Working in the holiday season for any support professional is going to be one of the most stressful times of the year.
If you’re in retail customer support, it’s probably the busiest time of the year for you, customers are going shopping mad, and then they realize how the toy store is trying to empty their wallet. It might be fun for your customers, but how do you make sure you and your team get to enjoy some family time during the holidays without causing customer riots?
It’s a different story if you’re in support at a tech company. Work’s so quiet that you’re just waiting for the phone to ring or an email to come through. But you can’t relax – you’ve always got to make sure there’s someone on call in case of emergencies. Who can cover support when the office is closed? How well have you communicated workload expectations to your team? What do your customers expect?”
To get the rundown on some of best ways to manage your support over the holidays, we reached out to find out some top tips with some of the best prepared support employees to tackle this holiday season.
Whitney Klinker (@whitklink), Community Manager, Lose it!
Call in Santa’s Elves! Now is a great time to enlist Jan from Marketing to help out in Support.
She should know your product well enough to be able to answer basic cases and pick up some of the workload if you have support staff completely offline. And hey – it’s a great chance for other departments to get some face time with your customers!
Just be sure you have a seasoned support agent assigning cases to your temporary holiday helpers. This ensures that they are dealing with cases they are equipped to handle.
Sarah Chambers (@sarahleeyoga), Head of Support, Kayako
Retail tends to be swamped, so get all hands on deck. Create an FAQ on returns and refunds so it limits customer requests. Then use automations to pull all return requests into one queue so that you can easily manage them. Get on Facebook Messenger to help customers on the go.
Above all, remember that this is a stressful time for your customers. Holidays are expensive, busy and often filled with relatives that might drive you mad. Keep that in mind if a customer gets grumpy – be empathetic and you could turn that grinch around.
Mercer Smith-Looper (@mercenator) Support Engineer, Trello
My advice would just be to be as transparent as possible. Make sure that everyone knows who is working and when.
It’s totally fine to want to take off three days in a row or to not want to pick up any “holiday” shifts, Making sure you are transparent and clear about that (rather than saying “oh, maybe I can work a few hours on Christmas…”) sets everyone else up for success.
Scott Allison (@scott_allison), Director of Customer Support, Talkdesk
Customers now use multiple devices and channels to purchase an item and reach out to a company about that purchase. In light of these trends, it’s vitally important that you have all angles covered over the holidays.
Does your site have a live chat option? Do you offer real-time phone support? Can your customers find answers to their questions online in an FAQ or knowledge base? If not, it might be worth looking into providing more options for your customer base to reach out to you.
I’d recommend that you come up with a working or shift schedule early so there’s no confusion among staff at the last minute.
Then you need think about the well being and happiness of your staff. For instance you could offer compensation days for those who are working on what your company considers a paid holiday. It’s important everyone gets an equal amount of time off.
Sukhpreet Anand, (@sanand_24), Technical Support Consultant, Kayako
First, relax your staff – give them time off too! Rotate holidays between experienced and new staff, aim to maintain a balance. If you’re in need of urgent help call your experts during the holidays, because they can resolve the cases quickly without much waiting time for customers.
Keep email notifications on so you can update customers while you’re away from your desk. Keep knowledge base links handy, so that you can route your customers to appropriate knowledge base article as and when required.
Dustin Bromley (@DustinJBromley), Support Team Lead, Unbounce
We’ve found that when email-only support coverage during the holidays is communicated clearly to customers in advance, then everyone is super understanding and awesome about it!
As for our support reps, the office is closed between Christmas and New Years, so we split up the workdays into two shifts. Every coach picks one, handling email support only. Everyone who works a shift gets 1.5 days off in lieu.
Miriam Keshani (@MimiKeshani), Chief Happiness Officer, Sparrho
If you’re an extremely small company, (i.e. your support team equals one person), it’s important not to impose unrealistic deadlines. Try being transparent about when feedback will be properly responded to.
We’d all love to proclaim “all queries will be answered within 24 hours” but often this isn’t manageable, especially around the holidays, and policies like that can lead to stressed out employees and frustrated users.
At particularly busy times, we’ve found a simple auto-reply to explain the situation and outline when a query will be responded to will suffice – frustration only really arises from lack of information.
Sandeep Kaur (@1inaMillion08), Customer Advocate, Kayako:
Make sure it’s clearly communicated on your website, support center and social media that there could be delays due to the holiday season.
Consider updating your autoresponders to reflect the changes and delays users can expect over the holidays. Manage their expectations when it comes to answering their requests during this period.
If most of your staff is likely to be off, make sure you’ve got mobile notifications set-up for any critical ticket that comes in so that it gets quick attention and is not lost in the pile. If your staff has restricted to access to your helpdesk, make sure you have them all set-up with a VPN so that they can login from anywhere.
Shervin Talieh (@calitalieh), Founder, PartnerHero
With respect to the holidays, my one killer tip is to change the “support tone.”
Think about when you walk into a Starbucks or any other retailer, they are playing holiday music and generally displaying a seasonal setting. Even when you go online (Google, Amazon, etc.) you also see a holiday skin. Yet, all of our support is expected to be the same, with the same tone.
All holiday support should adopt a holiday support tone: the copy, the subject line, the knowledge management experience, the opening line, the closing line. It should all imply “we are not slowing down, but are trying to give all our team members a bit of extra time to enjoy the holidays, just like you!” Create and reinforce shared empathy.
Morten Lundsby (@MortenLundsby), Founder, Userchamp
In addition to making sure customers get their questions answered it’s also an opportunity to do a little extra for the part of the support team that is keeping the wheels turning. Make the work a little festive.
In one team I worked in we were all spread across most of Europe and the US for the holidays. We worked short shifts of a few hours spread out through the holidays – for some of us it was actually a rather nice break from the sudden 24/7 family time. For each shift everyone working would share a picture of what tradition was going at the moment wherever they were in the world.
But don’t force the festive spirit on everyone! Remember that some colleagues may not celebrate Christmas and by December 25th odds are they’ve already had more than their fair share of plastic Christmas trees and cheesy music. If that’s the case, just leave them alone and everyone will be happier for it.
Leah Potkin (@Leah_Potkin), Head of Customer Care, Spothero
I think my number one tip is to be creative and flexible with scheduling. We want everyone to be able to relax and spend some time with family and friends, so we encourage team members to work remotely over the holidays.
We also allow Customer Heroes to volunteer for shorter shifts so if they have a family meal in the afternoon or evening, they can still help out with a remote morning shift. It’s a win-win for everyone.
We want our people to feel great, and that is not easy when staffing on holidays like Christmas and New Years. We’re all about getting creative to keep the team happy.
What are your top tips for managing support over the holidays? Share them in the comments!