Seasonality can drive monumental amounts of revenue: Back to school & Black Friday for retailers, Super Bowl for consumer electronics, and tax season for accountants.
Peak periods that produce a flood of consumers can also create a tsunami of calls to your customer service center. Weathering the rush can be crucial to your revenue and long-term profitability. The key to successfully surviving is advanced planning.
Here’s how to get ready for a torrent of customers (which is always a fantastic problem):
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail” - Benjamin Franklin
To ensure you’re ready, you need to understand what you’re up against.
Start by looking at results from prior peak periods (the more data, the better). Document the number of calls you processed, how many units did you sell, when calls occurred, and what communication channels did customers prefer to use. If you don’t have multiple years to review – start with what happened in the last one.
Make sure you identify areas where problems flared up and identify previous gaps in planning. Don’t make the same mistake twice!
Also, evaluate what’s happening this year: what are the trends and what are your sales projections. Take last year’s steady-state workforce management results and compare them to this year’s to identify any noticeable changes.
Use all of this data to make decisions around staffing for your peak period. Adding headcount to tackle your peak periods costs money. Identify what’s essential to your organization so you can secure the appropriate budget. The difference between having fifty vs. sixty-five agents ready for the wave can have a significant impact on your CSAT and future sales.
“In 2020, we’re expecting the Black Friday & Cyber Monday peak season to span across three to four weeks vs. the usual one week with more online ordering due to COVID.” - CJ Cardwell, Goodbay Director of Operations
Peak Season Preparedness Checklist
Now that you know how many people you are going to need to handle the onslaught, you can start charting your deployment plans.
Begin with HR. Meet with your talent acquisition team to ensure they understand how many people to recruit – and the type of skill set required to perform frontline agent duties.
Training prep is another area to jump on. Begin with content. You may need to modify existing materials to address changes in the market or products. Draft a training timeline that takes into account classroom time – and - on the job training. To ensure new agents handle calls effortlessly, deliver 75% of your growth headcount at least 4 weeks prior to the start of your peak season. This small investment could be the difference between average and excellent CSAT results.
You’ll also need to look at real estate. Do you have enough space for the additional hires, and are they in the right part of the building? Fifty new heads may require 40% more space! Work with facilities to free up and consolidate seating.
If you offer only one channel for support (like voice) – you may want to set up additional avenues to address heightened demand. Chat would reduce your voice volume while permitting quicker responses.
Your new hires should have completed training at this point and on their first shifts. You need to have a plan in place to ensure they are hitting their targets and shortening the learning curve.
Establish a peak season pay for performance (PFP) compensation plan to incent your agents. Their targets should be challenging yet realistic. However, you need to recognize that there is a learning curve. New agents might not be able to achieve 100% of their goals in week one. Ramp up their targets and compensation over four weeks to ensure they are victorious.
A mentoring plan can also drive success. Assign an experienced, high-performing employee to each new hire and bottom quartile veteran agent. Trainees will learn faster – and mentors can provide additional support during the actual peak season. A mentor can reduce the number of times a new hire has to call in a superior for support, which, in turn, reduces bottlenecks and handle time.
During this period, ensure that you have clear communication plans in place. Your key stakeholders should be connected: production, engineering, and customer service. Open communication is especially important if an unexpected problem surfaces. Issues need to be solved quickly, and everyone needs to work together to accomplish that.
Finally, draft contingencies and triage protocols. Establish how much you can empower an agent to eliminate time-consuming holding patterns during a rush. Similarly, define what happens if the volume hits a specific marker. For example, if calls spike, you may want to pre-authorize overtime to maintain optimal staffing in a rush.
At this point, you should be ready for the tidal wave of customers. You have your plans in place, you’ve staffed-up your team, and your agents are experienced. You’re solid! Planning.
Planning 120 days ahead of your peak season sounds like a lot of time – but you need this amount of runway. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be scrambling, and your CSAT and Quality scores will suffer. The margin of error can be massive, and the impact on your bottom-line can be incredible.
Peak season may last only a few weeks or months, but it typically accounts for a sizeable percentage of your profitability. You need to be honest with yourself and ensure you don’t cut ramp-up time or costs too thin when it comes to this critical period in your business’s success.
Learn More About Goodbay’s Outsourced Customer Support Solutions.
Sapan Shahani is the CEO of Goodbay Technologies and is based in Chicago, IL. For close to two decades, he has helped digitally disruptive businesses deliver superior customer care experiences. Sapan was born in Bombay and raised in Hong Kong. He came to the US to study Finance & Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. After a successful career in strategy consulting, he left to pursue an idea he discovered in an Economist article that outlined how the world’s best companies were moving their customer support to India.