Seasonal Staffing Alternatives for Your Contact Center

Jul 22, 2009 7:09 AM  By

It’s summer and time to plan for your peak staffing needs for the busy holiday season. While your base staff will carry you throughout the summer, you’ll need to begin hiring in September to get new staff trained and ready to handle calls for the peak holiday season that begins in October.

But unlike other types of call centers, you’ll no longer need these staff after the first of the year. Whether your peak is October–December, February–March, or April–July, catalog call centers and other types of seasonal businesses face a unique challenge in finding qualified staff to handle just a few months of peak call demand.

Our article series is designed to outline five basic options available to address the challenges of seasonal staffing requirements. We’ll start with the option of returning staff.

The ideal solution to the seasonal staffing dilemma is to find staff that simply want to work the few months of the year that you need them, and then happily leave when the peak is over, returning when you need them again next year. These folks will likely not need a full training period, but only a refresher and can hit the ground running quickly. Nice solution if you can get them, right?

One mistake that many call centers make is to assume that because your base workforce is made up of full-time staff, your seasonal workers should work a 40-hour week too. To attract more seasonal staff, you will likely need to hire mostly part-time staff in order to fit the requirements of this different labor force.

There are many people that may be looking for a little extra income and would appreciate the opportunity to work three or four hours a day, but may not be able to accommodate a full work schedule. So you may need to change your recruiting and hiring protocol to look for people to fit these kinds of positions, rather than a full-time person.

While there can be some drawbacks to hiring part-time staff, you also have to consider the many benefits. Some centers point to the increased recruiting and training costs for part-timers. The same amount of effort may be needed to recruit, interview, hire, and train a part-time person as a full-time employee, yet only half the time is available on the phones or their schedules may not accommodate the training hours planned.

On the other hand, consider the additional scheduling flexibility it gives the center to be able to arrange and piece together schedules to fit workforce to workload more precisely. And sometimes these staff can actually be better performers, given that they’re fresh and not on the phones for eight hours a day!

If you’re trying to fill positions for the busy holiday season, you may fin many people are looking for a second job to make some extra money for holiday shopping. There is a big population out there who does not work for many months of the year (such as housewives or students) who may want to work a little as the holidays approach for some additional income.

Many call centers attribute their success at covering seasonal demand is not just to hire part-time staff, but to hire people that fit the ideal part-time profile. Some people will be willing to work part-time during the holiday season as a second job.

But sometimes there’s not enough energy and enthusiasm left after the first job to devote to the catalog center position. Others may take a part-time position, but only as a way to get a foot in the door with the company. These people will never be happy with part-time work, and are certainly not likely to return the following year if they’ve been laid off after the peak season ends.

The part-time position needs to be well defined with both expectation of working hours as well as the duration of the job. Those that take the position with full knowledge of schedule definitions as well as length of employment will likely be the ones that return the following year.

To find these ideal part-timers, you’ll want to cast a large net and recruit in such a way that you’re reaching an optimal audience of candidates. Simple newspaper classified ads will likely not be sufficient.

Use your existing workforce for job referrals and reward them for bringing in qualified candidates. Expand the search to billboards and other advertising media to ensure you’re getting in front of as many potential candidates as possible with your offer.

Of course, finding potential candidates will be much easier if you have a peak season that just happens to correspond with a ready pool of available workers. It actually works just this way for a number of call centers.

For example, one camping supply company has peak demand from May through August, and fills it easily with local college students and teachers off for the summer school break. These staffers enjoy the change of pace from the classroom and happily return year after year to be welcomed back with open arms from the call center just as the calls are beginning to ramp up.

Of course, not all centers have the luxury of having a peak season in the summer when there’s a more obvious and ready supply of part-time workers. If you’re like many catalogs with a peak season that falls within the October – December timeframe, you’ll just have to be a little more creative with where you look for staff.

Ask what kinds of businesses may be having an “off-peak” time just as your call workload picks up. Who is slowing down in October just as you’re speeding up? How can your target these potential employees?

Next time we’ll discuss shared staff arrangements as a solution to seasonal hiring.

Penny Reynolds (penny.reynolds@thecallcenterschool.com) is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a company dedicated to the education and development of call center professionals.