Customer support teams are preparing for the holiday rush with these best practices.

How Businesses are Preparing for the Holiday Rush

Nicholas PriceLast updated on January 2, 2024
5 min

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No sooner than the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put away, some family members will settle down for an afternoon of football while others rush out to shopping malls and retail stores to get a jump on pre-Black Friday sales.

In recent years, retailers have found creative ways to enhance the holiday shopping experience for their customers. Earlier opening times have helped edge out the competition. In anticipation of large crowds, many stores set up crowd control barriers to keep eager shoppers in an orderly line. Greeters stood by the door to direct shoppers to the best sales. Some stores even welcomed shoppers with hot coffee or light snacks.

Because of the need to protect themselves from COVID-19, many family members will likely take a pass on the annual Thanksgiving shopping rush this year, preferring to linger around the table and have an extra slice of pie. While that’s good news for families, it could spell trouble for businesses, thousands of which are already suffering financial loss from being forced to close their doors temporarily or operate at a reduced capacity due to social distancing guidelines.

For most retailers, about 30% of their annual revenue comes holiday shopping. Shoppers spent about $730 billion on holiday shopping in 2019. Of that, $167.8 billion was spent online.  Businesses count on holiday sales to make their numbers every year. The challenge for 2020 is how to power through this pandemic and meet sales goals despite the lack of crowds in brick and mortar stores.

Adapting to the Changing Retail Climate in 2020

Over 7,500 stores will be closing in 2020. Staple retailers have filed for bankruptcy, including the likes of JC Penney, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, and many more. The message for retailers in 2020 is clear—adapt, or incur severe financial loss.

While some retailers are struggling to stay afloat, others took strong steps to shift gears by responding to changes in the current market. Target stands out as a retailer that stepped out of the box by quickly shifting its resources. The retail giant hit record sales growth of just over 24% in its second quarter. Digital sales nearly doubled in the same timeframe. Ten million new customers starting shopping at Target, and online sales with same day pickups quadrupled.

How did Target grow 273% year-over-year in its second quarter when other retailers were struggling?

  • Created Shipt, an online home delivery service for groceries

  • Offered Drive Up for curbside pickup service (700% growth)

  • Made Order Pickup for in-store pickup of online purchases

  • Shifted duties of existing sales staff to processing, fulfilling, and delivering orders

Much of their success is due to a well-functioning customer contact center that delivers excellence in the area of customer service. Target CEO, Brian Cornell thinks customers will want a “contactless” shopping experience through the holiday season. Cornell adds that Target is preparing differently for this holiday season. They plan to hire the same number of seasonal workers, but the focus will shift greatly to eCommerce.

Hiring for the Holiday Rush

Other retail giants like Walmart and Best Buy are also aiming to keep pace with the changing dynamic in the retail space over the holiday season. Walmart and Best Buy have announced they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Some retailers are staffing for the holiday rush based on new shopping trends. A Google survey lends some interesting consumer insights:

  • Holiday shopping is occurring earlier, 24% have already started.

  • Shoppers desire sales over longer periods, rather than a single rush.

  • Forecasted expected spend is looking to be the same as last year.

  • Consumers will spend more on clothing and home goods, less on electronics.

Retailers still plan to increase hiring to meet the demand in current trends, but they’ll allocate them differently. Seasonal workers will be hired for these positions:

  • Call center staff

  • Cleaning

  • Fulfillment

  • Packaging

  • Distribution

  • Shipping

Some retailers plan to cross-train their employees and offer them extra hours to work in their call centers to help meet the demand for eCommerce. L Brands (Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works) plan to hire 4,000 new employees for their distribution centers to ensure they don’t run out of stock. Target says that they’re already filling 90% of their orders at stores.

On another note, many of these seasonal jobs will become permanent jobs, which should help improve the unemployment rate. Also, seasonal hires may be the key to meeting the long-term staffing needs for call center staff.

How to Assemble a Call Center

A call center will certainly be a necessity for most businesses — large or small — this holiday season. Consumers are already compiling shopping lists and looking for sales, so now is the time to assemble your call center.

There’s no need to worry If you lack the physical space to set up a team of agents. A cloud-based phone system and software integrations allow your call agents to work remotely as long as they have access to the internet. If you have a global business, you may want to set up call agents to work in various time zones so you have coverage during normal business hours.

Cloud phone systems and other business software programs are quick and easy to set up, so you can get your call center going as soon as you hire people, no matter where they are.

Next, you want to choose the right tech stack. If you have a global business, you’ll want to set up toll-free and international phone numbers for your call center to support customers anywhere in the world. Set your phone system up so that it works with other business applications like:

  • CRM – Joins call features with your contact information and call history.

  • Helpdesk – Automates tickets and give tailored support.

  • Omnichannel – Let’s you switch between, phone, email, chat, and text.

  • Analytics – to give you visibility to your call agents’ performance.

Having the ability to develop an “a la carte” menu of software solutions will allow you to create the exact customer experience you’re looking for.

Be sure to take into consideration the types of calls that will be coming in. You’ll want to have knowledgeable call agents for sales and inventory.

Well-trained call agents should know how to build sales by offering accessories, warranties, additional discounts, etc. Also, train your customer support agents to solve problems and where to send customers if they need additional assistance. Finally, it’s not too early to set up call agents for returns. With shoppers getting an early start on the holiday rush, returns are likely to start earlier too.

Customer experience is key to meeting seasonal targets this year. An empathetic and knowledgeable contact center team is the first and most important step.

Published on October 20, 2020.

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