Sonoma County’s $1.64 billion tourism industry accounts for over a tenth of the region’s employment. Tourists flock to its sunny hills and lush vineyards in the summer, and the busy season peaks with the September grape harvest. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment providers depend on this stream of visitors, staffing customer service representatives and other support staff accordingly, and reservations quickly fill in the summer months.
The owners of Big Bottom Market, a gourmet food market and café in Guerneville, Calif., reaped the benefits of this bounty when they opened the shop in 2011, but come October the eager customers disappeared. Sales dropped by 80 percent. “This was my first rodeo,” Michael Volpatt, a founding partner, told the New York Times, “and I’ll tell you, we were freaking out.” To keep the storefront open, the company made several sudden changes: laying off staff, adding a catering service, opening for dinner, ramping up the brand’s popular biscuits and marketing directly to local residents. The adjustments paid off, and seven years later the company is thriving.
Big Bottom’s story is familiar to many organizations that face seasonal traffic changes and even intraday surges. Survival requires scaling through strategic staffing in addition to managing resources based on demand. Small businesses like Big Bottom, which occupies a single 1,500-square-foot shop, are particularly vulnerable because they lack the financial cushion that often sustains larger companies through quieter periods. To persevere during the low season, organizations need to plan in advance. In small and mid-sized contact centers, which regularly experience both intraday and seasonal shifts in traffic, this strategy is particularly important.
The most successful contact centers have made scalability a priority, and many of them seek out solutions that make their operations more efficient and allow them to ramp up and down easily. In the past, organizations have been forced to prepare for the worst case scenario: the busiest hour of the busiest day of the year. All on-premise technology had to accommodate that maximum capacity, even if it was only used a few times a year.
The cloud is changing this model. With a cloud-based workforce management solution, small and mid-sized organizations utilize and pay for only what they use. During high-traffic periods they can expand processing power, but they are not expected to foot the bill for unused capabilities when traffic slows. Teams that have limited budgets can see a massive boost in ROI by improving scalability when they switch to the cloud.
Organizations can also scale and save money by making strategic changes to their staffing processes. All cloud services are managed and maintained by the provider, so businesses no longer have to bring on additional staff for the IT department during the busy season. When they do need to hire temporary or seasonal employees in the front and back offices, smart managers seek to accelerate the hiring process so they can put new employees to work faster. Easy-to-use technology, such as user-friendly schedules and intuitive dashboards, limit time spent on onboarding. Smaller teams also have fewer resources to dedicate to HR and employee training, so simplifying the process can be a welcome relief throughout the organization.
Improving scalability is a proven way to eliminate waste and ramp up quickly in the contact center. Because small and mid-sized organizations have tighter budgets and fewer internal resources, scalability is all the more important for them. Overcoming these additional barriers requires a strategic approach year round.
Paul Chance is a senior product marketing manager for NICE EVOLVE WFM, the leading software solution used by small and mid-sized contact centers to plan and manage the workforce anywhere from the cloud. For more information, visit www.nice.com/websites/evolvewfm.