How to Prepare for High Call Center Workload During the Holiday Shopping Season

Retail | 4 minute read

Increased demand on a typical day is challenging enough, but it can be downright overwhelming during the holidays. Earlier this year, we saw the COVID-19 pandemic nearly bring call centers across the world to a halt due to high call volume and a sudden increase in customer inquiries.

The difference this time is that businesses have time to prepare. Here are some essential steps to take to ensure your call center is ready for anything the holiday shopping season has in store!

With change and uncertainty looming thanks to the #COVID19 pandemic, you can count on one thing for sure — that your customers will be leaning heavily on your customer support team. #CustomerService #CX #Holiday2020 Click To Tweet

1. Know this year’s upcoming trends

The landscape has changed over the past year, and with it, your customer expectations and behaviors. Before you touch a thing in preparation for the shopping season, you need to know what to expect and how to address any looming concerns.

Do some research on industry trends so you can adapt your processes appropriately. We’ve put together a full article on this year’s retail holiday trends here!

2. Forecast customer demand

This step goes hand-in-hand with the industry trends research you’ll need to do. Dive into your call center’s historical data, metrics, survey data, and agent feedback to get a sense of trends in call volume during past holiday periods.

By combining the insights from upcoming trends with your customer base’s past activities, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions when prepping your call center for the shopping season.

3. Review your customer journey

It’s easy to get caught up in numbers and statistics, but it’s important to remember the customer experience! After all, there’s little use in having a smooth operation if your customers are left unsatisfied.

Take some time to go through your IVR, website, and other customer-focused communications. Think from the perspective of the customer — is the navigation menu easy to understand? Are common questions easy to search up online? Remember, the goal is to make the process as quick, easy, and stress-free as possible.

4. Review processes for your agents

The holiday period will be a very different experience for your agents, especially those who are working remotely for the first time this year. They’ll be on the front lines during this busy period, so it’s crucial to provide them with the proper tools and support required to perform well.

Ask your agents about any challenges they’ve faced since shifting to a remote role. Are there any concerns they have for the upcoming holiday season? Doing your due diligence now can help you set them up for success during the busy period!

5. Fill the gaps in your processes

Once you’ve got the lay of the land, ask yourself where the gaps in your current processes are. Fixing these will likely require a combination of training, resource development, and new tools, so it pays to start this as soon as possible!

Here are some of the most common complaints from customers during the holidays:

  • Confusing IVR menu. As mentioned previously, it’s essential to have a clear and concise menu for your customers to navigate. Go through the messaging step by step and compare the options you offer to your list of anticipated customer queries. You can also consider adopting Web Call-Backs (formerly Visual IVR)!
  • Long hold times. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the top complaints from customers. Consider adopting call-back technology — this allows customers to leave a phone number and have an agent call them back when available. It’s a win-win!
  • Uninformed agents. Customers see your business as a single entity and often become frustrated having to repeat their issue at multiple touchpoints. By investing in an omnichannel platform, your agents will be able to address customer issues from any channel and continue the conversation seamlessly.
  • Multiple transfers. Don’t be the company that shuffles customers around from department to department. Review your strategy and consider whether your call center approach and structure works for a scenario with increased demand. It may be a matter of reviewing your customer touchpoints or providing additional training to agents, so they are better equipped to handle different issues.
  • ‘Robotic’ responses. Your customers call you because they want service with a human touch. So if your agents are clinging to their scripted responses and templates, it can negatively impact the customer’s experience. Consider providing additional training to increase their comfort level with the required information.

6. Hire additional agents

Suppose your business doesn’t have call-back technology or alternative channels to manage customer inquiries. In that case, it’s crucial to ensure that you have enough agents on staff to address increased demand over the holidays.

You may want to consider adding extra agents per shift or hiring additional agents. However, having extra bodies on hand is expensive, so we recommend exploring tech solutions to address the demand!

7. Create a crisis plan

Anything from a significant website error to a PR issue can trigger overwhelming demand for your contact center. And if the pandemic has taught us anything this year, it pays to be prepared.

Getting a crisis plan and the proper tools in place will help your agents control messaging, prioritize customer inquiries, and manage high call volumes. This will also bode well for customer perception — after all, a poor response can inflict more damage to your business’ reputation.

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Illustration - a hand holds a smartphone. A call center agent is on the screen looking concerned. There are 5 symbols floating above his head as he looks worriedly at them - a credit card, a delivery truck, a gift box, price tags, and a megaphone
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