Waiting until November to prepare your customer service team for the holidays can cost you time, money, and resources in the long run. Starting early with a clear peak season prep checklist will help set your business up for success and separate your call center from the competition.
During our Crate & Barrel holiday prep webinar with Christina Sheehan from Crate & Barrel, we discovered how the global retailer prepares for their peak holiday season, including when they start prepping and how they staff up to meet high demands.
Here are the key takeaways from our webinar, and a checklist you can use to ensure your business is ready for the holidays.
When Should You Prepare for Peak Season? Early – Like, Really Early
While the holiday season may seem far away, your team may be left scrambling when the peak arrives without proper preparation.
According to Sheehan, you should begin preparing for peak season almost as soon as the holidays are over. Why? When you start preparing for the next holiday season at the end of your current peak season, your wins, losses, and opportunities are still top of mind. You’re more likely to act on takeaways or learnings if you integrate them immediately, rather than waiting several months.
“We start planning for the holidays in February. You really have to start that planning early,” Sheehan says. “We have to be ready to go no later than October.”
Starting to prepare for peak season earlier than the competition may prove to be your secret weapon this year. By empowering your team and ensuring everyone is on the same page, you will have an effective workforce ready to help your customers with whatever they need.
Next, we’ll run through the process that Crate & Barrel follows for their peak season prep.
Step 1: Conduct a Peak Season Postmortem
To ensure this year’s holiday season is your best yet, start by identifying the issues, opportunities, and successes of last year’s peak season.
Remember: the best time to do this is while you are wrapping up your current peak season, because wins, losses, and opportunities are still top of mind for your team. Recalling specific and actionable examples can become difficult as time passes.
Crate & Barrel holds an annual “post-peak postmortem.” Sheehan says, “We list out everything that worked for us well, things that we wish we did better, and what we are up against in the future. What are we launching that’s new this year that we have to incorporate into the plans that may be different?”
Postmortems provide your team with the opportunity to learn from mistakes, discover employee pain points, and make a plan to improve next year.
While performing a postmortem is important, it’s even more crucial to do it properly. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your postmortem:
- Meet sooner rather than later so memories are fresh
- Use pre-defined KPIs to determine success
- Stay constructive, not negative
- Follow an agenda
- Assign a moderator and notetaker
By staying focused on the purpose and goals of your postmortem, you have the opportunity to gain valuable insight and actionable strategies to prepare for next year’s peak season.
Step 2: Identify Staffing and Business Process Outsourcing Needs
Once peak season hits, it’s imperative that you have the proper staffing allocation to manage an influx of issues.
By taking a look at peak season data from previous years, your team can plan for your needs and build a strategy to fit them. This may include relying on outsourcing your customer service needs via business process outsourcing (BPO) to ensure your team has the help they need.
“We build out our staffing plan based on that [peak season data] and take it to our talent acquisition team to determine if we need to bring in a third-party BPO, which we did this year,” Sheehan says.
If you do choose to use BPO, then it’s vital your agents are on the same page. Be sure to compare the policies and practices of your BPO to ensure they match your peak season ramp needs.
[Learn more: 8 Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Customer Service]
Keeping your workforce on the same page will help you streamline and standardize your processes, ensuring your peak season goes smoothly.
Gladly Pro Tip: Prioritize Agent Experience, Year-Round
Beyond staffing adequately for peak season, prioritizing your agents’ satisfaction can happen in a number of ways and produces many significant benefits. Check out our Hero Experience Report to discover more about the cause and effects of agent well-being.
Step 3: Identify Top Communication Channels
When preparing for peak season, it’s vital to understand where your team’s efforts are best spent. Audit your most-used channels during the previous peak season. Are you planning to keep and adjust your channels for the upcoming peak season, or add additional channels to the mix?
By using the right tools, you can prioritize high-use channels — like chat, SMS, and self-service — while reducing high-cost channels — like voice and email — to maximize your team’s return on investment.
“Gladly has helped us because we have a clear view of what channels our customers like to come in at,” Sheehan says.
Step 4: Audit Your Customer Journey
Once you’ve pinpointed your shoppers’ preferred channels, your next step is to understand your customers’ journey. Understanding the customer journey helps you reduce inefficiencies and allocate resources to improve their experience.
Crate & Barrel took advantage of our Conversation Timeline tool to understand the big picture of their customer’s experience. “We definitely get that holistic view of that conversation data — how long it takes from the time a customer comes until that conversation is closed,” Sheehan says.
Through this conversation data, your business can shorten interactions, personalize experiences, and improve support each season. This data also provides insight into where potential roadblocks may occur and how to prevent them from happening during your peak season workflow.
Discover More Helpful Insights From Our Webinar
While these tips are helpful for building a holiday plan that fits the needs of your business, they only scratch the surface of what was covered in our webinar. Discover more key insights from industry experts by watching our full webinar, so you can start preparing your customer service team for peak season.
Learn How Crate & Barrel Handles Holiday Prep