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Many organizations are heading into one of the busiest seasonal peaks of the year. This timeframe–including Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Super Saturday, and the entire Christmas holiday shopping season–is an opportunity for your business to gain new customers and retain existing ones through excellent customer service.

Let’s look at an example of what’s happened over the past couple of years. In the article, “2012 Christmas Holiday Shopping U.S. Retail Industry Sales Results Summary”, Barbara Farfan reports that “Total spending on Black Friday weekend 2012 was $59.1 billion, compared to $52.4 billion on Black Friday 2011 according to the National Retail Federation….[However,] Black Friday 2012 offers didn’t tempt shoppers to overspend. 47% of Black Friday 2012 shoppers spent what they had budgeted, 38% spent less than they had planned, and only 15% of Black Friday 2012 shoppers bought more than they had planned to buy, according to [a] Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Based on this example and the fact that the economy hasn’t substantially improved over the past year, it’s fair to assume that while consumers may spend more this year, the majority is likely to spend at or under budget. There may be opportunities to increase sales, but only if you can capture more of the available spending activity than your competitors.

The key is to provide the best customer experience in your market, and your front-line customer service agents are critical to whether you succeed. Your challenge is to keep all of your agents engaged in their work for the duration of the busy holiday season, in the face of high call volumes, frustrated callers, and, often, new product or service promotions.

Here are three tips that may help you keep agents engaged during peak seasonal activity.

1.      Offer incentives to lower absenteeism

Your regular staff of agents has the training and knowledge to handle callers’ issues effectively. They also have the experience to deal with non-standard issues, which are more likely to occur when the volume of calls increases. For example, a caller wanting to process a refund may have some non-standard issues, such as a gift certificate where the product code is illegible.

The more you can do to ensure that your call center is staffed with experienced, knowledgeable agents, rather than temporary replacements or unfilled seats, the better the customer’s experience will be. You may be able to offer incentives such as time off in the next year or entry in a prize draw for agents who don’t miss any shifts through to the end of this year.

2.      Reward agents who offer superb customer service

The nature of call center work is typically highly repetitive and, depending on customer interactions, stressful. The conditions in your call center during a peak season can contribute to these factors, with more noise in the work environment, higher call volumes, and more frustrated customers. It’s not that difficult for agents to disengage, and simply go through the motions of answering calls and giving pat answers. Worse, really unmotivated agents may start requeuing calls or disconnecting at inappropriate times.

Particularly at this time of year, it’s important to recognize agents who behave professionally and with sincerity. Those agents who continue to excel in their handling of calls should be rewarded throughout the holiday season. Whether those rewards are based on financial or personal recognition depends on what is meaningful to that particular agent for maximum effect on future performance.

3.      Make sure that your supporting systems are operating efficiently

The last thing that a dissatisfied customer needs to hear from an agent is that the system needed to verify their information, reset their password, or process a return is offline. Not only does the customer not care about your operations, but the agent will also become frustrated with the number of outstanding calls or required callbacks. Particularly at this time of year, make sure that all systems are running efficiently and that backups are in place, if needed.

We’ve offered three ways to keep your agents engaged in their work. The methods you use depend on the characteristics of your agents and work culture, as well as your overall business goals. What’s important is that you keep in mind that this is a critical timeframe for excelling at customer satisfaction, and your agents are key to whether you succeed.

See you next month.

Tags: agent activity, agent productivity, customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, economy, incentives, motivation, service levels, trends.

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