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Prepare Now to Handle Spikes Later

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to accurately predict and staff to meet the exact needs of your brand at any given time? It’s something every business strives for in staffing a brick-and-mortar retail store, a contact center or a fulfillment center. To know, down to the very minute and dollar, how busy you will be would allow for maximum profitability and customer satisfaction. No long lines or wait time, no lost sales, no unhappy customers…answering every customer question, resolving every issue, capturing every dollar in sales. Sounds like a business nirvana.

Back to reality now. And in reality, it’s nearly impossible to predict the level of activity a brand will experience. Very few businesses have a constant, steady flow of activity. No matter the industry, no matter the location, no matter the value proposition—all brands experience spikes in activity. Whether it’s increased customer inquiries around a promotion, greater sales volume due to a holiday or reduced activity because major storms keep rolling in and keep people home, no brands is immune from variations. The trick is how to adequately staff so that customers have a good experience while the brand maintains a high level of profitability. 

And that is certainly challenging in this environment of “I want it now” and “make me happy, no matter what.” Brands must ensure they have enough people to answer calls and social media inquiries in a timely fashion, but not so many that agents are sitting idle between interactions. It’s especially difficult with businesses that have seasonal peaks, like floral delivery around Valentine’s Day, and those with expected busy times that still are difficult to forecast for, such as pizza delivery around the Super Bowl.

There are a number of strategies brands can implement to manage staffing to handle customer interactions during peak times. The top five are:

1. Know your “spikes” (as best you can) during peak seasons.

Leverage history to see your way forward. If it’s happened before, it will likely happen again. Research your historical trends and demand forecast and use it to estimate call volume and staffing requirements during future busy periods. If your brand experiences multiple busy periods (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas, for a florist), compare each period individually. By that I mean that the volume of calls around Valentine’s Day may not match up with the calls around Mother’s Day, so compare the same holidays for maximum relevance and impact. And if growth is expected, build in a little extra capacity just in case.

2. Identify ways to handle the spikes.

Spikes are inevitable so plan as much as possible. After you’ve determined what’s needed during known busy periods, take stock. What internal resources are available? What additional resources can be tapped to help in those crunch times? Can temporary staffing be added? Can you leverage channels other than phone, such as web reservation forms, live chat, email or SMS to handle inbound inquiries? Look at any and all ways your brand can manage an increase in activity while maintaining service quality and customer satisfaction.

3. Integrate technology wherever possible to increase capacity.

Is your brand taking full advantage of the technologies and tools available to manage inbound inquiries—not just during spikes, but all the time? WebRTC, or Web Real-Time Communication, is a fantastic tool. It allows for customers to communicate with contact center agents via audio, video or text using just a web browser. With no hardware requirements or software to download, users can get started immediately—and brands can reap the benefits. Those benefits include lower costs for toll-free calls, enhanced productivity, uninterrupted customer communication (since customers can remain on a web page while participating in a voice or video call) and high levels of security. WebRTC is perfect for handling spikes in activity, as it makes it simpler for agents or temporary employees to work outside of the home office.

Integrating social media channels is another way to manage spikes. Sure, engaging with customers on different platforms can be time-consuming, but it can also save time. Answering one question via Facebook or Twitter may head-off hundreds or thousands of subsequent inquiries. Sharing a discount code or other “perk” to encourage customers to follow or like your brand on social media can be a great way to encourage brand loyalty because happy customers are returning customers. There are countless other technologies and tools out there too…see what works best for your brand.

4. Evaluate BPO outsourcing partners to handle spikes beyond your internal capacity.

Despite the best efforts to plan ahead, sometimes demand will outstrip capacity. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily—hey, it means your brand is in demand! Make sure it stays in demand by meeting customer needs for timely service and support. One way to manage unforeseen spikes in activity is by partnering with a BPO provider. It can be a brick-and-mortar company or a cloud-based company with remote, on-demand agents. There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of partners, of course. You may believe that no external partner can meet your stringent service and quality needs…but don’t dismiss the possibility without further evaluation.

ProFlowers, for example, is a leading online flower delivery service serving more than seven million customers. It is the very definition of a “spiky” business, with holidays and special events bringing increased demand on top of the standard activity. ProFlowers determined its best course of action was to incorporate a cloud-based contact center platform with a team of on-demand independent agents. Those agents can be quickly scaled up or down, depending on order volume. That means ProFlowers can deliver not only beautiful flowers, but consistent and responsive customer service as well.

5. Introduce gamification to promote healthy competition and fun during known “spiky” times, such as holidays.

Everyone enjoys a challenge—and if it’s a challenge to keep people engaged and motivated at work, all the better. Gamification, with achievements leading to rankings on leaderboards with the accompanying bragging rights (and possibly tangible prizes), is a remarkably effective motivation tool. People don’t always want more stuff to stack in their garage…sometimes bragging rights and informal/formal recognition is better. If your brand doesn’t have a formal gamification program, establish reward levels or a contest with defined standards. One more tip: be sure to remind everyone to keep things friendly—it is just a game, after all!

No matter how you well or how far in advance you prepare, spikes will happen. Try to embrace the spikes and remember how that means your brand is doing well. The only thing worse than spikes of activity is no spikes of activity! Happy spike planning.