Peak Season Planning Secrets: Ramp Faster & Measure Meaningfully

Last week’s blog teed up the importance of properly preparing customer support teams for peak season. This week’s post looks closely two topics that are valuable year-round but are especially mission-critical when quickly ramping up new employees for high-volume seasons:

  1. How to best onboard agents quickly and effectively
  2. How to best measure frontline reps

When I ask customer support leaders what they’d like to improve about their rep onboarding process, improving time-to-proficiency is often the first thing they mention. It’s not at all surprising to want to get frontline employees out of training and performing to standards ASAP, so what are the attributes of organizations that do this well?

Keep job descriptions up-to-date

A common challenge in ramping agents quickly and effectively is having job descriptions that reflect the daily reality of each role on the team. It’s shocking to see the large percentage of organizations that evolve but do not regularly review and update job descriptions to reflect those changes. A good rule of thumb is to review and update job descriptions every six months and before major periods of hiring and recruiting.

Focus on quality, not quantity

When ramping up for peak season, it’s tempting to hire for quantity and compromise on the quality of hires. While hiring-by-the-masses may fulfill your need for “bodies,” this approach risks irreversible harm to both the company and the customer experience. These hiring practices often lead to exponentially higher turnover rates which cause excessive, preventable costs. A little diligence during the recruiting process will save considerable time, money, and stress in the long run.

Equip agents with effective tools, and train them well

As a former training manager, I’ve been asked to review many new hire training skills, and I often see an excessive focus on product knowledge with minimal emphasis on tools and resources. Yes product knowledge is important. But leading organizations recognize that it’s equally—if not more—important to have robust tools and resources that house the company’s knowledge. In those organizations, training focuses on making reps experts at using their tools to find the answers they need, rather than spending time training reps on information they’ll soon forget and need to look up anyway.

Recognize knowledge decay, and refresh training accordingly

Neither new nor experienced reps will ever retain all the information they learn in training. It’s inevitable that, after a certain period of time, processes will change or they simply won’t remember certain details. I call this amount of time between learning and forgetting something “knowledge decay,” and it’s the reason that refresher training is essential at appropriate intervals. For example, if reps only handle a certain situation during peak season, deliver refresher training in the weeks or months ahead of that season.

If you haven’t planned or accounted for this refresher training, you’ll likely find that tenured agents are less effective and knowledgeable than new hires in those instances of seasonal contact. This disparity can be both demoralizing and counterproductive. Always be certain that tenured, year-round staff is trained up and familiar with any topics that will be fresh in the minds of new staff.

Once your team is fully staffed for peak season, consider the metrics that will be the most and least effective in measuring and managing performance. And when it comes down to front-line employees, there are two fundamental metrics they can practically affect:

1. Schedule Adherence: Are reps in the right place at the right time?

This is as simple as it sounds. Are reps consistently abiding by their schedule? This is crucial in contact centers where forecasts are created based on specific periods of volume demand. When reps don’t adhere to their schedules, the impacts are felt across the contact center.

2. Quality: Does the quality of each customer interaction deliver on expectations?

This can include several factors such as interpreting customer requirements correctly, entering data accurately, and providing correct information. It’s unfair to “ding” a rep on quality if they don’t have the tools, resources, training, and empowerment necessary for success.

While these two metrics may appear quite simple, they’re incredibly nuanced and fundamental to success during peak season. Having reps focus on being in the right place, at the right time, and on delivering a quality experience, will improve employee performance and increase customer satisfaction. To learn more about these metrics, feel free to reach out to me here.

Next week, I’ll address one of the biggest challenges in organizations today: increasing rep productivity. We’ll evaluate specific barriers to productivity and outline specific, repeatable behaviors of the most productive reps.

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