Don’t settle when it comes to talent during busy season.
There’s a lot to look forward to during the holiday season, and I’m not just talking about “All I Want for Christmas Is You” returning to the radio waves. In terms of retail and e-commerce, the holidays bring in peak sales, traffic, and engagement with new shoppers—along with opportunities to convert those shoppers into repeat customers. Contact center managers, meanwhile, can look forward to the potential year-end bonus for hitting year-end customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS) goals.
But there’s a lot for customer care teams to dread about the holidays, too: the fierce competition, the spikes in product returns, and—perhaps most challenging—the pressure of managing the influx of calls. After all, more sales and more customers necessitate more agents.
It’s not a challenge that organizations can solve through hiring alone.
What challenges do call centers traditionally face during the holidays?
The process of recruiting, onboarding, and training seasonal help places a monumental strain on brick-and-mortar call centers. In the midst of holiday season chaos, you need to find qualified workers and bring them up to speed quickly, all while keeping your CSAT and NPS scores from slipping—not to mention optimizing call handling times, appeasement costs, and agent retention rates.
This is an exponential problem—the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Considering how customer service training typically takes at least six weeks, and most skilled seasonal talent gets snapped up early (especially in today’s tight labor market), call centers that fall behind tend to stay behind. Representatives that join late in the game lack the quality and staying power retailers need. In fact, 25–40% of new agents hired in November won’t make it to Black Friday.
Well, there’s always next year for that holiday bonus.
Fortunately, a better way exists. With virtual, on-demand agents, customer service teams can achieve CSAT and NPS goals during the holidays 50–70% faster—and perhaps even exceed their goals. Here are a few reasons why:
To boost your performance, start with your people
Remote agents are fundamentally different from seasonal help. On average, remote agents are 15 years older, are 46% more likely to have attended college, and possess three times more experience than typical call center team members.
Another key difference is flexibility. With virtual agents, call centers have access to a larger pool of talent, as workers aren’t limited to a certain geographical region. Because they work on their own schedules, virtual agents can be available at any time and for short shifts to help with bursts in capacity.
Virtual agents also have a greater capacity to learn. As self-starters by nature, these professionals see their work as a career rather than a temporary job and are motivated to continue developing their skills over time. Plus, more skilled and experienced agents tend to retain information and learn at a higher rate.
You don’t have to sacrifice quality for faster, cost-effective training
Speaking of faster learning, the virtual call center model differs when it comes to onboarding and education. Agents learn at a distance, at their own pace, and on their own time. That means…
- companies don’t need to pay for skills development,
- agents see their training as an investment and are incentivized to stick with it.
Self-paced, distance learning doesn’t sacrifice depth either.
Some virtual call center providers (like ours) customize curricula to each company’s specifications and then work closely alongside the company to track outcomes. A major advantage of this approach is all the data it generates: call centers can analyze the details of agents’ learning speed, content engagement, graduation rate, and so on. Agents can also benefit from small class sizes and one-on-one coaching with virtual facilitators.
Look for qualified seasonal help beyond your city and region
As I mentioned above, time is the critical factor in holiday customer service success. When ramping up for seasonal help, brick and mortar call centers need to start sourcing early. Most qualified temps are pillaged by the middle of October. And if you wait too long, the pool of seasonal help dries up entirely—if they’re not at another call center, they’re in stores, doing sales work or stocking floors—and the people you are able to bring in don’t stay for long. As a result, you need to continually replenish your stock of agents with less and less skilled workers. It’s a vicious cycle.
This is why retention is such an important metric. It’s not just about efficiency and cost—it’s directly related to CSAT and NPS. Easy-come, easy-go agents have no real motivation to perform (and finding ways to incentivize them can be costly). They don’t care about making a customer’s day or serving as many customers as possible. Given the fact that they’ll be out of a job in a few weeks, why should they?
Instead of scrambling to find qualified local workers, consider sourcing virtually. Organizations that leverage virtual agents don’t experience the phenomenon of attrition hurting customer satisfaction, because they’re not competing with temp agencies or with others hiring seasonal help. (This is particularly important in call center-saturated markets such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Cincinnati.) Instead, they benefit from agents who are professionals doing something they like to do, know how to do, and already do throughout the year. When they can create their own schedules, work from home, and take advantage of opportunities to develop their skills, it’s only natural that agents have a greater affinity for their work.
The gift that keeps on giving—year-round
Ultimately, customer satisfaction is about the people—on both ends of the line. And the best way to meet your customers’ holiday season demands is by hiring people who aren’t limited by region, experience, or seasonality. On top of that, the ability to use professional staff who learn faster, are better motivated, and have what it takes to stick around adds up to less overhead and more flexibility for customer service teams.
I can’t imagine a better gift for retailers this holiday season—or any season, really.