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Surviving the pre-Christmas rush

Thursday, 28 November 2013 | By Michael Hansen

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always frenzied.


With fewer business days in December, the rush to get all important activity completed before a lengthy summer break, and the wave of retail activity, we’re all significantly busier than usual. And that’s before we even look at our seasonal social obligations!


For start-ups, particularly those in retail, travel and hospitality, or businesses supporting these industries, the pre-Christmas rush can be particularly challenging. Customers expect exceptional and immediate service, particularly in the seasonal dash when nobody has time to wait around.


Typically with smaller staff numbers than larger and well-established competitors, even the most prepared start-up can find itself under the pump. Keeping customer satisfaction high during the holiday season is important. With the big swing in volume of customer interactions, how do you maintain the same high quality of customer service during the most important season of the year?


There are a few ways to keep you and your business both sane and successful leading up to Christmas.


1. Improve your self-service offerings


Most of your customers prefer to find answers on their own. Our own Benchmarking research showed that in December of last year, retailers with a customer satisfaction rating of below 75 had less than half the number of customers viewing self-service content than those with 75 or higher. The key for pre-Christmas success is to focus on improving your self-service offerings.


Whether that be developing a knowledge base or forum, encouraging online communities or making sure that your knowledge base is optimised and content rich in FAQs around common Christmas time requests or new product queries, a successful self-service portal will not only keep your customers happy but take some of the additional pressure off you and your team.


2. Reduce response time for customer requests


Speed is often the deciding factor between a good and a bad customer service experience. In our research, the December period of 2012 showed that companies with a customer satisfaction rating of below 75 had a significantly higher first response time than those with 75 or higher. On average, they took about 14 more hours to respond to a request.


Focusing on improving your response time will ensure you’re prepared for the holidays. There are a few ways of approaching this.


Firstly, using macros allows you to answer support requests with a single, standard response. This saves you the time and effort of crafting a separate response to each customer that has the same issue. You can automatically respond with links to relevant information in your knowledge base while you work on the request, giving your customers the opportunity to solve their own issue.


Secondly, integrating all your channels – social media, phone and email– can greatly improve your ability to respond quickly. Using one system to handle every customer query, no matter the channel through which it came, ensures that responses are consistent, easier to track and sharable.


3. Be flexible with your role


Start-ups and business owners wear many different hats, and with the increase in activity leading up to the holidays, it’s important to maintain that flexibility not only for yourself but to get your team on board, as well. Be open and honest with your team before the busy period hits and make sure they’re onside; they may need to pick up some activity during this time that isn’t necessarily part of their day-to-day role.


4. Work smarter hours


Working hours for you and the team may be different in the pre-Christmas rush. This doesn’t have to mean everyone working lots of overtime, just everyone working smarter.


Take a good look at your customer request flow by time of day as your customers could really need support at night or during non-business hours. This could mean establishing a team (or even one freelance agent) in another time zone, or staggering your work day across locations (home and office) without having to hire a remote representative. If you have a team, it could mean splitting working hours for some to start and finish early and others later so customer inquiries can be answered outside normal business hours.


5. Have some fun


While work is go, go, go, it’s important to take some time out. Have fun and ensure that you and the team are still enjoying yourselves. Take a break and recharge over a beer or at one of the many Christmas parties you’ll be invited to. Christmas can often be a good time to reflect back on the year that has passed and recognise the achievements of you, the company and your team.


6. Plan a break


Have a holiday to look forward to. Whether that’s over Christmas and New Year, or later on in the summer, it’s always nice to know there’s some time off at the end of the tunnel!