Thrive, Not Survive During Those Contact Center Peaks


I was recently asked to share some ideas and tips with the readers at Customer Service Weekly as part of a larger Black Friday Survival Guide. It’s a fantastic resource and you should definitely check it out.

“Black Friday” isn’t just one day a year

I want to let you in on a little secret. Working for a software company, our contact center is all but dead on Black Friday — and that’s been the case for most of my career in the contact center.

Sure, there was my stint with the outsourcer — where one of my favorite things to do was to observe the seasonality of the various programs we supported. For example, retail companies often double their staff from Black Friday to Christmas. Financial services companies slowly ramp up as they approach tax season. Or one of my favorites, fitness companies go berserk right after the new year when everyone has resolved to get healthy. I could go on and on.

Why do I bring this up? It’s important to acknowledge that, while we spend a ton of energy talking about Black Friday, your peak season may land on a completely different day, month, or season of the year. The skills and ideas translate.

3 tips to thrive amid contact center peaks

I firmly believe that, though we might talk about survival, your contact center can thrive during peak volume. In fact, sometimes peak seasons can actually serve to galvanize the team and the entire company — requiring strong collaboration to ensure everyone’s success. Here are three ways to help your team during these times.

1. Declare an all-hands-on-deck situation

It’s easy and fairly normal for the folks in the contact center to feel over-utilized and under-appreciated. Raise your hand if you’ve ever said or even thought something like the following:

  • “That programmer should try talking to a customer who’s frustrated as a result of buggy code.”
  • “Maybe the executive that created that silly policy should try explaining it thirty times a day.”
  • My manager thinks they know what empathy is, but maybe they should try showing empathy to a customer yelling at the top of their lungs.”

Wow, those examples feel a bit too real. I wonder if I have some latent anger I need to deal with. Regardless, over the course of my career, we’ve done a number of things to combat this and break down some of these walls.

One of my favorite and best ways to over-appreciate the contact center is to have executives and engineers hang out on the contact center floor. They can spend time providing extra support to the team, squashing bugs, fast-tracking feature requests, and even talking directly to escalated customers as needed. In cases where we’ve done this, the team feels appreciated and supported, and it builds up a tremendous amount of respect and trust across the organization.

Are you outsourcing your customer support? Consider being on-site with your team during those times. Is your team remote? Create a special channel in Slack that executives and engineers watch like hawks to address issues as they arise.

2. Look for balance anywhere you can find it

The busy seasons so easily throw the contact center, and the staff, out of balance. Is staff tempted to skip breaks and lunches? Are they working late and sacrificing sleep and exercise? Are people sputtering along on a diet of candy, soda, and free pizza? This is a fast track to burn out and should be avoided at all costs.

Here are some ideas to combat this:

  • Food – Aim to provide sensible snacks for the team. It doesn’t have to be carrots and celery but maybe also hold off on the candy, pizza, soda, and ice cream. Find a happy medium, providing good fuel for the team.
  • Exercise – I love a good ping pong table or dartboard in the office. I’ve also seen movies displayed on contact center wallboards and video game tournaments in break rooms. And perhaps a good tournament and a variety of activities is enough structure to get team members to step away from their desk, move around, and have a little fun in the process. Don’t let that wonderful equipment sit in the corner gathering dust.
  • Leave work at work – I’ve more than once told an agent, stressed out over a full call queue, “I don’t need you to be a hero. I just need you to do your very best work on the call you’re on.” As much as possible, put your team in the position to give each customer their utmost focus and attention and stress the importance of going home and unplugging afterward.

3. Litter your contact center with positivity

In busy seasons, it’s critical to take any and all opportunities to keep the vibe positive in the contact center. Here’s a list of ideas:

  • Post inspirational quotes in strategic places.
  • Create a Slack channel dedicated to positive feedback from customers. I’m a huge fan of this free integration from MaestroQA.
  • Celebrate progress on team metrics. Perhaps it’s improving customer satisfaction or getting through a larger-than-normal queue of work.
  • Publicly praise team members for completing special projects or taking extra initiative.
  • Use animated GIFs and memes like they’re going out of style.
  • Set aside time in team meetings to have a little fun. Maybe even play a game or do a craft together. Not a huge time commitment — just enough to break up the monotony.

And that’s about all I’ve got as far as helping contact centers thrive during a peak season. Is there anything you would add to this list? Leave a comment below and share what’s worked in your contact center. I’m always looking for new, fresh ideas!

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Jeremy Watkin is Director of Customer Experience and Support at NumberBarn. He has more than 19 years of experience as a customer service and contact center professional leading high performing teams in the contact center. Jeremy has been recognized numerous times as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, product marketing, social media, and more. When not working you can typically find him spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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