Are You Ready for the Rush? 25 Tips to Contact Center Zen this Holiday Season – by Jack Hojnar

In just 11 weeks, millions of shoppers will flock to malls, online stores and their mobile phones to find that special item for that special someone. It will be Black Friday and on the days following, some of those same people will need to contact their retailer for any number of reasons: changing an order, returning an order, seeking a price match, checking the status of an order and so on.HolidayImage1

An entire retail season – representing the most important financial gains of the year – can be won or lost in the hands of the Customer Service Unit.

Consider this: hiring the average Contact Center employee can take 1-2 weeks. Add an additional 3-10 days for training and 11 weeks prior to the busiest time of the year is suddenly 7 weeks – if you started the hiring process TODAY.

What’s potentially more alarming is that a Google Study in 2012 stated that 54% of consumers said they planned to start shopping BEFORE Black Friday.

So is your company prepared? It can be by following the 25 Steps below:

Getting Ready …

  1. Examine the Data: By reviewing historical data, past volumes, capacity needs and other pertinent forms of information now, you can plot the trends of increased traffic and better prepare training materials, staffing needs, systems requirements and more.
  2. Meet with the Marketing Team: The more you know, the better prepared you will be to manage all customer inquiries. A marketing promotion can fall flat if the Contact Center Representative knows.
  3. Know Your Media: Do you have all the tools in place to properly handle any types of customer inquiries? No longer are customers phone-only. A solid review of all access points, from IVRs to email is critical.
  4. Test Your Reporting: If possible create mock campaigns to test all reporting functions. No matter how much you plan and forecast, some event will occur that derails your best laid plans. These test reports may give you insight into fixing issues quickly.
  5. Start Staffing Procedures NOW: Regardless of the volume needs you may have, now is the time to begin your search for Contact Center Representative candidates. Given how long the hiring process can be, give yourself adequate time to find potential employees that can help carry the brand of your company and products. Hiring someone to simply answer a call will eventually hurt your brand.
  6. Review and Modify Training Materials: Often this topic is overlooked because many Contact Center Managers simply repeat the processes from last year. Updating training materials addresses any changes to program information and frequently asked questions and offers a fresh perspective.
  7. Modify Scripts for Phone, Email or Other Media: Rather than re-write new material, examine existing scripts and find opportunities to enhance the language, call flows, or even direction of the scripts in order to meet the changing dialogue of the marketplace.
  8. Train Early and Often: The more prepared the better. Also consider inviting Workforce Management or exceptional Representatives into training to provide real world advice and encouragement.
  9. Establish Escalation Procedures for Unhappy Customers: Regardless of the medium, some customers will require attention beyond what the frontline Customer Service Representative can provide. Establishing a clearly defined escalation process can help resolve issues quickly and effectively.
  10. Create Feedback Processes: Before any call volumes increase, have a means for Contact Center Representatives to communicate front-line activity upward to management. This could be weekly meetings or daily check-ins with idea and information exchanges.
  11. Engage the Techies: The last group you want AGAINST you is the Tech department. At some point during the increased call volume, you will need the IT Department to help you in some manner. Rather than run to them with an urgent request, invite them to your planning process.
  12. Have Social Media Skills Ready: Twitter comments. Yelp reviews. Blogs. All of these Social Media outlets are great places to monitor customer opinions. Today’s Contact Center needs to keep track of these conversations to ensure that customer needs are heard and reviewed. This may require purchasing a Social Media monitoring tool or even hiring a team that can provide insight directly to the Contact Center floor.
  13. Prepare Tracking and Recording Tools: Tracking and recording of calls serves two important functions: a) You can review the tone, detail and nature of a call for training purposes with the Customer Service Representative and b) You can have a record of activity to share with the customer if necessary.
  14. Disposition Events: Similar to tracking and recording calls (#13 above), establish a list of dispositions at the end of every interaction (call, email, etc.). You will want to know the reasons for Contact Center volume increases or changes to customer satisfaction scores.
  15. Be Ready for the Compliance Police: Not many managers enjoy the legal departments of companies. Have you heard the joke … Q: What do you call 25 lawyers buried up to their chins in cement? A: Not enough cement. But ignorance of legal or compliance items is no joke and can destroy a company. Be sure to have all your legal issues under control well before launch.
  16. Make a Plan: At the end of all the items listed above you should be able to write a clear and focused plan to manage any Contact Center activity from changes in contact volumes to issues affecting staffing. Without a plan, all the preparation work you’ve done is wasted.
    Your People …
  17. Treat Contact Center Reps with Respect: Contact Centers are tough businesses. Customers can be difficult and Representatives can often feel abused by them. The last thing a company needs to do is add fuel to this fire. Forrester Research indicates in a recent study that Customer Satisfaction Scores have been effectively flat since 200Image7. But brands like Lands’ End and Zappos continue to buck that trend by creating a culture of ownership for the Customer Service Representatives rather than creating a culture of time-to-answer statistics.
  18. Be Creative with Incentives: One of the best forms of rewarding Representative performance come as unannounced surprises. Rather than simply establish a stated goal – which are certainly important – surprise the entire floor by unexpectedly delivering rewards to individuals. These surprises will help keep Representatives in high spirits.
  19. Hire Strong Leaders: Nothing can demoralize a crew of Representatives like a poor manager. Managers on Contact Center Floors need to be able to balance all the activity of a Contact Center environment to ensure a great customer experience.
  20. Create a Comfortable Working Environment: While not suggesting a Feng Shui approach to the Contact Center space, you can create a comfortable workspace by not placing Representatives on top of one another. Encourage displays of photos and other personal items and provide comfortable chairs. Seriously.
    When Calling Begins …
  21. Measure. Adapt. Repeat: Just like the instructions on the shampoo bottle (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.), prepare to continually evaluate your Plan from Representative performance reviews, customer feedback scores, Contact Center statistics and any other host of resources you have available. And then be prepared to make the necImageessary changes and measure all over again.
  22. Continually Examine Your Own Point of View: The more often you can try to view the changes to call volume from the point of view of the customer, the client, the Customer Service Representative and even your boss, the better you will be able make program modifications that serve an entire host of people. This is not the time to wear blinders. An open, objective mind is vital.
  23. Be Active and Engaged with the Front Line: Regardless of your Title, visits to the Lion’s Den are educational and motivating. The Division VP that takes the time to sit next to a Customer Service Representative in a chat conversation with a customer is incredibly motivating. Likewise, a floor leader that occasionally takes a call demonstrates a willingness to share in the workload increases the bond of the entire team.
  24. Learn from Shared Experiences: There is something to be gained from every call a Representative handles – whether it be managing emotions, handling new problems or finding better ways to access information in the system. Representative break times don’t allow for ample time to share all the drama from their calls, so organize regular forums for the staff to share obstacles and successes with peers. It’s a great way to develop team cohesiveness, improve handling skills AND identify global issues that need to be addressed with your service, product, marketing or other teams.
  25. Enjoy the Ride: Contact Centers are tough enough without the surprises that poor planning invite.  The push through the Holiday Season, though incredibly intense, is also temporary. It will return to normal. So enjoy the ride as much as possible. If you follow the tips above – and plan early – the Holiday Season rush will seem like a walk in the park.

By: Jack Hojnar