Every industry can expect a solid hike in sales during the holiday season, and this year is no exception: according to the National Retail Federation, sales this year are predicted to increase 3.6% to $655.8 billion, which is significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5%.
To prepare for the flood of shoppers before the holiday season, many retailers take to seasonal hiring. You see it in the news every year—retailers like Target and Macy’s frequently hire tens of thousands of extra workers to help manage the onslaught of shoppers.
But what does the increase in holiday traffic mean for ecommerce? Well, when Amazon is hiring 20% more seasonal workers this year, we can assume that other online businesses are likely to see a surge in traffic as well—and all these visitors will have no shortage of questions for your support staff.
Don’t get lost in the holiday shuffle and overwhelm your agents. Use the following guide to identify and fulfill your staffing needs this winter.
If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, you may not immediately think you need to take up seasonal hiring. Or if you do have a physical storefront to manage, you may be more concerned with hiring staff for your floors than for your online presence.
But your current live chat support team may not be able to handle the influx of chat requests this holiday season, and whether or not you’re ready for it, your visitors will have just as many questions as usual (if not more). If they don’t get them answered in a timely fashion, they may spend a lot less time and money holiday shopping with your business.
Do you need more live chat agents this holiday shopping season? The following actions can help you determine your seasonal staffing needs:
Did you have high website traffic last holiday season? Can you estimate how much higher your conversion rate/revenue might be if you increased support this time around?
Was there a high number of live chat requests last holiday season? What was the abandonment rate (i.e. how many customers gave up on waiting and abandoned the chat queue), and was it higher than usual?
Has there been a steady increase in site traffic over the last few quarters? In this case, it’s possible you may anticipate more visitors this holiday season than last.
How many hours are they looking to work this holiday season? Are any of your agents interested in increasing their hours? Would bringing in additional agents help ease their workloads?
If you’ve identified a need for more agents, then you’re first step is going to be hiring the right people. From your initial job posting to the legal concerns of onboarding temporary workers, we’ve outlined our top three tips for a successful holiday employment process.
To find the best and most qualified agents, try to start your search by posting to job boards that appeal to seasonal workers and customer support professionals.
The following boards can help you reach support professionals looking for extra work over the holidays:
After finding and interviewing your candidates, make sure your prospective hires are trustworthy in addition to competent. While you might not have to worry about internal shrinkage with live chat agents, you will have to be aware that sensitive customer and company information is up for grabs. In addition to making sure your processes limit the possibility for stolen information, be sure to conduct quality background checks for seasonal agents.
This can be done at city, state/province, or federal level. What you choose will be dependent upon where you are from—for example, in the U.S. a background check by the local police will not include any information concerning crimes committed in other states. For this reason, many U.S. employers request background checks from the FBI.
The process can naturally be more complicated with an international hire. This is why it’s critical to ask for references. But that alone won’t verify the legitimacy of your candidate, as there are companies that can pretend to be references for job-seekers—and quite convincingly so. Here are some tips to help you verify a reference:
Be cognizant of relevant labor laws when considering seasonal hires for your live chat needs. How you legally classify these workers will depend upon laws and regulations of your local and federal jurisdictions.
For example, are you legally required to use the term seasonal employee? If so, what does this mean for your company in terms of taxes, healthcare, benefits, and labor laws?
The following links can serve as a guide, but be sure to speak to the appropriate legal representative for further information.
It’s unlikely that your seasonal hires will have as much knowledge, experience, or training as your normal agents. They may not be able to meet your normal response time, chat volume, or handle time goals. As a result, setting the bar too high for seasonal hires can lead to customer dissatisfaction, and the cost of bad service is astronomical—about $338.5 billion worldwide, according to this survey by Genesys.
To make sure you keep expectations manageable for your holiday agents, keep these tips in mind:
Advertise your support channels on:
Carefully consider all of your resource needs; if you don’t hire enough seasonal workers, you risk overwhelming your normally employed agents. Not to mention, seasonal workers have less of a reason to put up with fatigue than normally-employed agents (they are less invested in the job, after all). This could translate into unexpected turnover for you.
What experience your seasonal agents have can determine what kind of chat requests they are able to handle.
While you may have goals that you want your agents to meet, such as a specific chat volume or number of resolutions, you don’t want to overwhelm seasonal hires by setting the bar too high—after all, they will be generally less familiar with your company and processes. While you want to monitor and track metrics, understand that adjustments will be necessary for seasonal hires, especially those with less live chat or customer support experience.
Using your most experienced or best-performing agents as supervisors for seasonal workers can help reduce the strain on current supervisors. It can also allow your team to test agents for future managerial positions. Consider putting these seasonal supervisors in charge of:
They can monitor the chats in real-time if you have this feature.
Guide them with specific words or phrases to look out for. This can help you track seasonal hire performance in ways that traditional metrics can’t always convey. (For example, you may see that one agent may have unusually fast resolution times. While you might think this is a positive sign, a look at the transcripts might reveal sloppy or subpar resolutions.)
Your seasonal hires will inevitably have some questions and concerns. These temporary supervisors will act as their go-to resource.
Holiday supervisors can create reports concerning seasonal workers. You can use these reports to make adjustments throughout the season, as well as to help you set standards for the following holiday rush.
Using live chat scripts has many benefits. If you don’t already use them, you may want to review our blog post on the many reasons it could benefit your live chat operation.
Seasonal agents in particular will benefit from the use of scripts. Scripts can help agents:
You can use scripts for simple things like greetings, salutations, and hold messages. But you can also update your current scripts to reflect specific holiday-related information. For example, you may want to remind customers of your holiday promotions when greeting them. Or you can prepare canned answers for common, holiday-specific questions that might not otherwise belong in the FAQ.
Seasonal live chat agents can really help make the holiday season a success for your company. Have you hired seasonal live chat agents in the past? Are you planning to hire seasonal agents? How do you plan to hire and manage them?