I always look back with a great sense of pride at what MeUndies’ Customer Experience team accomplishes during the holidays. During those few intense weeks toward the end of the year, however, it often feels like there’s no end in sight.

It’s grueling.

For many support organizations, especially those working in e-commerce, the last quarter of the year presents enormous logistical challenges. Not only does support volume increase, but the intensity and severity of customer issues seem to increase as well.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things your support team can do to prepare to keep your customers happy and your team engaged.

Building a model for success

The first place to start when planning for a busy period is by reviewing your headcount model. In its most basic form, a headcount model should consider your estimated contact volume and give you an indication of how many team members you would need to handle it.

MeUndies uses a similar method that takes our total order forecast to predict inbound contact volume. From that, we can break down — by day and hour — how many team members we would need in each support channel to maintain our service level agreements.

If this sounds overwhelming, I’d suggest checking out a simple but powerful headcount model from Bill Bounds to get started.

Preparing for battle

Once you’ve figured out how many team members you’re going to need, it’s time to consider a few tactical approaches to help you through the busy season.

1. Consider additional staff

Part-time or seasonal staffing can often help get you through a temporary spike in contact volume when full-time members might not be needed. This type of staffing is especially common in retail environments when shopping picks up for just a few weeks of the year. If you intend to go this route, give yourself enough time for a complete training and onboarding experience to give your new team members the best chance for success.

2. Prepare playbooks

Anticipate your most frequent issue types and build playbooks around them for your team and customers. Playbooks can entail training, help articles, and, in some cases, proactive outreach. The intent isn’t to cut corners but rather to help drive up efficiency and lower handle times by deflecting the most common issues.

One playbook we’ve developed at MeUndies helps customers in our membership program. When our members open and click on their subscription notification email each month, a proactive chat appears on their MeUndies account page. A Customer Experience team member then offers assistance to help the customer find the best product available. It’s a concierge-like membership experience that helps us boost retention rates as well.

We also create temporary help center articles for things like our Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions and deploy them in key areas of the shopping experience. These articles help reduce customer confusion and even improve our conversion rates. If customers do end up needing assistance, it’s not a problem; we’ve already created macros to help the team respond with ease.

3. Review your staffing schedule

Review your staffing schedule to determine if expanding daily or hourly coverage would help maintain your SLAs. For example, if you’re able to segment metrics like CSAT or First Reply Time by hour or day, you may find a subset of customers who don’t receive the same level of service because of how your schedule is set up. This is especially important if your customer base is global.

While MeUndies doesn’t promote weekend support availability (there is no such thing as an underwear emergency), we do have a smaller crew that helps respond to customer concerns during off-peak times. In addition to expanding coverage, we also schedule “all hands” days, which means that we aim for 100% staffing for the Customer Experience team on key days (Cyber Monday) when we estimate the volume to spike.

Keeping the team aligned

One of the most difficult and least discussed aspects of the holiday season is how often it negatively impacts the morale of your team. The queues are seemingly endless, and customer concerns can reach a fever pitch during the holidays when many orders are time sensitive. It’s stressful, and ignoring that simple fact can be harmful to your team. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to keep the team engaged and motivated.

Make it enjoyable

Have as much fun with the change of pace as you possibly can.

You can’t anticipate everything that might happen during peak season, so it’s critical to balance achieving service excellence with team happiness.

Last year, the MeUndies Customer Experience team ran an internal contest for several weeks during our busy season that awarded the winning team member a trip for two to Las Vegas.

We also run smaller, daily contests for things like highest CSAT and most creative customer response. It helps to keep these contests more creative and less KPI-oriented so that the focus isn’t just about efficiency and output. We also run team building events and catered lunches and offer a generous work-from-home policy.

Be aware of burnout

For CX leaders, you’ve got to balance the momentum of the team’s workload while staying aware of employee burnout. When you start to notice a team member hit empathy fatigue, give them some space. Encourage team members to take adequate breaks and time off. It’s also worth digging into their workload to determine if there is a specific aspect that contributes to burnout.

I’d also encourage support leaders to learn from prior mistakes and successes. Earlier this year, the MeUndies Customer Experience team held an off-site gathering to discuss what worked last year, what didn’t, and how we can perform better this year as a result. We came away with some actionable next steps on how to improve heading into our busiest season ever.

Find ways to celebrate

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate success. It’s an enormous sigh of relief once you’ve reached the end of your busy season, and it’s important to recognize and reward your team for a job well done. After last year’s holiday season, each MeUndies Customer Experience team member got some much needed relaxation from an in-office massage therapist.

There are infinite options for celebrating a successful holiday period…but at MeUndies I’m pretty confident we’ll soon be seeing those massage therapists again!

TJ Stein

TJ Stein

TJ is the Director of Customer Experience at MeUndies, one of the fastest growing retail companies in the U.S. Reach out on Twitter and LinkedIn.