these spikes even during the busiest times of the year. Regular operations should include buffer employees who can act as first responders and a plan to address any persistent changes in volume as the issue is resolved. This could include expanding teams for the rest of the season, making changes to call routing, or creating task forces to deal with certain issues.
2. Prioritize communication.
Your customer service representatives are almost always the first people that need to know of anything that affects the company. Be it internal (like a recall) or external (like a supply chain issue), customer service needs to know — and preferably, before people start contacting them. Failing to alert customer service leads to delays in scaling teams and lost time helping customers through the issue.
On the flip side, companies should take just as much care to listen to their customer service representatives, especially when preparing for the holiday rush. Customer service representatives have intimate knowledge of public sentiment about the company’s products, operations, and procedures. Turning to the service center may be just as valuable as asking the C-suite if you’re looking to fix something before the holiday season starts.
3. Evaluate your workers’ schedules.
Scheduling is complicated enough without the influx of time-off requests that roll in during November and December. Of course, we all want our representatives to be able to spend holidays with their families. Still, some people often have to work during these times, especially if their company provides essential services like power companies or banks do.
Offering flexible working hours or arrangements can help remedy these challenges. Options like flex shifts, that play with the traditional morning-evening-overnight models, can help representatives spend more time out of the office and help companies ensure well-trained staff members are available during peak hours. Offering work-from-home arrangements to those that want it can also facilitate better staffing during the holidays, as eliminating commutes offers more flexibility.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It can be tempting to execute all of your company’s service programs in-house, but there are other ways to tackle spikes. While allowing a third party to interact with customers on your behalf can be nerve-wracking, outsourcing customer service to experienced providers can lighten the load on internal operations and actually save money in the process. Customer service partners, like Majorel, are well-versed in scaling teams to contend with the unexpected and have the resources, training, and tools to help companies quickly expand their service teams right when they need to, eliminating downtime and delivering more satisfied customers.
Although the holiday season operates on a set calendar, there are events that occur unpredictably. Expecting the unexpected can seem impossible, but businesses that plan ahead will be better positioned to succeed when spikes in demand hit. Starting with the above steps can help companies prepare for whatever the unexpected may bring.