Leadership & Agent Management

How to Prepare Customer Service Agents for the Holiday Surge

2020 has been different from any year in living memory. The holiday season will be no different.

Source: Nelosa / iStock / Getty

For years, online shopping and e-commerce have slowly stolen market share from in-person retail. As Black Friday has shrunk, Cyber Monday has exploded. That appears to be the trend again this year—even more so, in fact.

Customer service is key when it comes to the success of a business. Not only is Q4 vital for many companies, but ending the year on a high note also will help you head into 2021 with optimism. The holiday season is an essential time for your business to serve its customers well and increase your sales momentum.

How the holiday season goes for your company in 2020 comes down to how well-prepared your customer service team is. Those going into the holiday season thinking they can handle things the same way they did in 2019 are in for a big surprise. COVID has changed everything, and it will have an effect on how customer communication goes this year. Your team has to be ready for a large amount of communication, as people aren’t going to be seeing sales representatives in person nearly as often and shipping delays are expected. But how exactly will the holiday surge be different for your customer service team this year, and how can they go in with a solid plan? Here are some suggestions for ensuring your customer service team is ready to handle the holidays in 2020.

Hire Seasonal Help

You may think that because so much of your holiday sales activity will be online, you can get away with fewer agents. But there’s no getting around it: The more sales activity you have, the greater your need for customer service agents. Instead of just asking people to work overtime, seriously consider bringing on some seasonal help you can train quickly and trust to get the job done. You want your customers to get responses quickly, feel heard, and get their problems solved. Having only a small handful of agents relative to your customer count isn’t going to cut it. Hiring good people is an investment, but it’s an investment in the most important thing: the long-term success of your business. Start looking around now to find people with experience who are looking to make a bit of extra cash around the holidays.

Keep Your Technology Stack Fresh

Technical difficulties are every customer service agent’s worst nightmare. Being on the phone with a customer only to realize your call can’t be transferred and isn’t being recorded is the last thing you need when juggling hundreds of calls a day! This is the time to check all of your technology and make sure it doesn’t need updating or replacing. Go over everything from your call recording software to your social media apps to ensure your team will be able to operate at their highest capacity. Your system for handling online orders needs to be in tip-top shape. You may even want to do some test runs to make sure your software can handle a higher-than-usual intake.

Communication Is Key

Customers aren’t monsters. In fact, they can be really understanding! But it’s important to communicate certain things early and often. For instance, your return policy: Is it listed plainly, multiple times, on your website? That can cut down on customer service calls asking for refunds. Your payment plans: Are they clear and easy to understand and sent in a follow-up e-mail after somebody purchases? That can cut down on customer service calls asking for payment plan details. Your response time: Is a message automatically sent out if someone e-mails your customer service hotline that says you’ll be in touch within 3 business days? That can cut down on angry calls the next day from customers demanding to know why their e-mail wasn’t responded to in 24 hours. The more you can communicate expectations and rules, the less confusion there will be. That’s a great way to cut off a customer service surge at the knees. You don’t need to respond to every single issue instantaneously, but make sure the guidelines are clear. If you do tell customers you’ll respond within a week, make sure that response actually happens. Communication will be key on your social media platforms, as well. For example, only replying to some comments on Facebook with customer service answers and not others isn’t going to fly. Make a plan ahead of time for how you’re going to handle social media inquiries during this busy season, and stick to it.

Keep Customer Experience Front of Mind

At the end of the day, customer experience is king. How customers feel and are served while interacting with your company is going to determine if they turn into repeat customers and raving fans. In fact, all of the above tips are just facets of the customer experience. Making sure customers aren’t hung up on, ensuring they’re responded to in a timely manner, and having healthy communication with them are all building blocks of a positive customer experience. As tempting as it can be to throw your hands up and say “It’s the holiday season—some things are just going to fall through the cracks,” customer experience shouldn’t be one of those things. Think about how customers interact with your business—especially through your call center—and how you can improve their experience. After all, customers are probably expecting things like longer call wait times and frustrated customer service agents. Imagine being able to surprise them instead with world-class service and positive attitudes! Yes, there are other factors to consider, like cost and team morale. But keeping customer experience front of mind is going to be the best way to have a successful Q4. Make as many decisions as you can around that, and you’ll be just fine with the upcoming holiday surge.