Planning for Post-Holiday Service

Dec 21, 2010 9:25 PM  By

Are you already anticipating the big sigh of relief you’re planning to heave as soon as the shopping season ends? Not so fast!

Not only will sales discounts continue well into the New Year as merchants work to liquidate inventory and keep revenue flowing – but handling the demand for customer service will be more critical than ever.

When customers want service, they want service! And it had better be readily accessible, knowledgeable, solution-ready, and pleasant to boot.

Now that so many customers buy on price, service quality is a true differentiator, with the clout to stimulate or diminish repeat business. Meanwhile, expectations for quality of customer care are running extremely high, because people are feeling squeezed and stressed in so many areas of life.

So how’s an operations manager to cope? Here’s a back-of-the-envelope approach to meeting customer expectations.

  • Try not to downsize your seasonal staff too quickly. If you can do a gradual trim, you’ll have a better chance of ensuring sufficient coverage for satisfactory service levels.

    Just make sure all reps understand their own schedules and their optimal end-of-season pay, so they can commit to staying as long as you’d like them to and continue to perform at a high-level straight through to the end. Both your reps and your customers will be calmer and less reactive.

  • Be sure to listen to and evaluate calls. You need to know which reps have the most product knowledge, which ones know how to apply customer service policy appropriately without being rigid, which have a knack for defusing customer anger or distress, and which can work consistently without flagging or sounding robotic.

    The post-season is a great evaluation period for deciding which of your temp staffers have exactly the package of skills and styles you want to keep. If it turns out you have someone on board who already has social media experience, that can be a big plus.

  • Keep a slight cushion of extra staff time to permit rep training. Whether the training is on new service techniques, product updates, or tweaks in policy, you want to see who can deal with learning the changes and applying them.
  • Give reps an occasional and much needed break from direct customer contact. Even a few hours a week of other duties can reduce stress, fatigue, and the attendant errors, as well as give you a chance to see how different individuals manage task-sharing or brief forays into new areas of responsibility.

    For example, you may be able to identify writing skills that would be great for email or chat. Or you might find someone who actually likes statistics and can be helpful with departmental reporting.

  • Take the time to document performance information–irrespective of when you would typically handle compensation decisions. Make notes to file while your perceptions are still fresh, about everything from reliability and timeliness to sales skills to general helpfulness and teamwork. Include any improvements you’d like to see and thoughts on how you can coach the reps through any necessary development. This exercise should also spur you to trigger corrective action plans if you need them.
  • Ensure that your supervisory staff is readily available. They should be available not just so that thorny service problems can be escalated for immediate resolution, but also to demonstrate support for the reps. It should be a little easier for them to provide a level of personal attention and coaching that was almost impossible during the peak time.

The holiday season is just about over. A focus on availability, skill-building, and calm, consistent performance will help your contact center gear up for the new year while satisfying customers— every call.

Liz Kislik (lizk@lizkislik.com) is president of consultancy Liz Kislik Associates.