Coping with holiday spikes in the contact centre

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Four years ago, we reported that Americans would spend a forecasted $600 billion during the 2014 holiday season. In 2018, that number has skyrocketed to a massive $1.1 trillion, according to data from Deloitte, which is more than a quarter of annual retail sales.

Of course, greater retail sales inevitably lead to higher call volume in the contact centre. The best outsourcing partners go to the ends of the earth to prepare for these massive peak season holiday spikes and will not only need to address a sustained customer experience but also team morale, agent stress, and absenteeism.

Here are some key tactics for coping with holiday spikes in the contact centre.

Constant and effective communication

If you’re offering unique holiday products, services, or sales, communication is key – and it should flow through every corner of your organization. Your contact centre should be collaborating closely with your marketing, sales, and distribution teams, with real-time communication so your team can adjust accordingly. That may mean adding more muscle to your frontlines as they respond to problems originating in the warehouse, or perhaps doing on-demand training to help agents cope with holiday-specific issues. Any other changes – such as adjusted priorities or extended hours of operation – should likewise be communicated early and thoroughly.

Setting realistic expectations

The holidays can be stressful – and not just because of the retail madness, traveling frenzy, and family feuds. Life for your frontline agents will inevitably get stressful unless you’re frank and honest with them about how hard the seasonal spike will be. At Blue Ocean, we learned this one the hard way when we downplayed a forecasted spike for a large client, assuring concerned agents that they shouldn’t worry. Subsequently, they were unprepared for how tough it would be, and absenteeism went way up. The following year, we were honest, preparing the team appropriately. We helped them pull through, so absenteeism went down and we hit our grade of service despite the hardest six weeks of the year.

Anticipate necessary tweaks

How will the holiday spike impact your SLA and KPIs? It may be that a reduced incident rate will be more important than a reduced average length of a phone call, so adjust your metrics as necessary. Likewise, tweaks to your outbound process might be helpful, with regular customers needing reminders or preparation regarding standing orders, delivering timing, and more.

Get creative and reward team achievements

Giving your teams a creative mission to embrace may help combat a low morale. For instance, crafting themes for your spikes like “Holiday Hell 2018” or “Operation Save Christmas” can help rally your troops and create a culture of resilience. Furthermore, extra perks and little bonuses can do wonders in boosting enthusiasm this time of year. We live by the motto, “When something seriously sucks, put a t-shirt on it.” A few years, during the relentless Polar Vortex, we made t-shirts for our team saying “Winter Suffer Fest 2014. Bring it.”

It empowered agents to see themselves as tough and capable, even on Code Red days when volume spiked higher than expected. And, of course, keeping your team fed with treats, holiday-themed meals, and pizza will always help keep morale high. Finally, gamification and creative incentive programs can motivate your agents when holiday demand reaches its peak. Keep them excited about the work they’re doing, and their positive attitude will reflect directly on your customer experience.

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