Gearing Up for the Holiday Rush (1,954 words)
Taylor reiterates that many of the most pressing challenges for retailers are the same online as they are in the brick-and-mortar world.
"Today most e-tailers don't have their own back-end systems. Land's End has that, as well as its own call center. If you're a new e-tailer, you have to build [these systems] yourself, or outsource them." Bottom-line: A Web site may be easy to build, but an online business takes a lot more effort.
Prepare the Troops for Battle
Providing solid customer service is a huge issue for direct merchants—and one that's particularly sticky during the holiday rush. Do the challenges of manning a call center differ seasonally? Yes, says Liz Kislik.
She says the seasonal call center population can serve two purposes: 1) to cover the surge of the peak period; and/or 2) to ready a workforce you can draw from for subsequent peak periods or as full-time reps.
Proper training is fundamental to producing efficient employees, Kislik points out. Unfortunately, she says, "It's very common—though not good—to have the training period truncated or telescoped" during the holidays.
To avoid this error, it's useful to try training new staff on easier duties, such as catalog requests and straight orders, she recommends. Try a phone system that automatically routes simple calls to new reps, and leave difficult tasks, such as back-order check-ins, to reps with more experience.
If you must abridge your training period, says Kislik, go for a lab-oriented, rather than a lecture-based, approach. Although difficult in terms of time, space and resources, alternating short periods of training with even shorter periods of hands-on learning in the call center itself is a valuable approach. You'll get them over the learning curve quickly, she says, if you flip between "real-live and follow-ups of debriefing and coaching."
A major reason reps are lost during this time of year is because they are poorly trained and then thrown to the wolves on the call center floor—what Kislik calls "equivalent to a developmental sin."