Protecting customer service staff during the Christmas rushby
From smoothing out staffing concerns to training new starters, keeping things moving is a priority during the festive season. Here are some considerations to help HR run a tight ship.
The festive rush is all too familiar. Last-minute shopping to ensure the necessary preparations are complete ahead of Christmas Day and the New Year. With a rush comes stress, with stress comes customers with little patience, and customer service personnel operating at their limit.
It is natural that inbound queries rise in times of peak shopping activity. Christmas spending in the UK is forecast to reach £84.7 billion this year, how much of this comes your way could rely on the service offered by your staff.
Managing a heavy workload at this time of the year is difficult, but the task at hand can be made simpler with forecasting
At this time, it is easy to see customer service agents overwhelmed by demand, so it is vital you know how to protect and prepare your team throughout the coming weeks.
Managing a heavy workload at this time of the year is difficult, but the task at hand can be made simpler with forecasting. This straightforward process is based on data-gathering, assessing and determining future demand before it arrives. Delving into months, or ideally years, of data to uncover your industry’s busy and quiet periods can help with agent allocation and recruitment ahead of large events.
For example, the run-up to Christmas Eve is always hectic. You know there is a need to ensure employees are prepared, good quality assurance will highlight potential issues to address then arranging work schedules in your busy spells.
This may include additional training for agents or a review of databases and tools to ensure everything is operating at optimal performance. A deep dive will even look at lunch breaks, are agents all taking lunch together leading to backlogs of customers waiting for answers from you?
Taking advantage of individual strengths
Every employee within a company has their own strengths and weaknesses. Once you have a workload forecast for the coming weeks it is time to analyse how to effectively take advantage of these strengths.
Uncovering weaknesses now and working to resolve them is more cost-effective than working backwards after mistakes are made and customers are lost
What does this mean? One agent may be a natural at engaging with customers and resolving issues on the first call but falls back when it comes to data entry. Meanwhile another agent may be stronger at managing records and CRM but needs longer with a customer to solve their problem.
When the pressure is on and time is tight, there is no room for ill-fitting pieces in the jigsaw. Ideally businesses will be efficiently monitoring agent performance, allowing for the perfect management and deployment of individuals in roles suited to their skills.
After almost two years of irregular working practices, it may be that some agents are now more attuned to operating remotely. This is another area you can exploit to offer great customer service and ease pressure on staff if done right.
Remote agent support
Key to managing remote agents, keeping them engaged and working to their potential is great QA. Quality assurance and efficient monitoring is a fundamental part of managing remote staff in any field. When the temperature is rising and deadlines are tight you cannot afford poor performances, and your customers have no time to deal with it either.
Using software to monitor agent work in real-time ensures all protocols are being followed, customer issues are being resolved, and employee weaknesses can be identified and worked on.
Uncovering weaknesses now and working to resolve them is more cost-effective than working backwards after mistakes are made and customers are lost. You also gain the ability to provide real-time feedback to agents and share best-practice with the entire team from randomised call analysis.
It is important to remember that good customer service is not just for Christmas
There are times where no matter how many policies are introduced, the demand on agents is simply too much which can lead to people leaving the company at peak times.
Step up retention efforts
The cost of recruitment far outweighs the costs of retention. Ahead of, and during, busy periods it may be worth examining your current retention strategy, with a focus on agent engagement. Engaged employees are invaluable. Committed to the business goals and willing to go the extra mile to achieve them.
Try some of these actions to help raise engagement:
Routinely request, and act on, feedback to involve agents in policymaking
Ensure agents clearly understand their current role and how their performance supports the company
Proactively train skills rather than acting in reaction to an issue
Invest in tools that enable agents to succeed
Frequently recognise great performance, and offer constructive criticism with realistic goals
In some cases the team at your disposal will simply not have the capacity to handle a large influx of activity at times like Christmas. At which point you may need to recruit agents to bolster numbers.
New hires bring fresh ideas to the table, and if the company has an effective strategy for integration there is no reason why this season should be a struggle.
It is important to remember that good customer service is not just for Christmas… or other busy periods. One in three customers say one bad experience with customer service would see them walk away from a brand, providing a high level of service right now could secure new customers for years to come.
A very merry Christmas present for the whole company, now your team just needs to get through it.