12 days to Christmas: survive & thrive during peak season
The month of 'hygge': candle light, the scent of mulled wine and festive street decorations. — Or the month of frantic shopping sprees, missed deliveries and unplanned overdrafts.
And for many customer support pros and business owners, a month of overflowing inboxes, overtime and overwhelm. Only to be continued in January, when the end-of-season sales kick off properly and the returns come in.
Having lived through a good number of high seasons, we've seen a lot of different approaches to coping with this busy time. In this article, we're sharing our 12 favourite quick ideas (not to be confused with proper high season readiness planning).
Read on to find something you can try out today — starting with what not to do:
1. DON'T cancel all meetings, coaching sessions and one-to-ones
Would you cut off life support for someone fighting a critical illness? For the same reason, you should keep those regular meetings going. They're not nice-to-haves — they keep your business alive.
Your team needs time to reflect on their work. They need to share ideas and make plans together. They need to learn, improve, practice, and sometimes vent. And they need to know their manager is looking after them. If they don't feel supported, how will they muster the energy to support your customers?
2. Hold a daily huddle (or two)
A huddle is a very short meeting with a fixed agenda where a dedicated group address current performance and the pressing issues of the day. Crucially, those pressing issues aren't solved during the huddle. Instead, one person takes responsibility and reports back on their progress during the next meeting.
Why would you spend an extra 15–30 minutes each day in a huddle during peak season?
- Transparent businesses are more nimble, respond better to stress and have happier employees and customers. You'll have less gossip and fewer rumours spreading; you'll be able to fix customer issues to pre-empt complaints and waves of related queries; and you'll be able to use everybody's knowledge and skills to sell more at this important time of the year.
- A daily focus on performance helps everyone keep the eye on the prize. Your team will be less distracted and you'll find more quick wins that help you make progress immediately.
3. All-hands support
If the phone doesn't stop ringing, chat wait times become endless and it all feels like an uphill battle, you might want to ask others in the business to help out. From software engineers to project managers, from Senior Directors to the post room staff: let them handle some simple calls, tailor some template replies or chat to some fans. It helps to clear your backlog, requires no new hires and broadcasts the voice of the customer throughout your company. Many senior and technical folks appreciate the opportunity to engage with customers. And if nothing else, your stressed-out support staff will appreciate the gesture.
Of course this only works if your systems, software and regulations are simple enough to learn them fast. You don't want people to inadvertently break data protection laws, and it would be unfortunate if someone accidentally pressed the wrong button and cancelled an order. That's why in the Software as a Service (SaaS) industries, some companies have a regular rota for all hands support. When peak season hits, everyone's trained up and ready to go.
4. Automate more
Are there queries to which you could respond automatically? Could you write a very nice template, have your email system auto-insert the person's name and then just press a button to send it whenever you get that type of query?
Or perhaps you could add a SaaS integration to your website — such as Calendly or Acuity for scheduling or a delivery tracker supplied by your shipping partner. Put it in a prominent place online and notify customers via a short email. People usually want to self-serve, so they go to your website first and only contact you if they need to.
5. Use the phone first
"Always honour the customer's channel choice." Many teams follow this rule and respond to email by email, to letters by letter. But you can make your customers happier, faster if you try the phone first. You'll be able to address all their points in one go and take action immediately — which could make the difference to their presents under the Christmas tree.
6. Tidy up the office
Ever tidied up your desk and thought, "I should have done this way sooner"? Working in visually quiet, serene, organised spaces calm people's stress levels and makes them more productive.
7. Dress up :-)
If it fits with your company culture, inject a bit of fun into the everyday with some fun costumes — whether it's an Operations Manager dressed up as Santa, a Marketing-Assistant-turned-Elf or a team of Reindeer Advisors. Our Sabine has a banana costume in her drawer, ready for those moments when only a bit less seriousness will do...
8. Make the everyday more rewarding
Give everyone the opportunity to reward others who have done nice things.
This can take many forms:
- pressing a golden buzzer after overhearing a splendid phone call;
- thanking people in a weekly email that goes out to the whole team;
- a submissions box for a daily award; or
- coupons that staff can collect and exchange for a free lunch, a day off or a coveted product sold by your company.
9. Stop multitasking
It's a well researched fact that so-called multitasking makes us less productive; according to a study by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, we take an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after we've been interrupted. Yet, in many companies, advisors juggle phone calls and emails (or chats and emails) at the same time. Try setting teams up in a way that doesn't require them to handle all contact types at once, and you'll probably see their productivity soar.
10. Create a central posting station in the office
Think about how far people need to walk from their desk in order to get everything they need. Could they be helping the next customer faster if you moved envelopes, sticky tape, boxes and labels to another place in the office?
11. Serve the ones who serve your customers
Establish a trolley service to bring tea, coffee and water to your support team once per shift. Back office workers, managers and anyone else not handling customer contacts can take turns to provide that much-needed sustenance. If you have the budget, you could even splurge on a few nice biscuits, mini chocolate bars, fruit, and cough drops, too.
12. Make overtime more fun
Finally, whether it's your first or your last resort: overtime.
In our experience, voluntary overtime becomes less and less popular as the month progresses, even if it's paid at 1.5 the usual rate. So why not turn it into a bit of an event? Think about serving a free pizza lunch or dinner, showing live sports on 'silent' or posing a challenge.
For example: "Mention the following three words in a single customer interaction and make it sound completely natural: reindeer, cranberries, pigs-in-blankets". Call Centre Helper has a list of games that are sure to liven up your contact centre too.
Over to you
How do you cope with peak season? We'd love to hear your tips — and your challenges.