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 care 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, I've seen a lot of different approaches to coping with this busy time.
In this article, I’ll share my 12 favourite quick ideas (not to be confused with proper high season readiness planning).
Plus I’ve updated this popular article with the top 9 tips shared by members of the #Ethical Hour Growth Network.
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
When 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?
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. Call them
"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.
I’ve got a banana costume in my desk 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, teams juggle phone calls and emails (or chats and emails) at the same time.
Try setting things 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 my 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 office too.
13. Remember to keep moving
“Making sure I have time to exercise helps give me clarity and an energy boost.”
(Char, From Belo bags)
Couldn’t agree more! Here are two movement forms that proved particularly popular with ethical entrepreneurs:
Yoga (Annie Moon, Be the Difference Virtual Assistant Services)
Yoga perfects your posture, which can help you feel less tired.
It also improves circulation, boosts your immune system, helps you focus, reduces stress and increases serotonin levels — making you feel happier.
HIIT (Tullika Bhalla, Boho Homes London)
High-Intensity Interval Training my not be for everybody (I for one prefer a gentler exercise), but once you get going, it’s loaded with benefits.
One thing we all need during times of stress is endurance — and that’s where this kind of workout comes into its own.
Your body learns to use energy more efficiently, recover better from exertion, and you’ll breathe more effectively.
14. Turn off all notifications (Melissa Sophie Bowden, A Circle Back)
“For productivity — I've turned notifications off for a few hours at a time.
It's difficult when running/juggling various aspects of a small business to not be distracted and flit between social media, messages, creating imagery, etc.
I find this helps!”
Melissa’s certainly on to something… after all, even WIRED posted similar advice.
15. Delete social media apps from your phone (Tullika Bhalla, Boho Homes London)
Tullika has deleted Facebook from her smartphone.
But she doesn’t stop there: “I always switch off after 6pm and 8-10 is TV & me time.”
This may sound radical, but let’s give ourselves that all-important time to recharge our batteries for the next day.
16. Start and finish your day with ‘me’ time
Get up early (Jane Shaw)
“It's an absolute game changer.
By getting up at 5:30, I get 15 minutes yoga and five minutes to 'frame' my day with a cuppa.
It makes 'me' time the first part of the day and puts all the niggles in perspective.
Then I get the dishwasher, washing, etc. done so I can spend the day focused on the important stuff — like three young children or my lovely ethical clients!”
Enjoy a bedtime ritual (Melissa Sophie Bowden, A Circle Back)
“This could include lighting a candle and reading before bed.
I also do yoga whenever I can!
It's a mood shifter, adjuster and all round positive moment even for just 15 minutes.”
17. Keep chipping away at big tasks (Holly Foat, No Serial Number Magazine)
“Do a bit every day.
If you have a lot of wrapping to do, do a couple of bits each day so you’re not up until 3am on Christmas Eve (I learnt the hard way!)”
18. Use aromatherapy to focus and beat the winter blues (Bryanna Skye, The Ecological blog)
This one may be better used at home rather than at the office, as some people may be allergic to your favourite oils.
“If you need a quick fix, simply taking a pure essential oil and dripping a few drops into the hot spray on the shower floor is a brilliant way to experience the therapeutic effects.
If I am feeling overwhelmed I use lavender to soothe my anxieties, if I am needing a bit of a revive or a speedy wake-up solution I grab my bottle of peppermint, and if I am feeling low I turn to orange or grapefruit to help uplift my spirits.
Essential oils are so versatile, and with a little *careful* experimentation you can help ease just about any struggle or ailment.”
19. Prioritise your to-do list (Char, From Belo)
“I recommend setting a prioritised to do list for the day... nothing feels more positive than crossing lots of things off my list to give me a sense of self achievement and make everything feel more manageable!”
Easier said than done? This Wikihow can help you determine the right priorities.
20. Take breaks! (Alice Holloway, Little Black Pants Club)
“Setting an alarm for regular breaks is a must.
Otherwise you suddenly get tired and shaky at 3PM and realise you haven't eaten or drunk anything and you've been running on pure adrenaline (and making mistakes) for hours!”
21. Stay zen with breathing exercises (Natalie Jameson, The Heroworx [website under construction])
Looking back at this list, lots of the tips are really about giving yourself space to breathe, breathe more deeply or ‘taking a breather’.
To feel calmer during times of pressure, you could start with this simple breathing exercise on the NHS website.
Or you could download one of the many mindfulness apps — which also help you turn meditative breathing into a good habit.
And why wait till the new year if a new habit can help you better enjoy life right now?
Over to you
How do you cope with the holiday season? I’d love to hear your tips — and your challenges.