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5 Things Your Contact Center Should Do Before the Holidays

The second-to-last Thursday of November is upon us, and most Americans have two things on their minds: turkey and shopping! With the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season just hours away, we know that hundreds, even thousands of our customers are eagerly awaiting the moment when they can take advantage of our seasonal deals and promotions. 

Here are 5 things that your customer service center should do before the holidays arrive, as recommended by Matthew Storm, Director of Innovation & Solutions for NICE Systems. By following these tips, you can ensure that your customer service team - even if you're not in retail - is prepped and ready for the frenzy of the holiday shopping season.

1. Coach for Success

For many customer-facing businesses, the holidays mean adding temporary and/or seasonal employees to their workforce. Even though time and resources may be limited, don’t pass up the opportunity to empower these employees by making valuable customer and product information easily accessible.

Storm says, "These temporary employees – whether they’re behind the scenes in the contact center, or on the floor of a retail store - may not know all the answers, but making sure that they are properly trained on accessibility of that information is vital."

2. Schedule for Flexibility

Don’t get caught being under- (or over-) staffed during this critical time. Plan ahead! As a best practice, your center should be setting aside time to appropriately forecast employee schedules throughout the year. And when you do, make sure to factor in the holiday coverage you’ll need, including employees that will have part-time or split-shift schedules.

Storm points out that when forecasting for holiday coverage, we need to be mindful of the added volume that we will see across all channels – especially if we have reps who will be handling multiple channels (see tip #4). He also recommends scheduling with the objective to maintain your standard service level goals.

3. Guide with Purpose

In the midst of the holiday hustle-and-bustle, your customer’s time is precious – and limited – more now than at any other time of year. And not every customer will want to spend those extra minutes listening to a generic up-sell or cross-sell, just because it’s on the script. Not to mention that your reps’ time is precious, too! Why have them waste those extra minutes – as the queues continue to build – with one-size-fits-all offers? Without the proper guidance, things could go awry quickly.

To combat this, Storm recommends guidance with purpose: coaching your reps for the "next-best action" in any customer transaction. Take the time to guide reps to consider what products or services the customer has already taken advantage of, and then offer the next step that might be of interest to that particular customer, such as an upgrade or extended warranty. There are also a number of tools that available to help your reps target these next-best actions and offers, and potentially bring in additional revenue.

4. Assist Across All Channels

With a steadily increasing number of customers completing their holiday shopping via the Internet, many businesses can expect their web, email and social media channels to experience significantly higher volumes as well. But, don’t let that sway you into ignoring your phone queues or retail stores.

"It’s important to consider all of your available channels during this time of year,” Storm says. “Make sure all of your temporary customer service reps are prepared with the tools they need no matter what channel they are assisting on."

Properly scheduling across all channels is important, too. A rep with skills and in multiple channels will only be an asset during these high-volume periods if they are scheduled and coached to handle multiple channel interactions appropriately.

5. Monitor the Customer Experience

For the next five weeks, our customer’s eyes and ears will be laser-focused on the customer service experience that they expect to receive from us, through all transactions. But from the customer service center’s perspective, it’s all too easy to sacrifice our customer experience standards in order to focus on combating higher volumes.

Don’t let that happen! With customer expectations piqued, and tensions high, now is the best time to monitor their satisfaction. Storm says, "Even in the midst of extremely high volumes, make sure that you continue to monitor the customer experience. You might not be able to address every issue right away, but at least you’re still collecting that information so that you can analyze it. Even if means you’re analyzing it on Tuesday."

Even if you follow each of these tips to the letter, there’s always a chance that the "worst case scenario" will become a reality. What happens then? Storm suggests being as upfront with your customers as possible, and set holiday service expectations from the get-go.

"Most of the issues that we’ve seen that result in organizations getting bad publicity or losing customers is when service expectations aren’t set or explained right away."

Precautionary measures could include posting a notice on your website or IVR so that customers are aware of extended wait times or service disruptions before they reach out to you. It can also help to advise customers of the best times to reach you, such as outside of peak volume hours.

Finally, make sure your new reps are aware of your escalation procedures so, in the event that an issue does arise, they know exactly who to reach out to.

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.