‘Tis the season, which means that contact centers supporting retail customers have finished their planning for the busy holidays months ago — or right about now they’re wishing they had done a better job of planning.

That being said, we also must recognize that “seasonality” means something different depending on the business. Consider companies that sell swimwear, vacation rentals, or pet sitting services who are just beginning to plan for the summer rush. Then there are those companies that sell flowers, candy, or greetings cards who have several busy times each year (think Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween).

It’s always peak season for some contact center somewhere — and no matter how much you plan, you’ll always aim to plan better or differently the next time around. In this article, I’ll highlight eight ideas to aid your contact center as you plan for a successful peak season.

1. Plan Ahead for Your Staffing Needs

Seasonality in the contact center often means hiring more staff to handle the increased volume of customer interactions. This requires forecasting, which is about looking at historical volumes and expected company growth to predict future staffing needs. A robust workforce management tool can make forecasting and scheduling so much easier, putting the right number of agents in the right schedules to handle that volume.

2. Be Prepared to Scale Quickly

It may not be practical to stand up a brand new office and contact center to house all of the new agents during peak season. This is why more and more companies are embracing a remote workforce or hiring outsourcers. With a cloud contact center, it’s simple to add and remove agents as quickly as necessary to continue to meet staffing demands. And for companies who pack the additional staff into their existing contact center but don’t have enough space for each agent to have their own desk, this makes it much easier for agents to share and swap desks as needed.

3. Know What’s Driving Volume

One of the most difficult things to do when it gets busy in the contact center is to continue to think proactively — but that’s exactly what’s needed. It’s important to understand why customers are contacting support, what product issues and bugs exist, and why customers are upset and/or churning. Speech analytics can help contact center leaders gain this understanding so they can share insight with the rest of the organization. This allows the company to address the issues that drive significant customer interaction volume, helping to keep you within your staffing plan.

4. Keep Quality a Priority

Quality assurance is often one of the first things to go when things get busy. Even dedicated quality supervisors, whose sole job is quality assurance, are often asked to either assist with floor support (helping answer agent questions) or even jump on the front lines. Either way, this is a big mistake; not only do you lose this critical coaching and feedback mechanism in your contact center, but it happens at a time when there are a ton of new agents on the floor who could benefit from coaching and feedback.

So don’t sacrifice quality, but do consider working smarter. This ebook has some fresh ideas for busy contact centers who want to get the most out of their quality assurance program.

5. Keep Agents on Task

During the busy season, we can ill afford wasted time in the contact center. To keep everyone on task, consider emphasizing real-time adherence (RTA) with visibility to wallboards so everyone is mindful of the important role in getting the work done. RTA ensures that agents stay on task, take their scheduled breaks and lunches, and return to work when they’re supposed to. After all, what good is the schedule you created if no one follows it?

As a word of caution, be careful about showing wallboards to the frontline agents unless your goal is to make them work faster to handle all calls in queue. For some contact centers, working faster can panic agents and diminish the quality of service customers receive.

6. Quickly Connect Agents with Experts

When agents have questions for a supervisor while on a call with a customer, the agent needs immediate access to him/her. Sure, some companies still have the luxury of having everyone under the same roof, but as soon as you introduce an outsourcer, multiple offices, or a remote workforce, a better process for internally supporting agents becomes imperative. You need a contact center solution with a shared presence so agents can see who’s available, and the ability to reach out to groups of experts throughout the business for support as opposed to contacting a bunch of people at one time to see who answers first.

7. Invest in Self-Help Now

In the book, The Effortless Experience, Dixon, Toman, and Delisi reveal that “Nearly 58% of a company’s inbound call volume comes from customers who first were on the company’s web site, but for some reason or another, still ended up calling the contact center.” Contact center leaders must realize that self-help is a support channel (like phone, email, chat, etc) and aim to create content that enables customers to solve their own issues. By doing so, the rate at which your customer base grows outpaces the rate at which customers contact support — and we’ll take all the help we can get during peak season.

Looking to prioritize self-help content but don’t know where to start? Try going back to your speech analytics platform and aim to build more content around your top support drivers. Your frontline agents who interact with customers all day, every day will welcome the opportunity to contribute insight and help improve this channel.

8. Invest in Your Agents Now

It can be easy in the contact center to grow complacent during periods of low volume, but if you use that time to plan you can preempt frenzy later. As you’re planning for a busy season use any downtime for additional team building, training, and coaching. The team needs to be fully proficient and able to efficiently handle the demands of the busy season, so take advantage of every spare moment you have to do so.

And for heaven’s sake, be sure to encourage everyone in your contact center to exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and use those gigantic vats of hand sanitizer you purchased. For this plan to pay off, all bugs and illnesses must steer clear of your contact center.

The great news is that with careful planning, peak season should be smooth sledding. And if you do happen to have some free time on your hands, you might enjoy reading 8 Contact Center Trends to Watch in 2020 while sipping your favorite seasonal beverage.