I recently wrote an article exploring some of the methods that companies can explore to help them cope with the seasonal rush during Black Friday and the holiday season. One of the points I mentioned was a much stronger focus on customer service, but I’d like to go further and explore some of those ideas.
Every November, I see the same tips and tricks suggested for contact centers and managers responsible for customer service. Ban vacations. Ask team members on quiet accounts to transition to the busy accounts. Hire some temporary help. Unfortunately the advice never seems to change and it's always written from the perspective of trying to manage a crisis.
This isn’t a crisis, it’s just seasonality. Many businesses face the same issues, but in industries like retail it usually happens in this final quarter of the year. We all know it’s going to happen so let’s stop with the all-hands-on-deck analogies and plan how the customer service team can react more methodically.
It’s late in the day to change your holiday strategy for 2021, but here are a few ideas where I think that existing customer service teams can move the dial and dramatically improve the customer experience:
• Asynchronous Support: one agent can only speak on a voice channel to one customer at a time, but one agent can manage several customers on a chat or text channel, such as WhatsApp. Encourage customers to use these asynchronous channels during peak periods and you can increase your ability to support several times more customers with the same support team.
• Manage Expectations: your IVR can be much more than just hold music. Tell the customer that you are busy right now and offer alternative channels. Let the customer know that they are likely to be served faster on chat or text, rather than waiting to speak to an agent… help the customer to the easiest channels and estimate wait times so they know what to expect.
• Help the customer: if every channel is delayed then offer a call-back at a time named by the customer. If you can, deploy a chatbot to capture basic information and then to schedule a call, rather than leaving the customer trying to manage the entire process with a bot.
There are other aspects that can change. Adding a Gig CX layer to your customer service team may work well for some companies - this is when you can add a group of agents paid each time they help a customer, rather than being on the regular payroll. Your regular contact center team is the core of your support process, but having a bench of gig agents allows them to be deployed when you know that your business is facing a seasonal peak.
The important point is that we need to move on from the typical advice to all work harder. There are specific steps you can take to manage seasonality that do not compromise the quality of your customer experience.
First published on LinkedIn by Katrin Langley, November 2021.