5 Tips to Prepare Your Contact Center for the Holiday Season

A family dressed for a cold climate looks at a store window with shopping bags in hand

Here’s what to do to prepare your contact center for the holiday season as the large influx of customers your agents are bound to face expect quick, effective customer service through the end of the year.

In the U.S., Black Friday is approaching fast. It’ll be off to the races as customers flock to your business with money ready to be spent — even while dealing with inflation — throughout the holiday season, but with this all-out blitz of consumer spending also comes the inevitable:
angry customers.

Everything you’ve done so far this year has prepared agents for what’s on the horizon. You’ve already completed a checklist of to-do items to improve efficiency, but only when faced with a wave of angry customers does your brand have make-or-break situations the frontline team must deal with effectively in the moment.

Angry customers don’t just cause higher call volumes. In addition, you should be worried poor brand experiences might drive them away from your business and toward the competition. It’s why the service interactions taking place between your agents and your customers matter so much during the holiday season. Revenue, which any business needs to survive, is at stake.

Compared to last year, an estimate from Deloitte suggests holiday shopping sales in 2022 will increase between 4% and 6%. Ready to grab your piece of this ever-growing sales revenue pie?

If you’re unsure of what to do now that the holidays are officially here, don’t fret any longer. You’ve still got an opportunity to make late-stage improvements for your contact center team to make a difference and impact sales revenue for the better.

Here’s what to do to prepare your contact center team for the holiday season and ultimately deliver holiday cheer with customer experience (CX) as a top priority.

5 Things Agents & Team Leaders Must Do This Holiday Season

Your entire contact center team — from team leaders to agents — needs to understand the critical role it plays. Rather than thinking of service interactions as a line of defense against angry customers’ demands, they should be seen as opportunities to build customer loyalty.

‘Brand heroes’ who feel empowered with knowledge and the motivation to resolve issues on the spot are game-changers. Without them, you’re at serious risk of losing angry customers forever. Don’t let angry customers walk away — address them with empathy and dedication in every service interaction by being prepared.

Especially as emotions run high during the holiday season, this is key to bolstering customer satisfaction (CSAT) and creating a long-term relationship with customers.

#1. Know what types of inquiries to expect

Just as they need a good grasp of products, policies, promotions, and technology, the agents on your contact center team also need to be prepared for the several types of inquiries they’ll likely face regularly from Black Friday through the end of the year.

If the question or issue is a familiar one, it can be easily resolved and allow an agent to move on to other inquiries while ensuring more customers feel satisfied in a short period of time. Customers get the information and answers they need, and your business gets the benefits of happy customers while maintaining efficiency.

Communicating with other teams is critical during the busy holiday season, too. Make sure you’re receiving updates from marketing, operations, website development, and other internal teams so your agents aren’t caught off guard. Further, take the real-time customer feedback gathered from customer service interactions and share it with those teams as well.

What your customers say, for example, could lead to an easier checkout process that proved to be unreliable and thus frustrating customers. But the web development team would only know that based on feedback shared by the contact center team.

When every team in your organization comes together to trade insights, it allows everyone to achieve a greater level of efficiency for the business and customers to benefit from.

#2. Bring the temperature down

Anger can turn to outrage when customers are subjected to patronizing, scripted, or tone-deaf responses. Agents should instead do what any good brand representative would: listen closely to the customer, ask questions to understand the problem better, and focus on reaching a resolution that meets their expectations.

It’s important for agents to take charge of the conversation early and steer the service interaction in the right direction by treating the customer’s problem as a common enemy, using only positive language, and suggesting a resolution that best suits both the customer and the brand.

Make soft skills a big focus of your onboarding and refresher training. Get inside the mind of an angry customer who’s shopping during the holiday season. Incorporate a QA scorecard, as well as plenty of simulated service interactions, in your call center training program to boost agents’ confidence. Consider sharing stories of comically bad service interactions at other companies to not only lighten the mood but also get agents thinking and talking about how these inquiries should have been handled.

#3. Be transparent and express authenticity

Angry customers during the holiday season and beyond want honesty, even if the immediate answer is “I don’t know.” Customers would rather wait a few minutes for complete, up-to-date information than be misled or hastily transferred. If agents need to research a problem or solution, they shouldn’t be shy about asking the customer to give them a moment to do so.

Provide agents with easy access to the people and resources needed to research customer histories, products, policies, and promotions. Be less concerned with average handle time, and bring your focus to first call resolution (FCR) as this metric is connected to nearly all other KPIs.

#4. Make policy exceptions when appropriate

When they hear from VIP-level customers or those who’ve had a particularly bad experience, agents shouldn’t be quick to dismiss requests that go against the contact center team’s policy. Your brand stands to lose big in terms of reputation and revenue if you treat these customers just like everyone else, especially as the holiday season unfolds.

Make sure agents know they’re free to make exceptions in certain cases, taking into account a customer’s history with the brand or the exact nature of the complaint.

Ensure consistency among the frontline team — and keep escalations to a minimum — by clearly explaining when policy exceptions can be granted, what resolutions might look like, and the process agents should follow. It’ll prevent angry customers from feeling that your brand did very little to help them, earning their trust and building loyalty.

#5. Don’t let negative energy from angry customers take hold

The stress of an emotionally charged interaction takes an emotional toll on your contact center team. After all, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy. When agents don’t have the time, space, and support they need to recover, morale suffers. And the resulting impact on performance and service outcomes can be significant and lasting even after the holiday season wraps up.

Allow agents to take breaks and gather themselves after grueling encounters. Offer support and encouragement to support their mental health, and help agents better prepare for these types of calls in the future during 1:1s as well as micro-coaching sessions.

To help agents bounce back fully and continue performing at their peak, give high fives for great customer feedback as soon as possible and throughout the day. And be sure to reward and recognize some of your agents’ outstanding service interactions with the entire team and across the entire organization.

Empowered Contact Centers Turn the Worst Interactions into Brand Wins During the Holidays

Efficient, resilient contact center teams are well-trained and supported. Agents have the skills, tools, and confidence to handle whatever might come their way during the holiday season. And they gladly take ownership of brand experiences with the encouragement of team leaders who understand how important the frontline team is to CX.

Angry customers expect agents to be, at the very least, committed to resolving the issue at hand and competent enough to get it done in a timely manner. In those moments, even white-hot anger can turn to lifelong brand loyalty that lasts far past November and December. Unleash your brand heroes by empowering them fully, and they’ll be ready to soar through the holiday rush.