Holidays can disrupt operations in any business. In the contact center, however, changes in routines can cause a system-wide break down.
Many contact centers serve seasonal industries. Retail call centers may be swamped in December, while airlines or other travel organizations see a rush of calls in the summer. Even deadlines for tax season are associated with increases in traffic for some government and financial organizations. Every contact center is different, but none is exempt from the stressors that accompany seasonal events and holidays.
In smaller contact centers, these changes can be particularly challenging. Employees frequently want time off during holidays, and you may receive multiple requests for the same vacation days. Yet with a smaller team, even a few empty seats can disrupt call distribution patterns. Other employees may have to scramble to make up the difference, and delays result in impatient customers and weakened performance indicators.
The intimate workplace that builds in smaller organizations has definite perks, such as closer ties between coworkers and better communication throughout the enterprise, but it also has special demands when it comes to holidays. Juggling them all to optimize outcomes for everyone requires a strategic effort. By taking key steps to minimize potential conflicts and demonstrate respect for your employees’ needs, you can unite your team and ensure success in any season.
Forecast, forecast, forecast!
The single most important thing you can do to manage your contact center during holidays is to plan in advance. By evaluating historic data, workforce management tools can forecast and predict your staffing demands with remarkable accuracy. This allows you to alert employees of scheduling needs weeks or months in advance and ramp up your staffing if necessary. In addition to planning ahead, continue to evaluate the accuracy of short- and long-term forecasting efforts through automated analysis and tracking. Though such processes were once beyond the reach of small and mid-sized organizations, today’s cloud-based solutions can provide advanced reports based on new and historic data for workforces of all sizes.
Celebrate with your team
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the challenges associated with holidays, so don’t forget to celebrate. Consider bringing treats into the contact center, decorating the office or scheduling an off-hours party. In small organizations, more personalized activities like gift swaps can add holiday fun.
Recognize other cultures
Today’s workforce is diverse, and your employees likely come from many different backgrounds and religions. Do your best to accommodate these needs. For example, Muslim employees may prefer early shifts during Ramadan, or New Orleans natives might be heartbroken to miss Mardi Gras with family back home. Your employees will appreciate the flexibility and your respect for their personal needs.
Manage your temporary workforce
Many contact centers bring in temporary workers during the busy season. This new blood can be a welcome relief for your year-round team, but it also brings new challenges. Train new team members well, and continue to provide them with extra support. New workers change the dynamic in any environment, but smaller contact centers feel the growth more acutely. Make sure that your year-round employees are still comfortable and able to focus. Supervisors may also struggle to manage teams that have suddenly doubled in size, so give them the technology and assistance they need to do their jobs well.
Be accommodating of employee schedules
You may be asking your employees to pull overtime shifts around a holiday, but they still have home lives to manage. If you can, consider allowing employees to work remotely temporarily so they can travel to visit family or keep an eye on the kids while they are out of school. Many contact centers have benefitted from cloud-based workforce management solutions that let employees work from home.
Say no, respectfully.
Respecting your employees’ needs is important, but don’t be afraid to say no or assign employees to shifts. In small and mid-sized contact centers, the more intimate environment may make it harder to refuse a request for time off to spend with family. Be firm but fair to keep your team’s performance on track. An automated or self-scheduling solution can help ensure that assignments are distributed evenly.
Follow the rules
When you’re getting overwhelmed, it can be tempting to ask employees to add another shift. That’s fine – as long as it’s within the rules. Your center may be subject to government regulations, internal standards or union restrictions, and violating those can be disastrous, especially in a smaller operation with limited legal resources. Apply work-rule parameters to your scheduling solution to ensure that you don’t get yourself or your company in trouble.
As a manager, you have an obligation both to your organization and to your employees. Holidays are stressful, but they can also be fun. If you plan in advance and demonstrate your respect for and understanding of the challenges, you can keep your KPIs strong and your team united throughout the busy season.