Walter Lash

What Contact Centers Can Do to Prepare for the Holiday Season

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canstockphoto26592953It’s countdown time to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas. The holiday season is definitely a double-edged sword for contact centers. On the positive side, revenues typically soar. Yet the tremendous uptick in customer calls can be downright overwhelming.

Peak times during the holidays can lead to long hold queues, more comments on social media channels, and an influx of communication being generated via chat and email. Contact center experts categorize a peak time as 40 percent or greater over the normal number of calls. And many companies that rely on ecommerce and telephone sales will experience peak times on an ongoing basis from early November until the end of December.

Busy contact centers that excel through the holidays are those that are well-prepared long before the holiday shoppers begin placing orders. The following are a few guidelines for getting ready for the “most wonderful” and busy time of the year.

Forecasting
Knowing how to effectively prepare for the upcoming season requires reviewing historical data from past years, industry projections, and other forms of intelligence. Having sufficient staff for handling calls, monitoring social media channels, and managing other contact center functions requires a careful review to be able to plan and staff accordingly.

Staffing
With a careful analysis of your data, you should be able to determine how many more agents you’ll need before crunch time hits. Don’t wait until the last minute to staff-up. Even the highest quality agents will need training and time to get up-to-speed and to effectively handle their work during peak times.

One way to make the process of staffing more successful is to tag team new hires and temporary seasonal agents with your most experienced team members. By watching those who are truly comfortable with the system, new hires can quickly learn the most efficient and effective methods of accomplishing their required tasks.

With more customers than ever expecting service 24-7, you may want to consider hiring personnel to accommodate every time zone in the U.S. Around-the-clock availability can improve your brand image and enable you to increase sales. In some cases, it may make sense to enlist the help of an outsourced contact center to accommodate those late night customers.

Technology
While it’s never a good idea to introduce an entirely new contact center solution in the weeks leading up to the holiday season, it may be beneficial to integrate a few new tools that can improve the customer experience.

For example, VHT Callback can dramatically reduce hold times by giving customers the option to receive a callback in the same amount of time they’d wait on hold. There are also other easy-to-integrate tools that can be leveraged to minimize call abandonment and maximize customer interaction.

Promotions
Many companies offer special products, sales, and other promotions during the holidays that can drive up call volume substantially. It’s important to know exactly what marketing efforts will be used ahead of time so that you can prepare with enough agents to handle an increase in orders and customer questions.

Your team will also need details to be able to upsell and cross-sell these promotions. Additional training and scripts can help them make the sale and maximize revenue. These should include information on pricing, size, color, shipping, and availability.

Recordings
A careful review of your phone system recordings should also happen ahead of the busy holiday season. Do you have extended holiday hours? Could you promote a seasonal sale in your on-hold messaging? Have you introduced a new channel that customers can use to get customer service support? You can effectively provide this information in your system’s auto-attendant greeting, call prompts, and on-hold message. You may even want to add holiday-themed music to encourage the spirit of the season.

Inventory
The holiday season is definitely the time to work closely with your inventory team. When customers are expecting orders to arrive before the holidays, there is little margin for error. Handling of back orders and delayed items can determine whether or not you are able to retain customers after the holidays are over. In other words, eliminate any delays in getting the most current information on stock items to your agents.

Quality Monitoring
How will you be determining whether or not your holiday planning is effective? This requires ongoing measurement of call center analytics. Of course, you’ll want to monitor obvious data such as the average on-hold times, handle times and the number of dropped calls. However, some of the most advanced solutions can enable you to analyze voice conversations and emotions to understand customer behaviors. For example, speech analytic tools can pick up if a customer uses the word cancel and can even prompt the agent to offer an incentive to reduce the likelihood that they’ll move their business to the competitor.

Yes, there’s a lot more to preparing for the holidays than planning that employee party. By being well-prepared for the busiest time of the year, you will not only increase seasonal sales, you’ll develop stronger relationships with customers that hopefully last long after the season is over.