Call center series Customer service operator free icon 2With Thanksgiving a distant memory, signs of the holiday season are all around. From carols being played over malls’ PA systems, to holiday themed drinks at local coffee klatches, things have gotten much more festive, and businesses are hoping the holiday cheer will lead to a growth in holiday spending. However, this potential spike in revenue can lead to a spike in stress for consumers, and those who feel the brunt of said stress are often a company’s customer service agents.

This time of year sees a significant increase in calls placed to contact centers, which can lead to longer hold times, which can lead to customers becoming more frustrated, and complaints becoming more frequent. It comes as no surprise, then, that consumers have reported feeling as though the quality of customer service actually declines during the holidays, while contact center agents are stretched thin just trying to handle the surge in call volume.

But what is it that consumers are actually looking for from a business? These days, it is not necessarily the hottest toy, huge sales, or even free shipping. Such things have become so commonplace, especially during the holidays, that they are practically expected. Instead, companies should focus on factors such as brand strength, distribution, and, most importantly, the customer experience. Customers look not only at the price and convenience of an item, but also how purchasing said item made them feel. Here are three ways for contact centers to provide a truly superior holiday experience for their customers.

Preparing

Before sending agents head first in the holiday craze, companies should see if there are any gaps in their customer support. A review of their processes can help see if there any superfluous steps, or if a little extra help is required. If a company uses call recording, the holidays are a perfect time to put that to use, allowing managers to discover how their teams did during the previous holidays. Call mining software such as speech analytics can also be especially useful, as companies can search for specific complaints and queries from the previous year such as people wanting to speak to supervisors or inquiring about shipping policies. Speech analytics can allow contact centers to convert data into actionable insights, thus better preparing their agents for the oncoming seasonal rush.

Training

Ensuring agents are properly trained to calmly and successfully handle any situation is a mainstay of a contact center’s success for the season. Agents should be thoroughly knowledgeable about the business and its goods and services, as well as specific factors regarding the holidays such as discounts. This can help relieve nearly 50% of the customer’s confusion, and make things less stressful for the agent, as well.   Managers and supervisors can also utilize coaching and training tools such as call recording to review calls with their agents, seeing where their strengths lie and what areas might need improvement. This is especially useful in helping agents learn how to deal with more difficult questions or, perhaps more importantly, more difficult customers.

Understanding

The holidays can be a source of great anxiety for many people, and one of the best things for contact centers to do is to be aware and empathetic to that fact. By getting into the customer’s state of mind, agents can better see how to help them. Although the call volume may go up, agents must take the time to truly address each caller’s questions or concerns, and make them feel special. Even just starting a call with a smile, no matter how hectic the day has been, can have a huge impact on a call. The smile will come across in an agent’s voice, and help put the customer more at ease.   Also, whenever possible, try to address each caller by name. This will make them feel more like a person, and not a problem. When agents focus on the connections they can make with customers, everybody wins.

89% of companies are expected to compete with one another based mainly on customer experience by 2016, up from 36% five years ago. Companies are focused less on how they can get the customer to buy something today, and more on how they can keep the customer tomorrow. The experience customers receive during the holidays should be a reflection of the experience they can expect year round. By having the right tools and training, contact centers can help guarantee the holidays are truly a time of joy for everyone.