Preparing your contact centers for the holidays header

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes unique challenges for contact centers. While many of us may be looking forward to time off to spend with our loved ones, there are more than a few contact center agents who won’t have that luxury (and if dealing with angry customers on a normal day is bad, just imagine doing it while during holiday hours).

So as a gift to your contact center agents, we’ve looked at the biggest challenges that contact center agents face during the holidays (thanks, Redditors), and how contact center supervisors and managers can best prepare for them.

contact centers for the holidays

Holiday havoc

While for many, the holidays may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” that’s not necessarily true for contact center agents. Whether they’re working full-time leading up to the holidays or on-call during those silent nights, there’s no shortage of season-specific challenges.

Changes in consumer behavior can lead to an increased demand on contact centers, such as shopping websites seeing huge upticks in traffic—in 2020, Cyber Monday alone accounted for 10.8 billion dollars in online sales! Now imagine even a small percentage of all those shoppers needing to contact customer support or another contact center for help, and the kind of demand that puts on their contact centers.

This is true in many industries, not just shopping. Demand for travel and hospitality shoots up as well, as people use their vacation time to travel to their families (or get away from them for a week) or fly somewhere warm for the winter.

There are even cooking hotlines that help callers prepare their meals. Every November and December, Butterball opens a “Turkey Talk Line” where 50+ turkey experts help thousands of households around the U.S. and Canada with their cooking questions.

Turkey Talk Line

According to Butterball, they answer more than 100,000 questions a year—within those two months. That means they need to set up a contact center that can handle that call volume, train their agents in using it, and keep it running for two months out of the year, plus compensate for the increased demand on Thanksgiving and winter holidays.

Suffice to say, the holiday season is anything but restful for contact center agents.

The top contact center holiday problems according to agents on Reddit

So, what does this all mean for contact center agents? They want to enjoy the holidays with their friends and families too, but someone needs to be on-call, so they’re dealing with customers and callers. So the least we can do, whether it’s as a contact center manager or a caller, is to make the contact center experience as pleasant as possible.

And what better way to learn about the challenges contact center agents face than from the agents themselves? A recent Reddit thread detailed several recurring problems agents encounter during the holidays, including:

1. Callers that expect everyone to be working as normal during holiday hours.

Yes, the contact centers do still have agents on-call, but they’re meant to be used for emergencies only (emphasis on “emergencies”). Things will be slower and there will be fewer agents than usual. Yet there are often callers expressing frustration that everything is slower when half the office is on vacation.

contact centers for the holidays

2. Limited access to data and tools.

Since the on-call agents are meant to be there for emergencies only, they won’t have access to all the information or functionality they normally would.

According to the Reddit post: “If you are calling to check an appointment time or schedule an appointment we might be able to take a message, but we don’t have access to those records or the ability to set appointments.”

Callers don’t always know or understand this when they call in.

3. Too many last-minute calls with questions or non-emergency issues

There’s no shortage of calls about questions that should have been addressed before the holidays, such as asking to schedule an appointment or trying to schedule a prescription refill.

These are doubly frustrating, because not only is it something that should have been taken care of in advance, the agents often won’t be able to assist with those due to the aforementioned limited access.

4. “I’m surprised you’re still open!”

Another common complaint is callers taking extra time to say “I can’t believe they make you work during the holidays” after each call. Yes, it’s meant to be empathetic, but the callers are directly contributing to the need for the contact centers to be open.

One of the comments directly addressed this: “If you were generally sympathetic towards us, you wouldn't call on holidays, but now you've done that, and you're stretching out the call to prove to us you're ‘one of the good guys.’”

Contact centers for the holidays

5. An increase in callers with no change in agents

In the case of industries that see a surge of callers and increased demand during the holidays (such as shopping and hospitality), the contact center agents often find themselves overworked with no change in staffing to meet the growing demand.

How can contact center supervisors prepare? 3 tips from our own Customer Experience team

Now that we know that there’s increased demand on contact centers during the holidays, and what issues agents working the holidays face, we can prepare and help alleviate their troubles.

From the contact center management side, there are a few things you can do:

1. Use IVR to help customers with last-minute calls and agents with limited access

You can help agents with limited access by adding self-service automations to your contact center. This will help alleviate the workload on agents by helping customers find information they need through, say, IVR menus.

Jen, our VP of Customer Experience, is a master when it comes to effective call deflection and one tip she gave is to “embed information right in your Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Have the key information in a recorded message, like your address or business hours, this way, when someone calls with a simple query they don’t need to be routed to a live agent.”

Dialpad, for example, has analytics that show you which IVR menu options are used more often (and also used least) by callers, so you can continuously refine your menus:

IVR menu tab

2. Understand how seasonal demand will impact your staffing needs

Be prepared to adjust agents based on demand to deal with the holiday rush. If you use a flexible and scalable platform (like Dialpad), you can add or remove seats as needed to meet your business’s needs during the busiest hours.

You can also help properly manage holiday staffing by using a workforce management tool. For instance, Dialpad integrates with Playvox WFM to provide forecasting and scheduling to make sure your contact centers are properly staffed.

According to Austin Guanzon, a contact center manager here at Dialpad: “We use Workforce Management (WFM) tools to help understand the trends on our channels. This is important because we need to understand how we should staff. Specifically, we look at our analytics and see what times we need to have more or fewer people (this also helps us manage time off requests—we want everyone to have a chance to take time off to spend with their friends and families).”

Need more insights into holiday staffing needs? Check heat maps and analytics to see when the busiest times are, and compare to historic data to see what call volume is usually like around the holidays (Dialpad’s call analytics can be particularly helpful here):

Heatmap

Austin and some of our other contact center managers note that some companies like to do a huge push right before the holidays to get the most sales or business possible before the year ends, so it’s important not to go too light or run a skeleton crew if this is the case for you.

3. Provide proactive help to reduce non-emergency calls and surprised customers

You can also help your agents by keeping your customers informed proactively, which will help make sure they call in before it’s too late and don’t hit agents with the ever-frustrating “I can’t believe you’re open during the holidays.”

Advise customers about the change in hours and staffing for the holidays, whether through email notifications, SMS messages, or automatic messages when they call in.

This can help reduce the number of non-emergency calls, or at the very least set customer expectations when they do have to call in.

Of course, it’s important to have a plan for when things do go wrong. Renee, our Support Development Coordinator, says to “determine what systems are most at risk, particularly any business-critical systems,” and “assign key personnel to handle and implement continuity plans if things go south” as part of your contact center best practices.

And if you’re a customer, the best thing you can do to help is take care of everything you need in advance. If you have support needs, don’t wait until Christmas Eve to call in for help. If you have a question, don’t wait until the last minute to ask.

If you do have to call in, expect longer hold times and a busy staff, but know that the agents are working their hardest to make sure you have a happy holiday season.

Is your contact center ready for the holiday rush?

With these points in mind, you can make sure your contact centers are ready for the season, and your agents will be able to provide the best customer experience while having the best work experience.

And remember: your agents are spending the holidays working, you should do something to recognize them for it. Holiday pay is nice (and, in fact, helps drive motivation to work during the holidays), but that little extra bit of recognition can go a long way to improving morale.

Happy holidays from all of us at Dialpad!