Proper Prior Planning Prevents a Painful Peak Season

Over the next few Fridays, we’ll explore some ways to ensure a high degree of success during your organization’s next peak season. My goal is to share the insight, ideas, and advice I’ve learned from hundreds of companies that will benefit your team—whether this is your first, or fifteenth, peak season. This week, we’re exploring seasonal planning, why it must happen in advance, and key guidelines for creating a peak season plan.

But first, a quick background on my personal experience: I spent most of my career working in hospitality and retail, where the intensity of peak seasons—like summer and the weeks leading up to Christmas—can lead to knock-down, drag-out fights. My roles have spanned being a frontline rep, trainer, coach, and senior leader. I’ve experienced the full range of pains that peak season can offer: being understaffed, overwhelmed, poorly trained, and nauseatingly under-resourced., But I’ve lived to tell about it and have gained invaluable insight about preventing peak season mistakes. And it all begins with having a solid plan.

The US Army has a saying: proper prior planning prevents poor performance. That advice might as well appear on page 1 of any guide to succeeding in peak season. In fact, if you take nothing else away from this blog series, know that proper prior planning prevents a painful peak season, too. Perhaps, you already know that you need a plan; you just don’t know what needs to be in it.

Here are a few types of information to consider when building your peak season plan:

Historical data from, at least, the past 3 years of the same peak season (for example, Memorial Day to Labor Day)

There is a lot of insight to glean from the past, if you know what questions to ask.

  • When does the peak season volume start trending up? When does it start trending down? Is this window widening or narrowing over time? When does the volume hit its absolute peak? And what staff and resources are required to meet that high point?
  • Is peak season volume increasing or decreasing over time? In other words, is your busiest time of year getting more, or less, busy? Is the volume in each channel staying consistent or shifting? How well have you historically met seasonal demand? Do you have enough staff hired, trained, and performing to standard in time? Have you found that you miscalculate when the peak season starts or ends?

Business intelligence and market conditions relative to the upcoming peak season

There will always be variables that don’t appear in historical reports but can be uncovered through conversations with marketing, product development, or other key stakeholders in your company.

  • Is your organization predicting a significant uptick or downswing in volume? Are you planning to release a new product, service, or experience leading up to, or during, the peak season? Have you budgeted for an increase in revenue or new accounts?
  • Have you changed service expectations or introduced new channels since the last peak season? What facts are you using and assumptions are making in your decisions on staffing and demand?
  • In what ways has the job market changed since your last peak season? Are there new candidate pools available? Have changes in law or policy impacted your ability to schedule, compensate, or otherwise attract or retain employees?

Strategic considerations and competitive landscape analysis

It’s also vital to go beyond the data to discuss and consider the ways in which succeeding (or failing) during the peak season will affect the business for the rest of the year.

  • In what ways has your team’s customer service strategy changed or evolved in the past year? And what new implications exist for the contact center? Is the service and support experience viewed as a competitive differentiator? If so, what changes must occur to ensure that you can effectively scale service with significant volume increases?
  • Has the competitive landscape expanded or diminished in the past year? How could this impact customer expectations and the desirability of your business?
  • What percentage of your business’s total revenue occurs during your peak season? How great is the variance as compared to other times of the year? Have you considered the financial implications of hitting or missing key performance metrics in peak season versus non-peak times?

The average rep’s time to proficiency

A common, but avoidable, oversight is to underestimate the amount of training and experience that’s required for seasonal staff to perform at full proficiency. It’s not appropriate or good for business to subject customers to reps who were rushed into their positions and performing below the accepted standard.

  • What type of staffing model is the best fit for your company? Is it a combination of full and part-time year-round roles? Will you introduce seasonal or temporary employees? Can work happen remotely or through an outsourced services provider?
  • What types of contacts are (or should be) handled by seasonal staff versus year-round employees? Is the routing structure in place to support this decision? In what way is the customer experience impacted if seasonal reps are limited in the scope of their authority as compared to year-round staff?
  • How much time is required to effectively train and prepare seasonal staff? What does this mean for your recruiting and hiring timelines? Does this open or eliminate new sources of talent?

As you can see, thoughtfully and properly preparing for peak season requires lots of consideration. But this pre-work, as tedious it may seem, is what enables best-in-class organizations to consistently deliver an exceptional experience to their customers—regardless of the time of year. Planning is worth the investment and will deliver measurable returns to your organization.

Next Friday, we’ll continue this series by looking at ways to reduce ramp time for new agents, as well as exploring the best metrics for measuring and managing performance.

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