Prep Your Contact Center for the Holidays with this Checklist

This post is written by Salil Gupta, Managing Partner at Vcare Technology, a provider of contact center services to online retailers.

Holiday season is here, earlier than ever. With a 40% increase in sales during the holiday shopping season for some retailers, it’s the most important time of the year to ensure customers are left with a great experience- from website usability to customer support to fulfillment.

Consistency is key to building a loyal customer base. The holiday deluge of calls and emails hitting a contact center shouldn’t affect the quality of customer support. Customers still expect your reps to pick up the phone quickly, respond to emails quickly and, if a package is missing or delayed, they want to know where it is now, not tomorrow or next week.

In fact, delivering a memorable experience during the holidays gives retailers the opportunity to stand out from other companies that haven’t adequately prepared or empowered their customer service reps to deal with holiday customer inquiries in a fast and efficient manner.

This is, of course, easier said than done. It can be daunting for retailers of all sizes to provide consistent experience to each and every customer that reaches out with an inquiry-particularly with contact volume that is up to five times the regular volume.

How are some of the other retailers handling such challenges? At VCare, we provide contact center services to online retailers. One of our clients, Karmaloop, experienced a significant increase in holiday volume. Here are seven learnings from that holiday experience.

  1. Plan for the unexpected.Holiday shopping isn’t just about the product; it’s the joy of gifting and receiving the package. Contact center representatives should be empowered to make every customer experience a happy one. The customer is understandably aggravated when a shipment is delayed, the wrong product is shipped, or the product is defective. Ensure your representatives are empathizing with your customers and giving them credits, discounts, free product to keep customers happy when necessary.

  2. Hire representatives who connect with your customers. Avoid a hiring approach that simply tries to fill empty seats. The representatives you hire should have interest-even a passion for- products that you are selling. In Karmaloop’s case, we understood that most of their customers were millennials who are a part of the “verge culture,” and so the representatives we hired for Karmaloop’s account team were also tech-savvy millennials who have a first-hand understanding of the culture. In the interview process, present (seemingly) random situations to interviewees and judge whether they’ll be able to build authentic connections with your customers. Take the time to screen candidates well in order to create a team of representatives that will do whatever it takes to solve a customer’s problem in the first interaction, leading to happier customers.

  3. Start hiring early, and hire more representatives than you need. Start planning for holiday hiring in September, as you need to be selective in hiring representatives that connect with your customers. In our experience out of every 50 interviewees, 10 representatives will fit your culture. Additionally, you should hire 30% more representatives than you need, recognizing that some may drop off, and you may have a need for additional representatives when volume increases.

  4. Maintain a database of potential hires. Invest in the ongoing maintenance of a database of potential hires. When volume increases, whether expectedly or unexpectedly, having a pipeline of candidates at your disposal, instead of starting from scratch, will allow you to staff up quickly. Also invest in a training program that gives you the ability to get new staff up to speed in a few days.

  5. Create innovative ways to deliver training. Holiday training delivery methods need to be innovative. Shift away from traditional lecture-based training to more interactive sessions. Focus on role-playing, and replicate real problems that will inevitably arise. The policies and procedures of your training should be visual whenever possible, as this makes learning easier for most representatives. All of this helps compress the training times and improve your ability to staff up.

  6. Maintain a repository of all products and policies. By maintaining a repository of all your products, policies and typical exceptions, when the representative does not know the answer to a customer’s issue off-hand, they’ll be able to find the answer with a simple keyboard command - control+F.

  7. Continuously monitor call, emails and chats. With the increase in number of total representatives, you’ll also need to staff your quality control team. The quality of contacts in the holiday season should be benchmarked against the quality year-round. Any deviations need to be immediately addressed, not put on the back burner to be dealt with after the holiday rush.

For most of your customers, the holidays symbolize a season of joy, sharing and giving. It is important that during this crucial season for retail, your customer service team is connecting with your customers and providing positive experiences. These seven learnings, if implemented properly, will go a long way in building a loyal customer base.

Salil Gupta is Managing Partner at Vcare Technology. Vcare provides contact center services to retail companies. Gupta is an entrepreneur at heart and got his MBA from Babson College in Entrepreneurship and Finance, and is also a licensed CPA. He loves reading and traveling the world. Gupta lives in New Jersey.