In business, you’ve got to make hay when the sun shines. And to make hay you’ve got to be prepared. Seasonality is a fact of life for many businesses, particularly those companies operating in the E-Commerce, Fintech, SaaS, Sharing Economy and Adtech spaces. And the seasonal spikes are getting more pronounced by the year. Just look at Cyber Monday 2017: Adobe Digital Insights ran the numbers, revealing that it was the largest online sales day in US history with consumers spending $6.59bn, over $1bn more than in 2016. Black Friday and Thanksgiving also saw record-breaking transactions, with sales of $5.03bn and $2.87bn respectively.
Similar spikes can be seen across the tourist accommodation sector and the platforms that facilitate these transactions. According to Eurostat, 33% of annual nights spent were recorded in just two months, July and August.
Surges in customer demand like these present massive opportunities, both short term and long term. The short term opportunity is obvious – making more money by capitalizing on increased demand. The long term opportunity may be less obvious but is arguably more significant: reaching new high-value customers during the peak period and then retaining them all year long. This is where the real value lies, as loyal, long term customers spend more and promote the brand.
Taking full advantage of these opportunities is critical, but not easy – particularly when it comes to staffing and workforce management. Seasonal spikes require significant hiring ramps, involving the sourcing and onboarding of scores or hundreds of new teammates for the period to handle the increase in customer queries and requests. For example, a global Sharing Economy platform with whom Voxpro – powered by TELUS International works in partnership, experiences a number of significant peaks in customer contacts throughout the year. Flexing to meet these peaks can see a difference in staffing levels of over 75%.
Voxpro has extensive experience with ramping and hiring at scale for companies in the E-Commerce, Fintech, SaaS, Sharing Economy and Adtech spaces. It takes very careful planning and management but the rewards are significant. Here’s what we have learned about ramping with success:
- Hire seasonal teammates well in advance of the busy period in order to prepare them for success. The natural learning curve must be respected, and it is vital that the ‘nesting period’ is not bypassed as this has a proven negative impact on performance. Nesting is the period after training that involves agents working in the fully live environment, but with a lot of 121 support, ensuring that they’re performing at the highest level.
- Don’t change your hiring profile for ramps – maintain the same approach to recruiting the very best agents, with a view to them becoming full time teammates beyond the peak period. Hire people with empathy, technical proficiency and a ‘service mind-set’ – you will have direct contact with your customers during this period than at any other time of the year. Such contact is a valuable opportunity to delight your customers and deepen the relationship between them and your brand. The agents on the frontline are key to driving this forward.
- Don’t lose your values when it comes to the needs of your support team. You need to allow for time off, performance management, and effective communication as employee engagement is critical to ensuring optimum performance during a ramp. Over-hire to allow the following key activities to continue.
Holidays: during busy periods it is paramount that there’s enough rest time available for teammates to avoid burn out and absences.
Team meetings and 121s: it’s important that the managers keep on working with the agents on their performance and development.
Quality meetings: agents need to understand their areas for improvement especially if they are new or they are in the middle of a busy period.
- Reschedule company related offline activity to a more quiet time.
- Regular review the Capacity Plan to ensure that the forecasted capacity will continue to be aligned with the actual demand curve, and work on resolving any discrepancy. When you’re in a ramp period your integral volumes may change; for example you may need to extend open hours for a period of time, and you need to have that flexibility.
- Maintain a low ACW (after call work) rate to increase availability and maintain a high SLA.
- Prioritise the channels that drive most of the volume (eg calls vs emails vs social media vs chat).
- Frequently review the schedule to ensure that any gaps are quickly spotted and resolved. It is important to maintain the same ratios of support for agents as in non-ramp periods, as this is critical to high performance.
- Celebrate success. This is very important for morale and employee engagement.
Ramping carefully and correctly is not just about handling volume and increasing annual profit; it’s also central to building deeper and longer lasting relationships with customers. Every single customer contact is an opportunity to delight, and during seasonal spikes there are many such opportunities. Don’t waste them: plan carefully, hire correctly, and execute with conviction. Your customers will thank you.